Staunton, December 4 – Farid Salman, the former mufti of Tatarstan, says that “there is no Salafite underground in Tatarstan because it has been integrated into the official religious organizations,” consists of children of the elite, and enjoys the protection of the republic leadership, assertions many in Kazan dispute and that some of them sought to block this week.
That Salman, who lost his post in Tatarstan in 2000 because he was tied to the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Talgat Tajuddin, has his own agenda and reasons for making such claims is clear, but the controversy over the venue of his latest remarks has the effect of calling attention to them.
Earlier this week, the National Anti-Terrorist Committee of the Russian Federation and the Security Council of the Republic of Tatarstan jointly organized a scientific-practical seminar entitled “Salafism in Tatarstan: Its Distribution, Conflict Potential and Means of Countering It” (www.regnum.ru/news/polit/1352872.html).
According to the Regnum news agency account, which cites Yana Amelina and Rais Suleymanov, researchers at the Center for Eurasian Inter-Ethnic Research at the Kazan Federal University, some officials in the apparatus of the republic president sought to prevent the meeting from taking place.
The two said that Aleksandr Terentyev, the chief of the Domestic Policy Administration of the President of the Republic of Tatarstan had sought to disrupt the proceedings by announcing the day before the seminar was to be held that it could not take place in the buildings of the Kazan Federal University. Consequently, the organizers shifted it to “a reserve location.”
FSB Colonel Vyacheslav Popov who came for Moscow for the seminar and who represented Moscow State University’s Institute for Retraining and Increasing the Qualificaitons of Instructions of Humanitarian and Social Sciences, expressed “surprise” at official opposition in Kazan and also to the absence of even “one representative” of the republic presidency.
Official opposition in Kazan had two other effects as well. On the one hand, “of the 14 invited speakers who had agreed to participate a month before the seminar, in the end only five showed up.” Among the no-shows were two deputy muftis of Tatarstan, the rector of the Islamic university there, and the chief of the religious affairs administration in the Tatarstan government.
And on the other, when the meeting opened, the hall was filled, Regnum.ru reports, with “representatives of Tatar nationally-oriented youth” who attempted to interfere with the proceedings by shouting down speakers. They were partially successful, but ultimately, the news agency report, the organizers were able to conduct the reduced program.
The report that generated the greatest interest and the most negative reaction from the republic Muslim hierarchy and government, Regnum says, was offered by Farid Salman, who following his dismissal as mufti has been head of the Tatarstan public organization, the Center for Research on the Koran and the Sunna.
Salman began his remarks by saying that he had wanted to call his report “Thye Structure of the Salafi Underground in Tatarstan,” but he had decided against that because “there is no Salafi underground in Tatarstan since it is integrated in the official religious hierarchy” and enjoys the protection of government officials.
“To deny that is possible,” Salman said, “but [to do so] is senseless.”
Wahhabism began to appear in Tatarstan in the early1990s when representatives from abroad and “in the first instance from Saudi Arabia” arrived and sought to recruit people to their side from among local Muslims. Twenty years ago, Salman said, “the first stage of the Wahhabization” of Tatarstan occurred.
But now has come “the last stage, which is characterized by the deep penetration of Wahhabis in all spheres of social life, the economy, the administration, and what is the main thing in the leadership of the Muslim community of the republic.” According to him, the current mufti, Gusman Iskhakov “and his entourage … are Wahhabis.”
More generally, Salman continued, “the social portrait” of radical Islamism is “significantly different” from that of this trend in the North Caucasus and in Daghestan and Ingushetia in particular. “The present-day Salafites in Tatarstan are young and hardly poor; on the contrary ‘these are children of very well-off parents.”
It is thus incorrect “to think that Tatarstan Salafites are Muslim lumpen, rural youths driven to despair by poverty and need.” There are some like that, who may be used as “cannon fodder,” but the core of the Salafi movement in Tatarstan consists of young people “from well-off families,” whose parents work in the power structures and protect them.
This pattern reflects the fact, the former mufti said, that “a significant part of young Muslim believers in Tatarstan sympathize with the Salafites who have as do the Wahhabis serious support from abroad.” Saudi leaders “finance various Russian projects connected with ‘the rebirth of Islam,’” and many are interested in taking part.
Because of the actions of the siloviki in Chechnya, Salman said, “the Saudis and others have had to shift their attention away from that republic and instead are concentrating on Daghestan, Ingushetia, Bashkortostan and Tatarstan. And they can do so because “in Tatarstan, the majority of traditional Muslims consider the Salafi part of the umma.”
Such attitudes have allowed the Salafites to continue to recruit and in an increasing number of cases convert these recruits into “religious fanatics,” all the more so because Salman insisted, “the measures taken by the powers that be for the struggle with the Salafi-Wahhabi danger in Tatarstan are ineffective.”
According to Salman, “the next stage of Wahhabism is the creation in the republic of jamaats and structures which in Tatarstan may be associated with separatist and nationalist trends.” But he suggested that the nationalists will be disappointed with these allies because the Salafis “do not recognize the nation and their goal is worldwide jihad.”
In the medium term, however, the two can work together because “the task of Salafism is to work so that the Muslims of Russia will come out against Russia.”
The events in Tatarstan’s Nurlat district on November 25th where Salafis and government forces exchanged fire and took losses is evidence, Salman said, of just how far things have gone in this regard. And he said that efforts by Kazan to dismiss this as an exceptional case were driven by a desire to ensure that Moscow will continue to invest in the Universiad-2013 games.
Salman’s speech should not be taken at face value. He has his own reasons for bitterness about the Tatarstan authorities, and he is clearly quite prepared to cooperate with the FSB and other structures in Moscow who are interested in invoking Islamic extremism in order to justify moves against Kazan.
But at the same time, the former mufti’s argument is not without foundation. Clearly, Islamic radicalism is spreading in the Middle Volga, something officials in that region and in Moscow as well would not happen given the traditional moderation of Muslims there, if not yet to the extent he suggests.