Thursday, July 15, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow to Invite Saudi Imams to Serve in Russian Mosques

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 15 – Moscow, after insisting for most of the past decade that the seeds of radicalism among Russia’s Muslims had been sown by mullahs either trained or from abroad, appears ready to invite imams from Saudi Arabia, the homeland of the puritanical Wahhabi sect Russian officials often point to as an inspirer of terrorism.
Yesterday, Kamil Iskhakov, the permanent representative of the Russian Federation to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said in Moscow that he had accepted a proposal from “leading politicians and influential people in Saudi Arabia” to invite specially selected imams for service in Russian mosques (
These Saudis had told the former mayor of Kazan that it had been a mistake in the past for Russia not to invite “our imams who are moderate and who could by their presence, talks, and treatment of human relations bring enormous good in relation to Islam in the Russian Federation.”
By having Saudi imams in Russian mosques, these officials and religious leaders said, Moscow would avoid the situation where “all sorts of parvenus who call themselves great people” because of their training of some uncertain kind and who thus inflict damage on the Muslims where they serve.
Iskhakov said that he was “a little surprised by such an approach” but added that “in fast [he] trusted” his interlocutors. “I think,” he continued, “that we will occupy ourselves with this task and organize a flow of civilized people on this question who are preaches and nothing besides” and who will take into consideration “all our special features.”
The Russian representative’s comments came during a Moscow press conference to mark Moscow’s fifth year as an observer in the OIC. Iskhakov stressed that the OIC had made an exception for Russia which does not have a Muslim majority on the basis of the efforts of then-Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Given that there are “no fewer than 20 million” ethnic Muslims in Russia, Iskhakov said, Russia has the 14th largest number of the faithful of all OIC member countries. But he stressed that “the OIC is not a religious organization;” it unites not spiritual leaders but government officials of the Islamic countries” (
“In the first instance,” he continued, “this organization gives Russia a chance to interact not with ‘Islam but with a group of countries which organize their lives according to the shariat.” And to boost that process, Iskhakov noted, the Russian government has opened and maintains a permanent representation at Jiddah, where the OIC has its headquarters.
The Russian representative added that one direction in which Russian cooperation with the OIC was likely to develop is in the area of Islamic finances. Tatarstan and Bashkortostan already have begun projects in this area, but “compared with many European countries,” Russia “lags behind” in the development of Islamic banking.
Iskhakov pointed out that the OIC has 35 different structures, and he suggested that one of them with which Russia has already established close ties is ISESCO, “a structure analogous to UNESCO at the United Nations which is involved with questions of education, culture, science and sports.”
But he suggested that perhaps Moscow’s greatest achievement within the OIC was to secure the rejection of proposed rules that would have limited the role of observer states like Russia. Now, he said, Russia as an observer can do everything other members of the OIC can except vote for or be elected to leadership positions in the OIC.

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