Staunton, December 21 – Talgat Tajuddin, the head of the Ufa-based Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD), has announced plans to create an MSD for Moscow and the Central Region of Russia subordinate to his own MSD, an action that enjoys the support of the Russian powers that be and one that gives him an expanded base in the Russian capital.
Tajuddin, who has sometimes described himself as the Supreme Mufti of Holy Russia and who has long sought to give that title real content by making the Central MSD the most important Muslim organization in the Russian Federation, appears to have timed this new move in what some call “the Muslim Great Game” almost perfectly (etatar.ru/news/38813).
On the one hand, his chief rival, Ravil Gainutdin, head of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), has lost his ally former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and is embroiled in controversy over remarks he has made suggesting that the Russian powers that be are anti-Muslim and that Russia requires immigrants because the Russian people are degraded.
And on the other, Tajuddin’s move comes in the wake of the creation of yet another Muslim organization with countrywide pretensions, the All-Russian Muftiate, an body based, like the SMR in Moscow but one whose membership, power, and relationship with the powers that be are still unclear.
By claiming this beachhead in the Russian capital, Tajuddin has stolen a march on Gainutdin and the All-Russian Muftiate in the struggle for power within the Muslim community of the Russian Federation by achieving something none of his predecessors at the oldest state-organized Muslim structure in Russia has had, an organizational presence in the capital.
Tajuddin’s play was announced today by his first deputy, Albir Krganov, in an interview given to Interfax. The mufti said that “at plenum of the Presidium of the Central MSD on December 7th in Moscow, the supreme mufti and chairman of the Central MSD of Russia Talgat Tajuddin took a decision to establish an MSD of Moscow and the Central Region of Russia within the Central MSD” (www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=dujour&div=374).
Krganov stressed that “the formation of the new structure had been agreed upon with the powers that be” and represented a triumph of justice, given that “for more than a 100 years, the Muslim parishes of Moscow had been under the supervision of the Central MSD and namely this directorate had assigned the imams of the city.”
But recently, given the rise of the SMR, he continued, “as a result of certain intrigues,” the Central MSD, “the oldest Muslim organization in Russia, which has existed already more than 200 years” – it was established by Catherine the Great and continued by the Soviets after 1917 – “does not have up to now a mosque in Moscow.”
Earlier, Tajuddin himself had told Interfax that the powers that be in the Russian capital had given his Central MSD two parcels of land for the construction of mosques there, but that “at the insistence of ‘the respected’ Ravil Gainutdin, these projects were not carried out,” apparently because of Gainutdin’s good relations with Luzhkov.
“The former powers that be of the capital did not give us the chance to conduct our work in the city,” Krganov continued. “We could not register our own muftiate there. Although parishes were created and we have them in Moscow, they were lnot allowed to be registered in the structure of the Central MSD.”
Despite this, the deputy head of the Central MSD said, Tajuddin’s organization has “’colossal experience’ in cooperation with the traditional religions and with the powers that be and under the leadership of this spiritual directorate earlier mosques were built without conflicts in regions with an Orthodox majority.”
Krganov said that “in the existing situation with the lack of places for prayers,” the time has come for “extraordinary decisions,” including holding Muslim services in sports complexes much as sometimes happens in the Arab world. Moscow has many such facilities, he pointed out, and that would end the situation where Muslims are forced to pray in the streets.
In other comments, Krganov pointedly noted that Tajuddin and the Central MSD do not share the views of Gainutdin and that they are taking a wake and see attitude toward the All-Russian Muftiate. “If this structure does not destabilize the situation,” he said, then “perhaps in the future, the Cetnral MSD will consider the question of cooperation.”
Tajuddin, the last senior leader of an MSD in Russia to have been appointed by the Soviets, has always been hampered in his drive for supreme power not only because of his reputation as a drinker – his opponents sometimes call him “the drunken mufti” -- but also because his MSD has been based in the Bashkortostan capital rather than Moscow.
Krganov’s remarks do not mean that Tajuddin himself will be moving to the Russian capital at least immediately, but having a Central MSD institution like a muftiate there allows him to achieve three goals. First, it means that he will be better able to counter Gainutdin and other Muslim leaders who are based there.
Second, it means that he can exploit the resources of the Russian capital to advance his message and spread his influence among Muslims far beyond the Middle Volga. And third – and in the short term at least – he will be able to take credit for the opening of new mosques in the capital, something that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has promised to push through.
Indeed, given Tajuddin’s relationships with the security services, it is not impossible that his move in this case has been carefully coordinated with Putin and those services, all of whom may be interested in securing greater control over the MSD system, something Tajuddin has been prepared to allow in order to keep himself at the top.
But this move may backfire on the entire MSD system. Within Islam, there is no clergy and hence no clerical hierarchy. The MSD system as it exists represents an attempt first by the tsarist authorities and then by the Soviets to change that and make Islam more like Christianity at least organizationally.
Many Muslims object to the entire MSD arrangement, and a large proportion of the Muslim parishes in the Russian Federation have sought to remain independent of the MSDs. Given Tajuddin’s personal and political reputation, his rise and that of the Central MSD could prompt more of these parishes to seek independence.
If that happens, Tajuddin may very well succeed in becoming the supreme mufti of Holy Rus as he and his backers have always wanted --but only at the cost of that position losing all content, something that could make this latest move in the Muslim “Great Game” even more counterproductive than earlier ones.