Thursday, February 26, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s ‘Cult of Orthodoxy’ Could Provoke ‘Explosion,’ Disloyalty among Russia’s Muslims, Vladivostok Mufti Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 26 – Moscow’s increasing tilt toward Orthodoxy and against Islam, both violations of the Russian constitution, could lead to “a social explosion” and mean that Muslims “will cease to consider Russia to be their Motherland and even led them to go over to the side” of a foreign enemy, according to Muslim leader in the Russian Far East.
And while it is certain that far from all Muslims in the Russian Federation feel this way, such comments reflect the rising tide of anger among many of them about the increasingly close ties between the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate and especially among those who live in predominantly Russian regions far from Moscow.
In an interview with “Arsenevskie vesti,” a newspaper in Primorsky kray, Abdulla Ishmukhamedov, mufti for the Far Eastern Federal District, said that the Russian authorities appear to have forgotten both the Constitution but that “Islam is just as traditional a religion in Russia as Orthodoxy or Buddhism” (
Ishmukhamedov, who also serves as deputy to Nugman Ashirov, the controversial leader of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of the Asiatic Part of Russia, said that recent events show that in today’s Russia “freedom of religion exists only on the paper called ‘the Constitution of the Russian Federation.”
At the present time, he said, Moscow is not only boosting the status of the Orthodox Church but openly and covertly denigrating the position of Muslims, a policy that is offensive not only to the Islamic community but to many members of other faiths and also to the sizeable share of the population that remains atheist.
“In the name of the struggle with terrorism and extremism,” the mufti added, the Russian authorities have begun to prohibit bit by bit all important Muslim books,” book that contain no calls for extreme action but rather provide the faithful with the information they need to understand and practice their faith.
Sometimes this is done openly, he continued, with the bans of books by officials at various levels of the government. And sometimes it is done in a hidden way, with “officers of the FSB not prohibiting them but warning that there must not be any more such books” and that anyone who has them will be punished.
“Why,” the Muslim leader asked, “have they not prohibited a single Orthodox book, why are people in uniform not patrolling alongside Orthodox churches, although this happens often alongside mosques? Why don’t they check the documents of Christians when they go into church? Why don’t [the authorities] conduct surveillance against Christians?”
Why do the Russian authorities always give “the green light” to anything the Orthodox want, but refused to allow the 70-80 thousand Muslims in Vladivostok a mosque, Ishmukhamedov continued, pointing out the obvious that “Muslims are citizens just like the Orthodox,” and “they work for Russia and defend its borders.”
But if Russian officials continue to boost the Orthodox and denigrate Muslims and even “begin to prohibit the profession of the [the Islamic faith], then [Muslims] will cease to consider Russia their motherland and, at the slightest provocation by an external enemy, could go over to his side.”
“Why should you love and defend your Motherland, if you will have fewer rights than your fellow citizens?” he asked. And he underscored that when officials try to impose one set of beliefs, tension inevitably grows, and “a social explosion” can ensue. “We have already seen,” he notes, “how ‘communism’ ended.”
If Russian officials were honest about what they are doing, then “it would be necessary to write in the Constitution: ‘Russia is an Orthodox country, and everyone must respect and study Orthodoxy.” But at least now, Russia is by law “a secular country,” and thus, the mufti said, “there must not be priority given to any religion.”
And religion and ethnicity, he concluded, must not be used in the way they are being used today. “Very often the [Russian] media talk about persons of Caucasus nationality, immigrants from Central Asia, Daghs and Chekhs [offensive slang terms for Daghestanis and Chechens], or Muslims” when they are talking about crimes and social problems.
That too is creating a situation fraught with dangers, the mufti says, because it is encouraging many Russians to believe that discriminating against people on the basis of religion or nationality enjoys the approval of the authorities and thus is something ordinary people are free to act upon.
Ishmukhamedov’s interviewer concluded her article with the following observation: Many people she talked with after meeting with the mufti appeared to share those prejudices against Muslims and thought, just as he suggested, that their views with regard to Islam were entirely appropriate.

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