Vienna, April 25 – A Muslim newspaper in Daghestan is marking its 15th anniversary, an event that calls into question the assertions of many specialists in Moscow and the West that the Muslim media in the Russian Federation consists of small-tirage publications by individual congregations or sites on the Internet.
The newspaper, “As-Salaam,” was launched in April 1994 on the basis of the media law adopted by the USSR Supreme Soviet in 1990 and with the support of both the republic’s Muslim spiritual directorate (MSD) and the Way Foundation, a charitable group based in Makhachkala (www.assalam.ru/assalam2009/332/02-s.shtml).
The paper’s appearance, first in the Russian language and shortly thereafter in Avar as well, represented in the words of its editors on this anniversary “a little ray of truth after the darkness of godlessness” during the Soviet period. And it quickly won the support of readers within Daghestan and then further afield in the Russian Federation and the CIS.
As the editors declared at its founding, the newspaper, which was launched as a monthly but which subsequently became a biweekly, has “the goal” of bringing the foundations of Islam to the population, “talking about the life of Muslim religious leaders, and informing its readers about events in the Muslim world.”
The newspaper’s initial print run was 3,000 copies, but when it started appearing in Avar, Lezgin, Dargin, Lak, Kumyk, Tabasaran, and Chechen, it quickly rose to 30,000 copies. And as of the end of 2008, the combined print runs of these various editions is approximately 70,000, with the Russian-language edition responsible for 32,500 of that total.
Initially, the newspaper was directed at the Muslims of Daghestan, and they remain its base. But the editors say the paper now reaches an audience across the North Caucasus, in other parts of the Russian Federation, and even in some of the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The editors say that the most popular feature of the paper is its question and answer column, but they are proud of the fact that the paper now employs “more than 15 members” of the Union of Journalists of Russia and maintains close ties with Islamic universities around the world, with the Daghestan MSD, and with other experts.
Because Islam is so central to the life of Daghestan and because the faith has been buffeted by various influences in both Soviet times and more recently, the editors say that “every article requires careful checking” in order to ensure that the paper reflects traditional Daghestani Islam and is not affected by dangerous or even incorrect “innovations.”
As a result of this care, the “As-Salaam” writers collective says, the newspaper and especially its editions in national languages “have received a positive response in the government structures [of Daghestan] and at the [Makhachkala] Institute of Language and Literature,” which are convinced that the paper is playing “an essential role” in preserving native languages.
One of the interesting features of this paper is the way individuals and groups can enter subscriptions. They can use the government system, although many Muslims have experienced difficulties with that, or they can subscribe through their local mullahs and imams, who act as agents for the paper.
Although “As-Salaam” conceives itself primarily as a print outlet, the paper does maintain a website on which both current and most (since 2004) issues of the paper are available, thus providing a rich source of information about the state of Islam in Russia’s most Muslim region (http://www.assalam.ru/arhiv/index.shtml).
Indeed, the articles in the current issue alone – including reports on Islam in Africa, Wahhabism, and the national struggles of the peoples of the North Caucasus -- suggest some of the range of a publication that has been largely ignored by experts in Moscow and the West but not by Muslims in Daghestan or elsewhere in the former Soviet space.