Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Plan to Build All-Russian Muslim Body around New Tatarstan Mufti Runs into Trouble

Paul Goble

Staunton, April 27 – The plans of some in Moscow that the center could build an all-Russian Muslim organization around the new mufti of Tatarstan and thus weaken both the two other Muslim bodies with such pretentions, the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR) and the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD), have run into trouble before they could take off.

On the one hand, boosting the position of the Muslim leader in Tatarstan has led the authorities in Kazan to adopt an even more Islamic, not to say Islamist, position in their public appeals. And on the other, the election of a new mufti has led to a split in the ranks of the Tatarstan MSD’s congregations with some breaking off to form a new MSD of their own.

Following the election of Ildus Fayzov as the mufti of Tatarstan two weeks ago, Roman Silantyev, a specialist on Islam with close ties to the Moscow Patriarchate and notorious for his attacks on SMR head Ravil Gainutdin, played up the idea that Fayzov could become a paramount leader of Islam in Russia (

Silantyev’s idea was based on Fayzov’s declaration that the Tatarstan MSD of which he had become the leader would not be part of the SMR even though Fayzov’s predecessor Gusman Iskakov had been vice president of this organization “on his own initiative and as a private person,” the Russian Islamic expert said.

Moreover, because the Tatarstan MSD has numerous parishes beyond the borders of that Middle Volga republic and not just in adjoining areas, Silantyev continued, Fayzov is in a position to present himself as “the leader of an all-Russian Muslim structure,” one which already controls, according to Silantyev, a fifth of all the Muslim congregations in Russia.

As Silantyev points out, the Russian government has its problems not only with the SMR and Central MSD in Ufa – the North Caucasus Muslim organization does not play an all-Russian role – and because Moscow is disappointed in the results of its recent effort to create an all-Russian Muftiate up to now. Consequently, the Kremlin “can begin” to look at Fayzov.

The Russian expert outlines some of the reasons for what he calls “a cooling of relations” between the SMR and Kazan, including issue of Wahhabism, ties with the Central MSD and Talgat Tajuddin, and the fact that an SMR leader took the lead in opposing Fayzov in the run up to the mufti election in Kazan.

Silantyev’s suggestion, which almost certainly reflects the ideas of many in Moscow and especially those close to the Russian Orthodox Church, has run into difficulties for reasons that he and others should have anticipated, reasons that reflect both the nature of Russian political life and the nature of Islam.

If Moscow would like to see another center of Islamic administration in the Russian Federation, establishing it in Kazan has the potential to create a serious problem for the center because it gives the leadership of the Republic of Tatarstan yet another lever to advance itself as spokesman or at least bellwether for all the non-Russians of the Russian Federation.

That is because Kazan can now, as it is doing, present itself as a spokesman for Islam too. On Monday, for example, Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov noted in a message to the World Congress of Tatars that “religion plays a big role in the preservation of national identity” and that Kazan is “concerned” about the situation of Islam in other parts of Russia.

Islam, the Tatarstan leader continued, is “the foundation of Tatar culture” and consequently, when today “mosques in regions of Russia are passing over into alien hands which do not very much strive to preserve our Tatar traditions, the traditions of our ancestors, it is necessary to focus attention on this (

But perhaps a more immediate if ultimately less serious problem for the Russian authorities is that the Tatarstan MSD is now at risk of disintegrating into two or more smaller MSDs, with Muslims in Almetyevsk declaring today that they do not want to subordinate to the Tatarstan MSD of Fayzov (

Because the MSD system has no canonical basis in Islam – such institutions are a political-administrative convenience for Russian officials who would like Islam to be a church like Orthodoxy – any parish can decide to opt out of an MSD whenever it likes, at least from the point of view of Islamic law.

And in this case, it appears that local Muslim leaders, at least some of whom opposed Fayzov’s election and his increasingly active program, have decided that the most effective way to register their objections is to withdraw. If they do and if others follow, Fayzov may not have the base that Silantyev and others hope for.

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