Vienna, December 8 – Shortly before Talgat Tajuddin, head of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD), began his latest campaign for creating a single power vertical within Russia’s Muslim community, the Ufa leader was visited by the Kremlin’s top advisor on Islamic affairs, evidence, one analyst says, that President Dmitry Medvedev backs the idea.
In a commentary on the Islam.ru portal, Rashit Galiyev not only reports about the visit to Tajuddin by Aleksey Grishin, one of Medvedev’s top advisors on religious affairs, just before the Ufa Muslim leader’s effort took off but also provides a history of that effort and an assessment of what is likely to happen next (www.islam.ru/pressclub/analitika/ledtronulsa/).
(Galiyev’s article is based not only on his extensive knowledge of Russia’s MSD system but also on the sparse reporting on these latest moves in “Riselet,” a Ufa-based Muslim paper (www.rslt.ru/ru/news/.view/id/199/limit/0.6/, www.rslt.ru/files/ru/protocol11.jpg, and http://www.rslt.ru/files/ru/protocol22.jpg).)
Although Tajuddin has frequently called for the creation of a single MSD in Russia with himself as its head – on occasion, he has styled himself “the Supreme Mufti of Holy Rus’” – but his actions over the last two weeks represent a departure from his own past practice and suggest that what he is urging now is far more likely to occur, Galiyev says.
On November 25, Tajuddin hosted a roundtable in Ufa to mark the 220th anniversary of the founding of the Orenburg Mohammedan Assembly to which the Central MSD in Ufa traces its origins. At that time, he called for the unification of all the MSDs “into a single whole,” with his longtime rival Ravil Gainutdin, the chairman of the Council of Muftis (SMR) to be its head.
Tajuddin also indicated at that meeting that he favored making Gusman Iskhakov, current head of the Tatarstan MSD, head of the Central MSD, Ismail Berdiyev, the chairman of the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus, chief kazi, and himself as the sheikh ul-Islam. He added that the process of shifting over to this unified system would take six months.
Two days later, on the occasion of the Id al-Aj feast of the sacrifice, Tajuddin both wrote a letter to President Medvedev asking the Kremlin leader to support this unification process and in a televised address on the First Channel to the entire country, the longtime head of the Central MSD again called for the creation of a single power vertical in Russian Islam.
Given Tajuddin’s often flamboyant style – he once “christened” a mosque with a bottle of champagne and was seen on Russian television saying that he favored drinking “200 grams” of vodka on the occasion of a holiday, the Ufa mufti’s proposals not unexpectedly have generated a lot of “skepticism,” Galiyev says.
But both the highly public way in which he has made his latest proposals, the apparent involvement in the Kremlin in this project, and what is most remarkable his proposal that Gainutdin, who is based in Moscow and whose SMR has always been a challenge to the Central MSD, should be Russia’s supreme mufti represents a potentially significant breakthrough.
Then last Saturday, after Grishin’s visit, Tajuddin took the next step, hosting a meeting of representatives of his own Islamic Cultural Center (Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov), the head of the internal affairs department of the MSD of European Russian Arslan Sadriyev, and from the North Caucasus, Sultan Mirzayev, the head of the Chechen MSD.
At that session, Galiyev continues, Tajuddin read out the letter he had sent to Medvedev and repeated his suggestion that Gainutdin head the new Muslim power vertical. “After” what the Islam.ru commentator says were “certain debates,” the participants agreed to create a working group that is scheduled to hold its first meeting on December 10 in Moscow.
At that session, each of the big three MSDs – the Central MSD, the SMR, and the Consultation Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus – will be represented by two delegates, and they will make plans for a larger commission to which each will send eight people for negotiations to begin before the end of this year.
The most interesting aspects of all this, Galiyev suggests, are not how far Tajuddin is prepared to go, but rather what consequences this will have and how much backing this effort enjoys in the government, which, the Islam.ru observer suggests, may be responsible for the entire effort.
Tajuddin, Galiyev says, has a good reason for proposing this: “Feeling the rapid and inevitable twilight of his career, he does not want to remain in the memory of the people as someone who was responsible for the division of the unified Muslim community” and by this step “at the cost of a leading role, he will save his name and preserve his people in the regions.”
Medvedev, the Islam.ru commentator says, has even better reasons for this move. On the one hand, it will allow him to present himself as equivalent within the world of Islam to Vladimir Putin in the world of Russian Orthodoxy, because the latter united the Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.
And on the other, uniting the Muslims of Russia in this way will “give Medvedev a strong ally” which he can deploy both against extremists in the North Caucasus and as an advertisement of Moscow’s positive approach to Islam when the Russian President is approaching leaders of the Muslim world abroad.
Obviously, there are many difficulties ahead, Galiyev says. But if indeed the government and Tajuddin are now united, it is possible that there will soon be a single united “Muslim vertical,” something many have said they want even though it is certain to lead some Muslims to separate themselves from, with consequences difficult to predict for the umma and Russia itself.