Staunton, June 20 – Yesterday, Talgat Tajuddin, the head of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) who has sometimes styled himself the Supreme Mufti of Holy Rus, marked the 30th anniversary of his selection for that position, one in which he has acquired a decidedly mixed reputation.
On the one hand, as the last Soviet-era mufti in the Russian Federation, Tajuddin has usually but not always followed Moscow’s line, seeking to maintain tight control over his subordinates and only occasionally getting in trouble with the Russian powers that be when he miscalculated the Kremlin’s direction.
And on the other, the Ufa-based mufti was infamous in some quarters for flaunting Islamic rules, in at least one instance actually christening a new mosque by breaking a bottle of champagne on its doorway and in more than one case seen drinking vodka while wearing his signature green and white turban.
Among the numerous greetings he received on this anniversary, perhaps the most significant was from the Russian government’s Foundation for the Support of Islamic Culture, Science and Education, which praised him for his “constructive” contribution to Russia’s Muslims and Russia more generally (www.islamfund.ru/ru/main/messagepage/186/).
During a period of history that was anything but easy, the foundation’s statement said, Tajuddin “preserved and strengthened the communities entrusted to [him]” and made “an enormous contribution to the strengthening of unity not only of the community of Russia’s Muslims but also to the entire multi-national and poly-confessional society of our country.”
It is possible to say “without exaggeration,” the message continued, that Tajuddin is “one of the most prominent and authoritative religious and public activists of Russia, while at the same time remaining an outstanding Islamic thinker of the contemporary period.” The foundation added that it wished him “good health, long life, and new successes.”
Few would dispute the foundation’s judgment that Tajuddin has played a key role in maintaining the MSD system, although few would agree that the maintenance of that system in post-Soviet times has served the interests of either the more than 20 million Muslims of the Russian Federation or that country as a whole.
Indeed, the maintenance of a system which has no canonical basis in Islam, a religion that does not have a clergy as such, has not only led the multiplication of MSDs in various parts of the country but also opened the way for radicals to challenge both the structures and the teachings of officials like Tajuddin.
Tajuddin has sought to unify all the Muslim parishes of the Russian Federation (except for the Shiite ones) under his control, something he has signally failed to accomplish, even as he has worked to undermine the leaders of other Muslim organizations, most prominently, Ravil Gainutdin of the Union of Muftis of Russia, to do the same.
As a result, Russia’s Islamic establishment is now far more divided than it was when Tajuddin came into office, and the role of what many still call (from Soviet times) “official” Islam far weaker relative to “unofficial” or “underground” Islam, categories that include but are far from defined by radical Salafei trends.
Moreover, few commentators would describe Tajuddin, whose name translated from the Arabic as “the crown of religion,” as an outstanding Muslim theologian. Instead, he has distinguished himself mostly as did his Soviet colleagues by his willingness to bend Islamic teachings to fit Soviet and then Russian political requirements.
Born in Kazan on October 12, 1948, Tajuddin followed the normal course of Muslim officials in Soviet times, studying first at the Mir Arab medressah in Bukhara and then at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Upon his graduation from the latter institution, he became the imam-khatyb of the Cathedral Mosque in the Tatarstan Capital in1978.
Two years later, on June 19, 1980, Tajuddin was elected at the Congress of Muslims of the European Part of the USSR and Siberia as mufti and head of the MSD of the European Part of the USSR and Siberia, the post he has continued to hold even as the institution has been renamed several times (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=36100).
Decorated by two Russian presidents and the first Russian mufti to be given an order by the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Tajuddin is a member of the Presidential Council on Relations with Religious Organizations and the presidiums of the Inter-Religious Council of Russia and the Inter-Religious Council of the CIS.