Monday, July 5, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Muslim Social Networks inside Russia Increasingly Diverse

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 5 – In the post-Soviet period, the social networks within Russia’s Muslim community have become increasingly intense and diverse, reflecting both broader social and political changes and efforts by various groups within Islam to unite believers for one or another purpose, according to an analysis posted on the portal.
The most widespread of these social networks, the portal’s analytic service says, consist of “communities which have existed in a stable fashion over a length period of time – that is, over many generations.” Among these are rural and “to a somewhat lesser degree urban communities” of the faithful (
These networks based on territorially arranged Muslim parishes, formal and informal, which “did not cease to function over the course of the entire period of Soviet power,” are found, the analysis says, primarily in the Urals-Volga region, Central Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
The situation with regard to social networks in cities has been somewhat different. “On the one hand,” the analysis suggests, “the old urban communities – Kargaly, Derbent, the Tatar neighborhoods and districts of compact settlement in Kazan, Kasimov, Tobolsk, Moscow, St. Petersburg and many others – to a much greater degree were destroyed in Soviet times.”
There were three reasons for that: “repressions against representatives of more well-off strata which formed no small part of the Muslim urban population, the intentional destruction of compact communities … through their dispersal, and third, urbanization which called forth a mass influx of the rural population,” which overwhelmed some divisions and reinforced others.
In addition to networks based on religious organizations, the analysis finds, there are also “a multitude of communities and social networks united by informal relations,” from “rural jamaats” some of which have existed for centuries and others of which are new creations and ending with organizations based on “professional milieus.”
The “most traditional” networks are based on family ties. As is “generally known,” “the Muslim peoples of the Russia to a much greater decree have preserved their family traditions,” something that continues “to this day.” Members are “proud of their origins and support the most varied ties with relatives, those who live in the same village or nearby and so on.”
Social networks involving migrant workers interact with each other and with Muslim social networks inside Russia. “Uzbeks, Tajiks, Azerbaijanis, Arabs and Turks cannot fail to unify here.” And a similar pattern holds for Chechens, Daghestanis and Ingush who come to major Russian cities.
Because of the strength of pre-existing Muslim social networks and because of the negative attitudes of outside groups, “the intensity of communications inside all these communities is much higher than with representatives of ‘the external world.’” And that ties the members of these groups together more than one might expect.
Also “traditional” are the social networks which are based on “sub-confessional” groupings. These include “all the Sufi tariqats and wirds, as well as the Salafi, Ikhvan, Tabliq and Shiite jamaats.” And in some places, these social networks now reflect those who follow this or that legal school of Sunni Islam.
Quite often Muslim social networks of this kind are reinforced or at least are coterminous with ethnic lines. One example involves the followers of the Kunta-Haji wird of the Qadiriya tariqat of Vaynakh origin, while another involves “the members of the National Organization of Russian Muslims” who follow the Maliqit maskhab.
In addition to these networks, many of which have deep roots, there are now other social networks among the Muslims of Russia based on other factors, including professional membership, involvement in one or another kind of private or public activity, or ethnicity construed in other ways.
“Today,” this analysis suggests, “social networks in Russian Islam are insufficiently studied, but nevertheless, many of them are an ever more powerful factor of social relations in this confessional milieu,” as the decision of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to meet not long ago with Muslim social networks in Kazan showed.

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