Monday, May 3, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Despite Talk of Unity, Russia’s Muslim Spiritual Directorates Multiply

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 3 – Even as the three largest Muslim organizations of the Russian Federation explore the possibility of some kind of merger, two new Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSD) have emerged in the Russian Federation thereby making the MSDs increasingly co-terminus with the political subdivisions of the country.
On the one hand, this development simply represents continuation of the structural evolution of this religious administrative system on the post-Soviet space in which new MSDs emerged that were co-terminus with the new independent states or in some cases their subdivisions.
But on the other, the latest extensions not only make the unification of the MSD system across the Russian Federation more problematic but also highlight the dependence of the MSDs on the state system, a dependence that is likely to lead even more Muslim parishes to operate independently of them and thus further from government supervision.
Last week, reported, “the majority of Muslim communities registered on the territory of Stavropol left the MSD of Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Stavropol kray and formed a new independent regional structure,” headed by Mukhammad-haji Rakhimov, the imam-khatyb of Pyatigorsk (
He provided the Muslim portal with details. According to Rakhimov, 16 of the 22 Muslim parishes in Stavropol decided to leave the existing Karchay-Cherkess Republic and Stavropol kray MSD and form their own. But he did not say what the other six would do, raising the question as to whether they will be subordinate to anyone.
Rakhimov said that the decision reflected the growth of the umma in Stavropol over the last decade. According to his figures, there are now approximately 300,000 Muslims in the region, and they form “the largest community in Pyatigorsk.” Because of that growth, he suggested, it is time for Muslims there to control their own destiny.
The current MSD, he said, “had not been able to solve all the problems of the Muslims of the region.” What is needed, the imam continued, is “a more precise organization of work and greater participation in the resolution of the tasks of the development of the community of the faithful.”
The new MSD head said that the organizers had been inspired by the fact that Pyatigorsk has become the capital of the North Caucasus Federal District. “The powerful impulse of development which Aleksandr Khloponin has given the region,” he said, “must be extended to the spiritual sphere as well.”
Rakhimov noted that the meeting at which the new MSD had been created was attended by Sergey Ushakov, the deputy head of the Stavropol government, and the MSD head said that he will be meeting soon with Stavropol Governor Valery Gayevsky, yet another indication of the close ties between the Muslim structure and the political ones.
Rakhimov said that “the problem of extremism” was not serious in Stavropol, but he indicated that his organization would work to prevent extremism from spreading by focusing on the training of imams and the promotion of educational programs for younger people who may be influenced by radicals.
Meanwhile, last week, in Ivanovo, the annual conference of leaders of the local Muslim parishes of the Central Federal District of the MSD of European Russia decided to create a Centralized Religious Organization under the name “the Muftiate of the Central Federal District of the MSD of European Russia.”
That name is significant: Earlier this year, the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), of which the MSD of European Russia is a part, was sharply criticized by Moscow and the Russian Orthodox Church for calling for the establishment of MSDs in each of the Federal Districts, something that could upset the delegate balance among religious authorities.
Now, albeit under a slightly different name, the SMR has decided to go ahead, an indication that it is prepared to ignore that criticism and move toward a wholesale restructuring (

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