Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Muslims Push for Restoration of Waqf System

Paul Goble

Baku, January 30 – Now that President Vladimir Putin has promised to return to the “traditional” religions of Russia – including Islam – property the Soviet government seized from them, Muslims are discussing the revival of the waqf system, setting the stage for demands that Moscow return large swaths of land and other property to them.
Waqfs, land or businesses the income for which goes to mosques, medressahs and other Muslim institutions, have long been a part of the Islamic world. In some places in the past, such as the Ottoman Empire, waqf property made up as much as a third of all property there.
But while waqf holdings were never as extensive in Muslim regions of the Russian Empire as that, they were large enough to provide sufficient income to may mosques and medressahs to allow them to be independent of the government-organized Muslim spiritual directorate (MSD).
And both because of their economic importance and because they undermined central control – the modernist jaded movement in Tatarstan in the 19th century would have been unthinkable without such sources of income – the Soviet government suppressed them in 1929.
Following the collapse of the communist system, Muslim scholars in the Russian Federation have focused on the history of the waqfs in pre-Soviet times, and some Muslim leaders have taken the first steps toward re-establishing these institutions, a trend now likely to accelerate.
In an extensive survey of the scholarly discussions of waqfs in tsarist Russia, Aydar Khabutdinov comments briefly on the contemporary movement, its bases of support in the mosques and the opposition it faces from many MSDs, and the role waqfs should play in the future (
The first steps toward the “rebirth” of waqfs were made by the Unified Congress of Muslims of the Republic of Tatarstan in 1998. Operating without national legislation and facing opposition from some in the MSDs who feared they would lose control of the parishes, that meeting set up rules for the transfer of property to mosques and for its use.
Since that time, he continues, advocates of the waqfs have sought to get republic and all-Russian laws amended so that waqf property will be included in the list of approved holdings and equated with Orthodox Christian monasteries, whose property is already protected. To date, they have not had any success.
“Under conditions of he decentralization of Muslim Spiritual Directorates in Russia and the continuing effort of foreign organizations to influence Russian Muslims,” Khabutdinov argues, “it would be useful to have separately-owned waqfs whose activities would be transparent,” to prevent corruption and illegitimate use of funds.
And he argues that in the current environment, the most important activity waqfs should support is “Muslim education at all levels.” In addition, he suggests, money from the waqfs should be directed to promoting the integration of immigrants and the support of young people and their families.
Khabutdinov ends his article on an upbeat note: “Contemporary Russia,” he writes, is restoring the traditions of its umma and adopting the best arrangements of the contemporary Muslim world. Waqfs must become a significant component part” of this rebirth.
If most Muslims see this as a positive development, many MSD leaders, who could lose control over parishes if waqfs made them financially, independent don’t. And now that a revival of waqfs could lead to demands that Moscow return even more property to Russia’s Islamic community, neither will many non-Muslims there.

Window on Eurasia: Russia is the ‘Most Racist Country’ in the World, Researcher Says

Paul Goble

Baku, January 30 – The author of a new book on “National Radicalism in Contemporary Russia – From Nationalism to Neo-Nazism” says that Russia is “today the most racist country in the world,” with many more skinheads and more hate crimes than anywhere else in the world.
On Monday, Vladimir Ilyushenko presented his book at a press conference in Moscow. Published by the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, it contains the results of his research into what he described as the rising tide of hate crimes throughout the country (
“Practically every day in various cities of Russia,” he said, murders rooted in racial hatred are taking place. In Russia there are more skinheads than in the rest of the world combined. Evidently, we today are the most racist country in the world,” with xenophobia increasing all the time.
According to Ilyushenko what is particularly worrisome is that the people who should be doing the most to combat such crimes – the militia – have “the highest percentage of xenophobic attitudes” of any group of the population, with 63 percent of them telling Levada Center pollsters that they do not like non-Russians.
In addition, the political scientist said, at the present time, more than 60 percent of the population support in varying degrees the slogan “Russia for the Russians,” a program that he suggested could lead to “the collapse of the country because the greatest threat to it comes from national and religious hatred.”
Ilyushenko pointed to several factors behind these attitudes. First, he said, “the destruction of the bearers of culture during Stalinist terror” had opened the door to a rise of “in essence a pseudo-religion of hatred and force.” And now, the followers of this “faith” attempt to cover it with Orthodoxy, even though Christianity opposes such ideas.
In his introduction of Ilyushenko to the press, Moscow Human Rights Bureau director Aleksandr Brod both provided support for Ilyushenko’s comments and qualified some of his remarks.
On the one hand, he said, during the first 25 days of January, there had been 25 hate crimes in the Russian Federation resulting in 14 deaths. Among the victims were Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turks, Kyrghyz, Daghestanis, and Armenians. And these losses continue the trend seen throughout 2007.
But on the other, he noted that there had been some positive signs that the authorities were beginning to move to contain and combat xenophobia. In Krasnodar, one of the most xenophobic places in the country in the past, officials had blocked efforts by anti-immigration groups to provoke a Kondopoga-like clash.
But despite that success, Brod argued, official claims that they are “doing everything possible” against xenophobic attacks are simply not true. They are not blocking such crimes or promoting tolerance, two steps which he indicated are critical if Russia is to escape its current problems.
Meanwhile, on the website, Yuri Mukhin, the editor of the radical newspaper “Duel’,” argued that Moscow’s much ballyhooed law “On combating extremist activities” is not intended to end them but rather allow the state to become “a fascist dictatorship.” (
Since its adoption in 2002, the law has been much discussed but seldom applied, in large measure he suggested because its Kremlin authors have been more concerned with projecting the image of active fighters against extremism than actually doing anything about it.
Indeed, Mukhin argues, combating extremism in any real sense appears never to have “come into their minds.”

Window on Eurasia: Moscow to Close Turkish Lycees in Muslim Regions of Russia

Paul Goble

Baku, January 30 – Moscow is taking steps to close the elite lycees Turkey created in Muslim regions of the Russian Federation in the 1990s out of fears that these schools are spreading radical Islam or providing cover for Turkish espionage. And that plan has prompted Ankara and Kazan to consult on how to prevent this from happening.
The Russian education ministry has set a letter to its counterpart in Tatarstan saying that Turkish citizens teaching in the Tatar-Turkish lycees in that Middle Volga republic do not have the necessary pedagogical training, according to Zvezda Povol’zha (
The paper said that Moscow also demanded that these schools end their English-language instruction in science and the humanities, a call that the paper said contradicts Russian law and points to a Russian government plan to close these schools and expel the Turkish teachers who have been working there.
Parents whose children are upset have told the paper that they plan to appeal to Russian president-designate Dmitry Medvedev and to file suit in an effort to block a move to shut down schools that have been among the most elite and effective training institutions in Tatarstan and elsewhere.
And the paper added that Turkey’s president, Abdulla Gul had telephoned Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev in order to discuss what they might do to prevent this from happening, a report that if confirmed is certain to exacerbate rather that reduce Moscow’s concerns about these schools.
Although these lycees have been extremely popular in the places where they have been set up, Russian officials have repeatedly suggested in recent months that they believe that instructors in them are promoting the ideas of Said Nursi, a Muslim leader whose works Russian courts have declared extremist, or are working as spies.
Several years ago, Russian officials closed several of the lycees in Siberian regions, but the move against them in the Middle Volga both reflects Moscow’s growing concerns about both their supposed Islamist influence and espionage activities and raises the stakes because Tatarstan is far more important politically.
Despite the rapidly warming ties between Moscow and Ankara given tensions between Turkey and the United States. Russian security officials signaled at the end of last year that they were concerned about the activities of the lycees in the Middle Volga region.
In December, Rustem Ibragimov, an FSB counterintelligence official in Bashkortostan said that these lycees were involved with what he called the “activization of foreign intelligence services” in the Middle Volga and the spread of Islamist radicalism (
On the same day he made those remarks, militia officers raided several locations in Naberezhniy Chelny and confiscated works by Nursi and Turkish radical Faitulla Gulen, an indication that the Russian authorities believed they had good reason for concern about the spread of Islamist ideology via these schools.
And then two weeks ago, Russian military and security officials had told “Nezavisimoye voennoye obozreniye” that they are increasingly worried that Turkey is conducting espionage activities against Russia through these schools, an effort they said had to be stopped (
By casting the issue of the closure of the lycees in terms of the qualifications of the instructors and having the education ministry take the lead, Moscow clearly hopes to minimize Western and Turkish coverage of its plans and to minimize their impact on its relations with Ankara.
But the conversations between Gul and Shaimiyev show just how important these institutions are to Turkey and the reaction of parents of those enrolled in them highlight how valuable they see them to be. And consequently, the Russian government almost certainly will pay a high price both at home and abroad if it does not reverse course.