Friday, September 3, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Having Exceeded Its Haj Quota Last Year, Daghestan Seeks Still Larger Allotment

Paul Goble

Staunton, September 3 – In 2009, Daghestan was allotted 6,000 of the 20,500 Russian haj slots but in fact 16,000 Daghestanis made the pilgrimage. As a result, Makhachkala is seeking to increase the republic’s permitted number from the 8,000 Moscow has allowed to 13,000, a demand that creates problems for both Russian officials and the Saudi authorities.
Yesterday in the Daghestani capital, Ilyas Umakhanov, the deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, and Rizvan Kurbanov, the republic’s first vice prime minister, met to discuss the upcoming haj and the level of Daghestani participation in it (
That meeting sets the stage for a all-Russian meeting on the haj that is scheduled to take place in the Daghestani capital September 15 at which will be present not only the republic’s president but also the leaders of the haj missions of the other federal subjects of the Russian Federation and representatives of all major Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs).
That meeting is likely to prove contentious not only because the Daghestanis having ignored the quotas Moscow has assigned them on the basis of the Saudi allocation but also because other regions of the Russian Federation, including not unimportantly Chechnya and the republics of the Middle Volga, are likely to seek a larger share.
Every year, the Saudi Muslim authorities allocate each country a specific number of places for the haj, based on one haji for every 1,000 Muslims. In recent years, the Saudis have set the quota for the Russian Federation at 20,500, but because Moscow has argued there is “pent up demand” from Soviet times, the Saudis have sometimes increased that figure by 5,000.
Once the Saudis make the allocation, then the all-Russian haj commission assigns a specific number of haj slots to each of the Muslim republics and regions, but because some areas such as Daghestani routinely send more and others less, Moscow’s allocation of slots has not been based on a fixed formula.
Daghestan has always been given more than its share because its residents are the most intensely Islamic and because, as the figures cited above show, its people are quite prepared to ignore the Russian allocation, something they can do because their republic is near Russia’s southern border which allows many of them to make the haj by land.
Over the last several years, the Russian authorities, mindful of the anger such actions generate not only among the Saudis but also in other Muslim countries whose faithful play by the rules, often being forced to wait years to get slots, have cut the number officially allocated for the Daghestanis and sought to discourage making the haj by land.
To rein in the Daghestanis, Moscow and many Muslim leaders in the Russian Federation would like to force more of the hajis from that North Caucasus republic to travel by air, an arrangement that would allow the Russian government to exercise greater control. But such a shift would be very unpopular given the vastly greater costs involved.
Yet another reason for not pushing too hard in that direction is that Daghestanis going on the haj by air have often behaved in ways that threaten airport security, as Bekmurza Bekmurzayev, the Daghestani minister for nationality policy, religious affairs and foreign ties, pointed out yesterday.
During the last haj, he reported several Daghestani hajis travelling by air caused disturbances in the airports of foreign countries, something that has also created diplomatic problems and made it less likely that Moscow’s push to have all hajis from Russia make the pilgrimage by air will ever happen.
Indeed, it appears likely that this year as in the past, Daghestanis will ignore both Moscow and the Saudis and send as many pilgrims to the holy places as can afford to go, something that will only intensify their religious faith and possibly present an additional Islamic threat to Russian control in their home republic.

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