Staunton, November 12 – Many people were unhappy that the just completed Russian census did not include a question of religious affiliation, something that the Moscow Patriarchate and some other religious leaders opposed doing because such a question would have limited their ability to equate ethnicity and religion.
Thus, the Russian Orthodox Church has routinely insisted that a minimum of 80 percent of the population of the Russian Federation is Orthodox because ethnic Russians formed roughly that percentage in the 2002 census and argued that the total number of Muslims in that country cannot be more than the 14 percent historically “Islamic” nationalities formed in that count.
Such an approach clearly distorts the situation in two ways. On the one hand, it ignores the sizeable percentage of the population that is atheist or agnostic, the result of the impact of Soviet anti-religious efforts and the forces of modernization which have detached many in that country from their traditional faiths.
And on the other, it ignores those from one faith or one “ethnic religion” who have converted to another, the very possibility of which some in the Moscow Patriarchate have sought to deny or at least minimize, especially in the case of ethnic Russians who for one reason or another have converted to Islam.
Lacking census data, analysts have adopted a variety of strategies in order to determine the relative size of the communities of followers of Russian Orthodoxy, Christianity more generally, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. And one of the most intriguing to date is offered by a Muslim official from Khabarovsk (www.islam.ru/pressclub/analitika/mnogopar/).
Because people who join online social networks are given the opportunity to declare their religious affiliation, Khamza Kuznetsov and his colleagues from the regional Muslim organization Al-Furkan say, the records of the Russian “V kontakte” social network provide important clues on the religious attachments of Russian citizens now.
In the line about “religious views,” Kuzentsov says, they counted numerous variants for each of the four traditional religions as well as declarations like “I believe,” “I don’t believe,” “atheist,” and “not.” At the same time, he acknowledges only a relatively small percentage of Russians using this network bothered to fill in this line.
As of October 25, he says, there were 51,747,055 people registered on the “V kontakte” network for the Russian Federation Most of them were young, many of the respondents “hid” their responses to the questions the organizers of the network posed, and still others simply ignored the “religious views” line.
Nonetheless, nearly 10 million – roughly one in five of the total – provided information on religious affiliation or lack thereof that the Al Furkan analysts were able to gain access to. They found that 3,381,643 declared themselves Orthodox, 1,269,376 Christian, 839.300 Muslim, 93,086 Jewish, 197,037 Buddhist, 815,523 atheists, and 3,203,989 believers in God in general.
That means that in this network, there are about 5.5 times as many Christians, although only four times as many Orthodox, as Muslims. And if one projects those figures on the Russian Federation as a whole, that would mean, Kuznetsov suggests, that there are approximately 21 million Muslim believers, not counting 11 million Muslim immigrant workers.
For Khabarovsk kray, the figures derived from “V kontakte” were 7,566 Orthodox, 3,427 Christians, 403 Muslims, 143 Jews, 26 Buddhists, and 4,990 atheists. Extrapolating from these numbers, Kuznetsov suggested, there are approximately 15,000 indigenous Muslims in the kray, not counting perhaps 8,000 Muslim immigrant workers.
As Kuznetsov acknowledges, “some will doubt the utility of these data or say that theswe figures do not reflect the real situation, but on the whole, these numbers [because representatives of various religions have equal access to the Internet] give an opportunity at least approximately to present a confessional picture of the country,” something few other measures do.
Kuznetsov, himself an ethnic Russian who converted to Islam, argues that his approach is useful in estimating the number of people like himself. Using “V kontakte” data, he suggests that there is one ethnic Russian Muslim for every 700 citizens of the Russian Federation. That would mean there are approximately 200,000 ethnic Russian Muslims.
While such converts may be more inclined to make use of social networks than others and thus the ratio may be smaller, the number Kuznetsov proposes, one far higher than any Russian Muslim activist has ever offered, is certain to disturb many Russians and Russian officials who fear “Russian Muslims” could carry out terrorist acts more easily than others.