Thursday, January 13, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Muslims Increasingly Intellectually Active, Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 13 – A decade ago, Russia’s Muslim community published few works by its own members, but now, over half of all the books issued by Muslim publishing houses in that country are the work of members of the Russian umma, a trend that calls attention to the many important developments in that community over the last decade.
Among the most important and related to the increase in the number of domestically authored Muslims books, Akhmad Makarov says in a survey of developments in Russia’s Muslim community in the first decade of the 21st century is a general rise in “the intellectual level of Russian Muslims (
“If at the start of the 1990s, the words ‘observant Muslim’ and ‘man with a higher education’ were considered to be mutually exclusive, then by the end of the last decade, [people with advanced degrees] praying in Russian mosques have become almost a commonplace,” Makarov says.
This “new actor in the Muslim umma,” he says, is “the professional intelligentsia which as a role defines the mainstream development of society, its discourse and its imagery.” Today, “despite the fact that [this group] does not yet play a leading role in the Muslim community of Russia, the very presence of this stratum dictates marked qualitative changes.”
One of these is a change in language. In Soviet times, Tatar, Kumyk and to a lesser extent Arabic were the languages of Soviet Muslims, but now, almost everywhere, the language of homilies and publications is in Russian, and Russian translations of the Koran are widely used by the faithful.
Another related change concerns where the umma’s intellectual life is centered. A hundred years ago, it was located in places like Sterlibashevo, Kargaly, Orenbug, and Zakazanya, but now those places have yielded to major Russian cities like Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod, as well as other locations where there were no Muslims at all until a few decades ago.
Over the past decade, no new Islamic political movements were launched, Makarov notes, and the three pre-existing super-Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) – the Central MSD, the Union of Muftis of Russia, and the North Caucasus MSD – retained their positions, and almost all new MSDs formed subordinating themselves to one or another of them.
With the end of the war in Chechnya, that republic has become “a model of the greatest use of Islam as a political resource” among the republics of the Russian Federation.” Tatarstan is not far behind in that regard, and “the positioning of Tatarstan and Chechnya as display windows of Russia Islam is actively being used by Russia’s federal leadership.”
Over the past decade, Makarov continues, there has been “an uninterrupted growth in the number of Muslims” in the Russian Federation. That growth reflects three things: natural growth (with Muslim nations having higher birthrates than death rates), immigration (which has come almost exclusively from Muslim countries), and growth in religious consciousness.
“All Muslim ethnic groups of [Russia],” Makarov notes, continue to experience “natural increases … In some it is more, in others less but in principle this is a general phenomenon. As it happens, this growth does not depend on religiosity among North Caucasus and Central Asian groups, but it is directly related to levels of religiosity among the Tatars and Bashkirs.
The second source of growth, from immigration, reflects the fact that most migrant workers coming into the Russian Federation now are Muslims from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. These arrivals, Makarov notes, “are playing an ever greater role in the life of the Muslim community of Russia.”
And the third source of growth, the intensification of belief and an interest in learning more about the faith, is “a phenomenon characteristic not only for the Muslims of Russia but also for other confessions.” It is an “all-Russian” development, Makarov argues and not “specific to [that country’s] Muslims.”
During the last decade, he continues, “a large part” of the Muslim media emerged. If in the1990s, Muslims tried to break into the mainstream press, then by its end, he says, “it was understood that that path had not prospects.” And concomitantly, there began to appear “new, professional” Muslim news outlets, on the Internet and also journals and newspapers.
Makarov notes that there has been “a very interesting” change in the area of book publishing. In the 1990s, there were few books published and “practically all” of them were translations. Now, “at a minimum, half of the publications reflect original texts” written by Muslims from within the Russian umma itself.
That change promises new intellectual breakthroughs in the future, Makarov says, a necessity given that the umma in Russia has become “more organized, more professional and has grown quantitatively and qualitatively,” trends that he suggests will continue and require ever new approaches to many issues facing the community.

No comments: