Monday, October 18, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Islamist Radicals Waging ‘Aggressive Religious War’ Against Traditional Islam in the Middle Volga Region, Mordvin Mufti Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, October 18 – Islamist radicals, often with roots in foreign countries, are now waging “an aggressive religious war” against the traditional Muslim communities of the nations of the Middle Volga, a conflict that could ultimately involve violence and chaos, according to the head of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Mordvinia.
In an interview with, Mufti Fagim Shafiyev argues that “the virus of religious radicalism is an effective weapon and instrument” of those who seek to gain power by weakening others, and he acknowledges that “this spiritual illness” at present has spread throughout the Muslim community more than any other.
The reason for that is “the naïve economic experience [of that community], its lower level of education, patriarchal way of life and political passivity,” Shafiyev continues, and those who want to conduct “’a dirty little war’” thus have chosen that community to “create administered chaos” (
Until recently, this conflict existed most obviously among the Muslims of the North Caucasus between the Salafis and the Sufis; but now, the mufti says, it has spread to and is intensifying in the Middle Volga, the traditional home of the most moderate form of Islam, one fully compatible with Russian political life.
And what makes this virus so dangerous is that those who make use of it as a weapon often lose control of their creation, and “having led the genie out of the bottle,” find that they are harming “not only innocent people but even the creators” of such ideas, “most of all, the Muslims of a traditional direction who do not share the views of the extremists.”
In this scenario, Mufti Shafiyev argues, it is precisely the traditional Muslims who become the first innocent victory of the informational, political and economic wars that have been unleashed and that rapidly shift into armed confrontation. Today, the danger of the transition to this phase is greater than ever before for the Middle Volga.”
According to Shafiyev, this situation also reflects the choice that Muslims in Russia have had to make “between unrestrained freedom and spiritual security.” As a result of the appearance of freedom of conscience and belief, the threat of religious radicalism and splits has grown. In other words, everyone received freedom but many did not add conscience to it.”
Shafiyev notes that the extremists or “new Muslims” as he calls them insist on purity of belief, something they argue can be achieved only a return to the principles of the time of the Prophet and “the Arabization of Muslims,” an argument many Muslims of the Middle Volga find superficially attractive.
The Muslims of the Middle Volga, the mufti points out, “consider any Arab or arrival from the East a real Muslim even though among the latter are also to be found Christians, representatives of various sects and tendencies of Islam and even unbelieving, completely secular people.”
These people, he notes, “preserve their identity even here in Russia,” even though they insist that other Muslims give up their national distinctions” Why must we Russian Muslims who represent various nationalities lose our unique national identity in favor of that of those who have come to us? This is impermissible.”
But unfortunately, he says, the Muslims of Russia are not in a good position to resist because as a result of this “aggressive religious war,” they are being forced to take part in “a discussion about which we earlier did not have any idea but which [as a result of this lack of preparation] leads to splits and divisions.”
To counter this, Shafiyev argues, “we must strive to achieve canonical unity in each particular country while there is not hope for the achievement of unity of the worldwide umma.” And the Muslims of Russia must launch “an attack on all fronts,” one that takes into account the fact that “the forms of struggle by the enemies of traditional Islam have changed.”
That will require the distribution of more and better information about Islam and its enemies. At present, the mufti notes, “there is no regular Muslim programming on television, no major professional federal Muslim newspaper, and no reliable information source about orthodox Muslims in Russia.”
Those shortcomings, he insists, not only “disorient many foreign Muslims” about the nature of Islam in Russia but also “push Russia’s Islamic youth to search for spiritual values outside” of that community, a trend that Islamist radicals are all too ready to exploit and turn against the Muslim community of Russia.
Some may inclined to dismiss Mufti Shafiyev’s remarks as the latest effort of a Muslim leader to put pressure on the Russian government to provide more resources or to support the formation of a single MSD with tighter controls over individual parishes across the Russian Federation.
But that would be a mistake because his most important message is that the struggle within Islam that has been taking place in the North Caucasus has now spread to the Middle Volga, the heartland of traditionally moderate Russian Islam, and that this struggle, more than attacks from outside Islam, is likely to dominate events there in the coming months and years.

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