Staunton, December 8 – Today in Moscow, Muslim leaders from various part of the country announced the creation of a new all-Russian Islamic organization, the Russian Association of Islamic Agreement (RAIS) in order to overcome divisions within the Islamic community there and to push for an expanded role for Islam in Russia.
The new organization thus becomes the fourth Islamic group with all-Russian rather than narrowly regional pretensions like most of the 60 plus MSDs, the others are the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) in Ufa, the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR) in Moscow, and the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus.
The new organization, Khuzin said, has been set up because of “the growing requirement and importance of the consolidation of the Muslim community of Russia” and the need to overcome “intra-Muslim conflicts and the unhealthy competeition among Muslim leaders and organizations” (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=38583).
According to media reports, the founding meeting of the new organization was attended by the leaders of the MSDs of Stavropol, Perm, Mordvinia, the Urals and Ryazan oblast, and RAIS will be headed by Stavropol Mufti Mukhammed Rakhimov. But no details are yet available on what other MSDs or individual parishes may join or how RAIS will be structured.
But one thing is clear already: RAIS and its leaders intend to be a coordinating center among and perhaps ultimately a replacement for the three other “super MSDs” and that the new group will seek to develop ties with other religious organizations in the Russian Federation including the Orthodox Church and with Muslims abroad.
According to Russian news reports, RAIS “declares the achievement of the unity of Muslims through agreement and the continuation of the traditions of Russian traditionally enlightened Islam.” And to that end, it “intends to conduct” negotiations to reach agreement with the other three super MSDs (www.newsru.com/religy/08dec2010/musulorg.html).
Among its major goals, RAIS leaders said today, is “the deepening of dialogue with representatives of the traditional religions of Russia, ‘above all with the fraternal Russian Orthodox Church,’ the development of dialogue with Muslim countries of the post-Soviet space, who are united in the Consultative Council under the leadership of Allashukhur Pasha-zade, the head of the Administration of Muslims of the Caucasus.”
In addition, RAIS commits itself to the preparation of ‘reliable and devoted to the Fatherland’ religious leaders, pedagogues, and theologians, the establishment of a national Islamic theological school, [and] the publication and popularization of the works of Russian theologians, Islamic specialists historians and writers” in order to secure “the establishment of a single and unified Islamic educational space in Russia.”
“The creators of the All-Russian muftiate [as some news agencies are calling this group] also consider their tasks to include the construction of mosques in correspondence with the traditions of the peoples of Russia and ‘taking into account the mentality and specific features of the regions of the country,’ the creation of a foundation to assist religious leaders, members of their families and journalists who have died at the hands of extremists and terrorists.”
These global goals are clearly intended to attract the support not only of many Muslim leaders but also of the Russian powers that be who have repeatedly expressed their interest in supporting “traditional Russian Islam” as a bulwark against extremist coming in from abroad and who are likely to welcome a new group that lacks the baggage many of the other MSDs have.
But at the same time, RAIS in a declaration published today is also taking up positions that will put it at odds with both other Muslim leaders and some among the Russian powers that be and many Orthodox Russians who are concerned by the rise of Islam and the appearance of mosques in Russian cities (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=documents&div=1061).
On the one hand, RAIS sharply criticizes the SMR for failing to build mosques in Moscow and other central Russian cities over the last decade and especially for blocking efforts by the Central MSD in Ufa and the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus to put up mosques in the Russian capital.
And on the other, RAIS makes it clear that it expects the Russian powers that be to live up to their promises to provide space for at least eight more mosques in Moscow in the immediate future, something that city officials have been under pressure from activists in the population not to do.
Whether RAIS will achieve any or all of its goals very much remains to be seen: it will face enormous resistance from some other Muslim leaders who see any new group as a threat to their power and perquisites and from some in the Russian government who have more or less consistently opposed the formation of a single entity that could speak for all Russia’s Muslims.
But the appearance of this new institution, especially given the willingness of Muslim leaders like Khuzin to use this occasion to push hard for Muslim unity in Russia as well as for a greater role for Islam there suggests that this new player, possibly with the support of some officials, could change the balance of power in Russian Islam over the next weeks and months.