Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Increased Religiosity Hasn’t Cut Share of Marriages between Muslims and Christians in Tatarstan, Islamic Leader Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 29 – The share of marriages between Christians and Muslims in Tatarstan has not changed despite the increasing religiosity of the population, according to a Muslim leader there, but the consequences of these marriages now for the country’s religious future may be very different than they were a generation ago.
Speaking to a Kazan conference on “Religious Diversity in Tatarstan: Opportunity of Problem?” Valiulla Yakupov, the deputy head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Tatarstan, said that the share of marriages between Christians and Muslims there has not changed despite increases in religiosity (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=36216).
He said that just like 20 years ago, the share of such “mixed” marriages is approximately 30 percent, an indication of the day to day comfort representatives of the two religions feel about each other at least in Tatarstan and also of the unwillingness of Muslims to listen to imams and mullahs who urge them not to marry outside the faith.
Although the shariat allows for the marriage of Muslim men to Christian or Jewish women, Yakupov continued, Muslim religious leaders attempt to dissuade people from mixed marriages, but the level of interconnectedness of our peoples is very great.” Marrying beyond the bounds of “the peoples of the book,” however, remains banned by Islamic law, he noted.
Given that Russian officials like their Soviet predecessors have often used intermarriage rates as an indication of the rapprochement or even “fusion” of ethnic or religious groups, Yakupov’s figures are intriguing, as they are for Muslim groups who have assumed that with the growth of Islam’s influence, such marriages will become less numerous.
But however that may be in either case, this report about the stability in the share of marriages between Christians and Muslims in Tatarstan requires at least two qualifications. On the one hand, this pattern almost certainly does not hold in less ethnically and religious mixed and tolerant places such as in the republics of the North Caucasus.
And on the other, the consequences of such intermarriage may be entirely different now than they were in less religious times. Earlier, most offspring of such marriages chose to identify as Russians and often as Russian Orthodox, but now, some commentators have suggested, more of the offspring of these marriages are selecting the “non-Russian” alternatives.
In other comments to the meeting, the Tatarstan mufti said that “theological differences between Orthodoxy and Islam have long been well-known and they never will be overcome.” But he continued, “if we turn aside” from those fundamental issues, “then we will be able to cooperate.”
Saying that there are no religious conflicts in Tatarstan, Yakupov said that his republic represents “an experimental space,” where “mechanisms of inter-religious cooperation, ‘full of kindness and love,’ are being developed.” In that context, “the basic mass of believers are either against or indifferent to agitation by Islamist extremists.”
And he concluded by observing that he fully understands that “Russia as a state appeared on the basis of Orthodox religious culture” and that consequently Moscow’s support of the Russian Orthodox Church should not disturb anyone, especially since Muslims in Russia also “feel support” equal to “the position which they occupy” in the country.

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