Monday, March 1, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Tatarstan’s Shaimiyev Could Lead Russia’s Muslims, Adygei Mufti Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 1 – Mintimir Shaimiyev, until last month the longtime president of the Republic of Tatarstan could head “a single muftiate” in the Russian Federation and the heads of the three Muslim spiritual directorates (MSDs) who have been unable to agree on unity could serve as his deputies, according to the mufti of Adygeya and Krasnodar kray.
Frustrated with the lack of progress toward the creation of a single Muslim organization in Russia and the impact of that failure on the relations of the Russian umma with the Russian state, Nurbiy Emizh argues that Tatarstan politician would be a strong candidate for just such a position (
“Patriarch Kirill heads a Synod with bishoprics from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad,” Emizh told “This is an example. The unity of Islam in Russia is a requirement. [And] the leader of Muslims must be in the first instance a politician, a good organizer and leader. It is not required that he be a scholar and theologian.”
Consequently, the Adygey mufti continued, “Mintimir Shaimiyev could head ‘a single muftiate.” He is “a very wise and interesting man and a major organizer. And [if that were to happen] the heads of the Union of Muftis, the Central MSD, and the Coordinating Center for Muslims of the North Caucasus could serve as his deputies.
While all three of them – Ravil Gainutdin, Talgat Tajuddin and Ismail Berdiyev – have relatively good relations with Shaimiyev, there is as yet no indication that they would be willing to turn to Shaimiyev even though their current efforts to move toward greater unity appear to have broken down.
On Friday, the three indicated that all of them are remain skeptical to the creation of a single muftiate in Russia, each obviously concerned that it would be headed by someone other than himself, and even to the possibility of a common Muslim coordinating council, something Tajuddin has been pushing (
And while there is no evidence that Shaimiyev is either behind Emizh’s proposal or would agree to serve if asked, the Tatarstan leader also on Friday made several statements to a Tatarstan MSD conference which many may view as almost as the opening of his campaign for that position (
In his address to the meeting which was attended by Russia’s top Muslim leaders and which re-elected Shaimiyev’s friend Guzman Iskhakov to a fourth term as head of the republic MSD, the Tatarstan leader stressed just how important unity is for the Islamic community of the Russian Federation.
As far as unity is concerned, Shaimiyev said, “it is necessary to move and move and move … we must unite here, the Volga, the Urals, the central region, Siberia.” The steps already taken are important but not enough. “The path forward is complicated, but it is necessary.” And leaders must not put “their personal ambitions above service to the All High.”
Indeed, he continued, “policy in this sphere” must be “well-thought out” and “intense,” and it must involve “the popularization” of traditional Islam and countering any extremist doctrines that may appear. Young people, he said, “need to learn to think correctly and understand correctly” even though this is “not simple” (
To that end, Shaimiyev said, the Russian Islamic University of Kazan, which he described as “one of the best Islamic higher schools” could “become a central link in this system” for the entire country. And he said that Muslims should use the electronic media more effectively than they have in the past.
A major reason Emizh’s proposal is likely to get a hearing from both the Muslim community and Shaimiyev himself is that the Tatarstan leader has been increasingly solicitous to Islam in recent years and has indicated that he plans to stay active by promoting the annual Bolgar Forum which focuses on the adoption of Islam by the ancestors of today’s Tatars.
But the possibility that Russia’s fractious Muslim community might view Shaimiyev as a means toward unity almost certainly would disturb many Moscow officials and Russian Orthodox leaders who would see his unique combination of political skills and Islamic commitment very much as a threat to their current plans.
Given power relations in the Russian Federation, Russian officials and Orthodox hierarchs working together will likely be able to prevent Shaimiyev’s elevation, even if he and Russia’s Muslims were to agree to it. But even the proposal is significant and highlights just how necessary the Muslims of that country believe unity now is for their future.

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