Friday, November 27, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Central MSD Working to Recover Influence over Muslims in Ukraine

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 27 – In much the same way that the Moscow Patriarchate is working to maintain its control of more than 12,000 Orthodox parishes in Ukraine, the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) in Ufa is seeking “the restoration of a common spiritual space” with the Muslim communities in Ukraine.
Rinat Aysin, recently appointed as the representative of the Central MSD in Ukraine, told this week that UFA continues to play a major role in Ukraine because “a large proportion of the Muslims” in that country remain to this day “supporters of the Central MSD of Russia” (
He said that the Central MSD has already developed “a number of educational programs” for Ukraine’s Muslims and that representatives of the Ufa organization “will travel to Ukraine for the preparation” of Muslim leader there and “in parallel with this will organize courses for spiritual pastors from Ukraine in Ufa and in Moscow.”
Doing this, Aysin said, is part of his “civic and religious responsibility” because “after the disintegration of the Soviet Union was lost a large part of the cultural ties which united the residents of our countries. And these connections today must be re-established throughout the entire post-Soviet space.”
While Aysin did not say more, there are at least three reasons for the announcement of this program now. First, Moscow has been playing up concerns about Islamic radicalism in Crimea in order to set the stage for a possible Russian intervention there, and Ufa clearly wants to be ready for that (;32568/).
Indeed, in an interview Aysin’s boss, longtime Central MSD head Talgat Tajuddin gave to the Bashkortostan edition of “Argumenty i fakty” this week, the mufti, who is one of the last Muslim leaders in Russia appointed in Soviet times, said there would be no extremism in Islam if there were the Muslim equivalent of pope or patriarch (
“If there were four spiritual directorates in the Soviet Union,” Tajuddin said, “there are now more than 60 [in Russia alone]. Let there be even 600, but one must be the main one. Only one. And then the problems of extremism, terrorism and all other filth will be resolved within the Muslim umma.”
Second, Tajuddin, who has styled himself as the Supreme Mufti of Holy Rus, very much wants to be at least primus inter pares among the Muslim leaders of Russia and of the post-Soviet space, a position that his own sometimes extravagant comments and actions would appear to have put beyond is reach.
Now, at meetings timed to correspond with the 220th anniversary of the formation of the Orenburg Spiritual Assembly, the predecessor of the Central MSD, Tajuddin has been stressing the notion that Ufa is “the Mecca” for Muslims in the former Soviet republics and that its leader should be deferred to as the most senior (
And third, Tajuddin, more than any other Muslim leader in the Russian Federation, has routinely followed the course set out by the Moscow Patriarchate. In fact, some of his opponents have called him “the Muslim Patriarch” because he wants to establish such tight control. Now that Kirill is pursuing an active policy in Ukraine, Tajuddin is not surprisingly following suit.
Ukraine’s Muslim community is much smaller than the Orthodox one. It includes nearly 400 parishes, nearly that many mullahs and imams, and five MSDs, all set up after 1991. The most important of these is the MSD of Crimea, which supervises almost three-quarters of all registered Muslim communities in Ukraine (
Among the other MSDs in that country are the Spiritual Direction of Muslims of Ukraine, which is explicitly multi-ethnic and consists primarily of migrant labor communities from Central Asia and the Caucasus, and the Spiritual Center of the Muslim Communities of Ukraine, which is made up of Tatars living outside of Crimea.
Because these groups are small and seldom get much attention from Kyiv, it is quite possible that the Russian MSD leaders in Ufa will have more success in spreading their influence among the faithful in Ukraine than even Kirill has had in holding the Orthodox of Ukraine within the orbit of the Moscow Patriarchate.
If that proves to be the case, Tajuddin and the Central MSD may be the big winners not only in their campaign for state-backed primacy within the very much divided Muslim community of the Russian Federation but also in their efforts to recover their influence not only in Ukraine but elsewhere in the post-Soviet states as well.

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