Thursday, October 15, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Daghestan’s Muslims Ignoring Haj Quotas Set by Moscow

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 15 – Last year, some 18,000 Daghestani Muslims performed the haj, 12,000 more than the number Moscow had allocated to them within the 25,000 the Saudi authorities had authorized for the Russian Federation as a whole, and this year, it appears likely that Daghestani Muslims will again exceed the lower total of 6,000 slots Moscow has set.
(One reason that the Daghestani quota has been cut is that the Saudi authorities have reduced the Russian Federation’s quota to 20,500, the figure it had been until two years ago when the Saudis deferred to a request by then-President Vladimir Putin to boost the figure to take into account pent-up demand among Russia’s Muslims to perform the haj.)
In their efforts to go on the haj, some Daghestani Muslims have registered in other parts of the Russian Federation where fewer Muslims want or are able to make the haj, officials in Makhachkala say. But other Muslims in the most Islamic part of the country appear simply to be ignoring the quotas altogether (
On the one hand, this Daghestani flow has the potential to create problems for Russia in its relations with Saudi Arabia, whose leaders view control over access to the Holy Places to be one of their greatest responsibilities and who this year have reduced Russia’s allocation and urged Muslims younger than 12 or older than 65 not to come because of the H1N1 flu.
But on the other, and perhaps more seriously, the willingness and ability of Daghestani Muslims to ignore the quotas set by the central Russian government both reflects and promotes greater indifference to Moscow’s demands in that increasingly unsettled North Caucasus republic and may create tensions between Daghestan and other Muslim regions of the country.
Magomed Mikhalayev, who is responsible for arranging air travel for Daghestanis who wish to make the haj that way, told RIA Daghestan that regardless of what Moscow said last year or is saying this, “in fact” more Daghestani Muslims are performing the haj than official statistics have suggested.
He added that in addition to meeting all the medical requirements the Saudis have imposed on those who seek a visa, Daghestani Muslims need to prepare themselves for the difficulties that all those making the haj face: relatively little space, long lines, and difficulties arising from dealing with peoples of different backgrounds.
But Mikhalayev added, Daghestani Muslims face some particular problems because of their propensity to exceed quotas: Every year, he said, “doctors of the Daghestani delegation of the Russian haj mission” recognize that they need to service upwards of 15,000 people, but they are able to take medicines “only according to the quota” Moscow has set.
Consequently, if Muslims from Daghestan do get sick in Saudi Arabia, they are likely to find it more difficult to secure the necessary medical treatment. In the past, some Daghestanis have died during the haj, and Mikhalayev’s statement suggests that at least some in Russia hope to discourage so many Muslims from that republic from going by highlighting this problem.
In his comments to the media, Mikhalayev noted that the cost of the haj for those using direct air services will be 97,000 rubles (3200 US dollars) this year. For those flying to Jordan and then taking a bus, the cost will be 79,000 rubles (2600 US dollars), and for those travelling by bus the entire way, it will be 60-65,000 rubles (1900-2200 US dollars).
Mikhalayev did not mention it, but many Daghestanis like other Muslims from the North Caucasus are likely to make the haj this year as they have in the past by private vehicles or by public transport not specifically assigned for the haj, thus opening yet another channel for them to exceed the quotas Moscow has declared.

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