Thursday, April 15, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s National Security Requires Modernization and Unification of MSDs, SMR Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 15 – The modernization and unification of Russia’s Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) is necessary not only to meet the needs of Russia’s Islamic community but also to protect the national security of the Russian Federation as a whole, according to Ravil Gainutdin, the head of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR).
Speaking to a conference yesterday in Moscow on “Muslim Religious Leaders and Contemporary Challenges to the Security of Russia,” Gainutdin thereby increased the pressure on other MSDs to agree to greater cooperation. But powerful Central MSD head Talgat Tajuddin was not present, an indication that even this call may not have the result the SMR head seeks.
Gainutdin began his remarks by pointing to what he said was “the obvious threat both to the security of the country and the security of Islam” presented by “the radicalization of the worldview of Muslim youth in the Caucasus and not only there, the representatives of which are drawn into the extremism underground” (
And because “the causes of this lie not only in social-economic conditions but also in the ideological sphere,” he continued, there is a clear need “for an entire complex of measures of religious-ideological and social-enlightenment character,” some of which like television can be provided by the state but many of which are best offered by Muslim leaders.
In some respects, the government has been lagging in this area, and unfortunately in “the ideological struggle for the souls of our young people … we are not always and everywhere achieving victory. It is impossible,” he said, “for Muslim leaders in regions individually and at times in isolation to stand up to the powerful ideological machine supported from abroad.”
“In these circumstances,” the SMR chief continued, “the importance of consolidating the efforts of Muslim religious leaders of the entire country in order to develop a worthy ideological response, based on the development of promotion of the ideas of Islamic moderation and based on the interests of Islam, society and the state is obvious.”
At the same time, Gainutdin said, “”chauvinists in Russian cities, who attack girls in hijabs and people of non-Slavic visage and who provoke Islamophobia and antagonism to Islam and to Muslims are no less a danger than extremists in Islamic dress,” although he did not suggest that Islamic groups should be the ones to confront them.
Other speakers at the session developed a variety of ideas. Ismail Berdiyev, the head of the Coordination Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus, said that the Russian media needed to become “more careful in their treatment of terrorist acts and other crimes “lest they exacerbate inter-national tensions” (
Sultan Mirzayev, the head of Chechnya’s MSD, called on all MSDs “to become more active in the process of unification” of Muslim organizations in the Russian Federation,” something that he explicitly said will “lead to the strengthening of the national security of the Russian Federation.”
He said that at the very least, the current situation in which “two or more” MSDs function in a single region must be eliminated, because such competition opens a space for radical groups like the Tablig jamaats by undermining the confidence of Muslims in the leadership of the mosques (
Nafigulla Ashirov, the outspoken vice president of the SMR and head of the MSD for the Asiatic Part of Russia, blamed Islamophobes for providing cover for the terrorists. In his view, “the enemies of Islam in Russia continue to introduce into the heads above all of Russian ground people that Muslims are guilty for all their misfortunes.”
Ingushetia Mufti Isa Khamkhoyev extended that argument, pointing out that “in the hands of the underground bands [in the North Caucasus] is an enormous quantity of guns of Russian origin,” something that the MSDs “address “the responsible organs” about if progress is to be made (
And a final speaker, Mukaddas Bibarsov, another vice president of the SMR and head of the Saratov MSD, expressed an idea which both reflects the problems the MSD leadership now faces and the imaginative ways some within them are prepared to address the problems of radicalization and division within the Islamic community of Russia.
Bibarsov said that the Russian Islamic leadership should invite “well-known foreign ulemas to develop theological-legal conclusions 9fetwas0 about jihad in Russian conditions.” Such a document would certainly specify that “{armed struggle in the North Caucasus does not correspond to the principles of Shariat.”
At the end of the one-day session, the meeting adopted a resolution which called among other things for “the consolidation of the expert community and Islamic spiritual elite of Russia by means of forming a single center for the development of the conceptual bases of the development of the Russian umma” (
Not coincidentally, yesterday, Aleksandr Bortnikov, FSB director and head of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee, said he planned to involve religious leaders and believers in the struggle with terrorism “in those regions of the country where residents are most subject to influence by the extremists” (
Gainutdin’s comments suggest that he and other Muslim leaders are more than ready to respond, not only to promote the policy agenda Bortnikov outlined but also to use this new focus on the connection between religion and national security to push the unification of Russia’s divided and often fractious Islamic community.

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