Vienna, October 26 – Moscow’s Islamic University is seeking the approval of the Russian government for a system of distance learning for Muslims to reduce the costs involved in brick and mortar institutions, prevent Muslims studying abroad from becoming radicalized, and instruct others who will be teaching about religion in Russia’s public schools.
Speaking to a Moscow conference on the use of contemporary technologies in the development of religious education last week, Marat Murtazin, rector of that university and the chairman of the Council on Islamic Education, argued that this use of the Internet could mark a breakthrough for the faith in Russia (www.muslim.ru/1/cont/33/35/1916.htm).
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the founding of Moscow’s Islamic University, Murtazin said, and today, it not only works closely with the Islamic universities in Kazan, Ufa and Makhachkala but is developing ties with academic centers in the republics of the North Caucasus and other regions.
But such brick and mortar institutions, while a major improvement over the Soviet-era situation in which the only domestic Islamic training institutions were in Central Asia, are clearly insufficient to meet the challenges posed the rapid growth of the Muslim community in the Russian Federation, the Moscow rector said.
An important effort to supplement their work, he said, is represented by the complex program for the training of specialists on Islam that has been developed by the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR), the Administration of the Russian President, and the Russian Ministry of Education and Science.
Over the last six years, “dozens of young Muslims” have taken part in this program in the state universities of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Ufa, Stavropol, Nizhny Novgorod, and other cities. And the first graduates of this program, the rector said, “have already begun their work in Muslim organizations.”
But neither Muslim universities nor state universities with their programs for Islamic specialists can meet the demand, Murtazin continued. And as a result, the Moscow Islamic University jointly with the St. Petersburg State University are developing a distance learning program that will allow people to go online, listen to gain an Islamic education.
Once this program wins state approval, he continued, anyone with access to the Internet will be able to “listen to lectures, participate in seminars, meet requirements, take test, and at the end pass examinations in more than 40 [Islamic] disciplines and courses” toward a baccalaureate degree in Islamic theology.
This distance learning program, the Moscow rector continued, is “especially important under Russian conditions where Muslims are dispersed throughout the enormous territory of the country” and where they thus be hundreds of kilometers from the closest physical facility where they could gain such knowledge.
This distance learning program will have two additional benefits, Murtazin said. On the one hand, it will help to continue to standardize Islamic education in Russia, a process that began earlier in this decade when the SMR’s Council of Islamic Education was created and began to develop curricula for various schools.
And on the other, it will help Russia’s Muslims take advantage of Islamic training abroad without the problems that such schooling sometimes has involved. Ties with Muslim universities abroad are important, Murtazin said, but some young Russians studying abroad earlier often were recruited by extremists because they did not know enough before they went.
“From the very beginning of the 1990s,” the Moscow rector said, Muslim leaders in Russia had called on Moscow to limit the flow of young people going abroad to study at inappropriate places, something that could have been achieved had the government been more willing than it was to back the creation of domestic Islamic educational institutions.
But at that time, he noted, the Russian government ignored the warnings of Muslim leaders. The result has been a further radicalization in some regions, and “today calls are frequently heard to prohibit study at foreign Islamic institutions,” a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, Murtazin suggests.
“Muslim education in Russia is still only at the beginning stage of development, but we all want that our young theologians receive the best education,” something that will be possibly “only through cooperation with the most authoritative and officially recognized centers of Islamic scholarship and education” abroad.
With the distance learning program that he and his colleagues have worked up, the Moscow rector said, young Russians will know enough before travelling abroad to be able to deflect efforts to turn them into extremists. And as a result, both they and the Russian Federation itself will be the beneficiaries.