Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Muslims No Longer Need to Study Abroad, Medvedev Aide Says

Paul Goble

New York, December 29 – Russia has established a system of Islamic training center that eliminates the need for Muslims from that country to travel abroad to study, thus eliminating one of the major channels for the introduction into the Russian umma of radical Islamist ideas, according to a Kremlin aide.
In a report to a meeting with Islamic specialists in Kuwait this week, Aleksey Grishin, the official of the Presidential Administration who oversees relations with Muslims, said that these efforts, undertaken both by the Islamic community in Russia and by the Russian government, enjoy the support of Arab governments (www.islamnews.ru/news-21943.html).
Because of the Soviet regime’s anti-religious efforts, there were only two Muslim educational institutions in the USSR – one in Bukhara and another in Tashkent – which even together were not able to provide the amount of training necessary for the explosive growth of Islam in the Russian Federation after 1991.
As a result, more than 22,000 Muslims from Russia travelled abroad for study in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Because they were often supported by and thus attracted to more radical institutions in the Middle East and South Asia, these students often returned home with radical ideas.
Consequently, beginning in the mid-1990s, first the leaders of the Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) and then the Russian government began to press for the opening of Muslim training centers within the Russian Federation in order to block what they view as a destabilizing outside influence.
Grishin’s report in Kuwait shows just how much progress Russia’s Muslims and the Russian government have made. Over the past few years, he said, “96 Islamic educational institutions have opened, including seven Islamic universities, about 20 higher medressahs, and about 70 educational institutions which provide mid-level training.”
In addition, the Kremlin aide said, attached to mosques in the Russian Federation “are more than 400 religious courses for believers, which provide primary education about Islam.” In most but not all cases, these institutions are closely supervised by the MSDs and by Russian officials from one or another agency.
“Parallel to this,” Grishin said, training for Muslims is now taking place in eight government higher educational institutions, where the government is financing instruction in Arab language and Islamic theology in order to provide future leaders for the MSDs and for domestic Islamic educational institutions.
While he did not provide details, the Kremlin aide said that the Russian government has adopted a special “state standard for higher professional education in Islamic theology” and that “at present, more than 320 students” are enrolled in such courses in government higher educational institutions.
Grishin stressed that Russian officials now believe that the government and the MSDs must expand their cooperation in this area in order to ensure that Islamic education will develop in an appropriate way, and he said that Russia’s experience in this regard could be useful for countries “of the near and even far abroad interested in the resolution of analogous problems.”
The rise of this new Russian Islamic educational system in such a short time is impressive and undoubtedly will fill the needs of most of Russia’s Muslims seeking training in the faith, but it is unlikely to eliminate entirely the interest or even need of some interested in advanced training from going abroad.
On the one hand, the system Grishin sketched out may help Moscow to block the flow of students to radical Islamic medrassahs abroad. But on the other, whatever Grishin may think, it will do little or nothing to eliminate the desire of at least some to study at the centers of Islamic learning in Cairo and elsewhere and thus engage in dialogue with the Islamic educational elite.

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