Thursday, April 8, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russian Muslim Directorate Seeks Restored Role in Ukraine

Paul Goble

Dayton, April 8 – Just as the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church has sought to maintain its control over most Orthodox parishes and bishoprics in Ukraine, so too the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) in Ufa is seeking to restore its ties with and supervisory role over Muslim organizations there.
And just as in the case with Orthodoxy, where the nearly half of the Moscow Patriarchate’s parishes are in Ukraine, this effort by the Russian successor of the MSD of the European Part of the USSR (which included not only European Russia but Belarus and Ukraine as well) may have importance consequences for Ukraine and in the Russian Federation itself.
On the one hand, the Central MSD’s activities in Ukraine will complicate efforts by the five Ukrainian Muslim umbrella groups to unite or even agree on how to function in an independent Ukraine. And on the other and for precisely that reason, the Central MSD and its head Mufti Talgat Tajuddin will win points in the political elite in Moscow.
That in turn may help Tajuddin gain the upper hand in ongoing efforts to unite the three major supervisory MSDs in the Russian Federation – the Central MSD, the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), and the North Caucasus Coordinating Council – and at the very least insure that the powers that be in the Russian capital will not want to see Tajuddin eclipsed by anyone else.
Last November, Tajuddin appointed imam Rinan Aysin to be the representative of the Central MSD in Ukraine with the task of supporting and developing “a united spiritual space between Russia and Ukraine,” a task Aysin told the press that he considered to be both “a civic and religious duty” (
“After the disintegration of the Soviet Union,” he said at that time, “a large part of the culture ties which united the residents of our countries was lost. And today these ties must be restored across the entire post-Soviet space.” Nowhere is that effort more important, Aysin continued, than in Ukraine.
In Ukraine, there are currently five MSDs which support various trends and regions of Islamic life there. But he said that “a large part of the Muslims of Ukraine are supporters of the Central MSD of Russia,” a statement that others would context but one that Aysin’s activities are apparently intended to provide content to.
Aysin said that as part of that effort, the Central MSD in Ufa plans “a number of educational programs,” in which “representatives of [that institution] will travel to Ukraine for the preparation of spiritual workers in this country. Parallel to that, [the Central MSD] will organize instruction for spiritual pastors from Ukraine in Ufa and in Moscow.”
In the intervening period, whatever activities the Central MSD has undertaken in this regard have remained below the media’s radar screen. Now, in the wake of Viktor Yanukovich’s election as Ukrainian president, that is changing, with Aysin visiting Crimea and staking out positions that are as much political as religious (
Yesterday, Imam Aysin told the New Region news agency that “nothing divides Crimean and Kazan Tatars, just as nothing divides Tatars and Russians,” assertions that many in Ukraine and some in the Russian Federation will find troubling both in terms of their factual content and political meaning.
Speaking in Simferopol, Aysin said his trip was intended to acquaint himself with the situation in Crimea. “One of the chief goals is to visit a mosque in Sevastopol since its imam has appealed for help to the Supreme Mufti of Russia Talgat Tajuddin.” After learning about this, he said, the Central MSD will decide “how to help Crimeans in the coming years.”
At the same time, the Muslim representative said, “it is necessary to find a common language with local Christians. It is necessary to think about the future, about our children who will live together. With the coming to office of the new Ukraine power, I hope will be deepened relations between the confessions.”
“It is necessary,” Aysin said, “to lay the foundation of our common future.”
Arguing that “historically,” Tatar Muslims “have been attracted to the spiritual center which is located in Ufa,” Aysin argued that just as “nothing prevents Catholics of the entire world to consider the Pope of Rome their spiritual leader,” nothing should prevent Tatars wherever they live from losing “connection with the spiritual center in Ufa.”

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