Sunday, October 31, 2010

Window on Eurasia: For First Time, Muslims Across Russia Meet or Exceed Haj Quotas

Paul Goble

Staunton, October 31 – For the first time ever, Muslims across the Russian Federation have met or exceeded their respective allocations of haj slots, a measure of the intensification of interest among that community in making the pilgrimage to Mecca but one that is creating problems in Daghestan, historically the most Islamic region of the country.
That is because until now, Daghestan has not only filled all the slots allocated to it but been able to make use of unfilled slots from other parts of the Russian Federation. But this year, republic President Magomedsalam Magomedov says, no such unused slots are available and that this has sparked “tensions” among believers there (
The Russian news agency Interfax buried this information in its story about Magomedov’s speech, possibly out of a desire not to attract attention to a trend that casts doubt on Moscow’s long-held assumption that attachment to Islam may be a problem in the North Caucasus but isn’t elsewhere (
But however that may be, the desire of Muslims in the Middle Volga, Siberia, and European Russia to make the required pilgrimage to Mecca means that Islamic identity is intensifying in places where most Russian commentators had dismissed such communities as little more than “ethnic Muslims.”
Daghestani officials this year had succeeded in getting Moscow to boost their share of the 20,500 Russian Federation haj places this year from 5,000 to 8,000 and even in having Moscow permit them to make a direct appeal to the Saudi king for 3,000 additional slots, but the boost within the Russian quota was still not large enough and the Saudis apparently did not agree.
In fact, these officials said, the number of Muslims in Daghestan wanting to make the haj this year was 6,000 more than Moscow had allowed them. As a result, if last year is any guide, many are likely to go in violation of the haj quotas: In 2009, Daghestan had a quota of 6,000 places but in fact send “on the other of 16,000” believers, republic officials said.
The haj quota system operates at two levels, worldwide and within each state. The Saudi authorities as custodians of the Holy Places set annual quotas for each country based on a number equal to one for every thousand estimated believers in it. The Russian allotment since the collapse of Soviet power has been 20,500.
(When he was president, Vladimir Putin successfully lobbied to increase the Russian quota by 5,000 with the argument that there was pent-up demand from Soviet times when few Muslims from the USSR were able to make the haj. But anger from other countries prompted the Saudis to end that concession.)
Within the Russian Federation, a haj commission, consisting of leaders from the major Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) and government officials, then divides up that 20,500 figure among the regions and republics of the country, historically giving somewhat more slots per 1,000 believers to the North Caucasus and somewhat fewer elsewhere.
Over the last five years, this commission has gradually reduced the numbers assigned to the North Caucasus republics in order to allow more Muslims from the Middle Volga and elsewhere to make the pilgrimage, precisely the reduction that has so angered the Muslim community in Daghestan.
At least three consequences are likely to flow from this development. First, there will be greater competition than ever before next year in the Russian haj commission with Muslims from the Middle Volga and elsewhere pushing hard to get larger allocations for themselves at the cost of cuts in the number of slots going to the North Caucasus.
Second, non-Russian republics are likely to follow Daghestan’s lead and seek clearance from Moscow to approach the Saudis directly, something the central powers that be may assume they have little choice about but also a step that likely would intensify ties between these Muslim republics within the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia.
And third, Muslim groups through Russia are certain to press Moscow to press the Saudis for an increase in the overall quota. As a result, they are likely to be especially concerned by the outcome of the just-completed census, especially if Muslims believe they have been undercounted in order to keep the ethnic Russian decline from being so severe.

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