Thursday, November 15, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Can Russia’s Muslims Avoid Being ‘Dizzy with Success’?

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 15 – After more than 70 years of Soviet oppression and various problems they experienced during the first decade after the collapse of the USSR, Russia’s 20 million-plus Muslims find themselves unexpectedly enjoying both sympathy band financial support from the Kremlin.
But that unprecedented situation, the editors of the most influential Muslim website in the Middle Volga say, has left many in the Islamic community in a potentially problematic situation, “dizzy with success,” uncertain about what this shift means, and how they should behave as a result (
On the one hand, the site’s leadership argues in an unusual editorial article, some of Russia’s Muslims have come to believe that the state’s change of heart is not only permanent but means that they no longer have to work hard in support of the umma because the government will take care of everything.
But on the other hand, some of the faithful are now convinced that the government owes them this because of how Moscow behaved toward Islam in the past and that they have a right to demand ever greater funding from the government and act against it if the regime does not come through.
Both these attitudes are dangerously wrong, the “Muslims of the Volga” editorial board argues, and then it provides an extensive discussion of both the basis for its argument that Russia’s Muslims are in a good position, something many would dispute, and its recommendations on how the Islamic community should behave as a result.
The site’s editors point to the statements of Russian President Putin and the actions of the Foundation for the Support of Islamic Culture, Science and Education that he established more than a year ago as a public organization attached to the Presidential Administration.
Jointly organized by Putin and the leaders of the Muslim community in Russia at the end of 2006 and officially registered on January 31, 2006, that fund, which includes money from the government as well as from other sources within Russia and abroad, has provided funding for numerous Muslim activities over the past year.
Its website,, says that this foundation was created to provide money from the government for projects proposed by the “traditional Muslim organizations of Russia,” to “channel” any money that may be coming to them from abroad, and to promote domestic Muslim media and educational activities.
The site also lists the government and religious officials who oversee its operations and the disbursal of funds. Among the former are Yevgeniy Primakov, and senior people from the Presidential Administration, the presidents of Daghestan and Tatarstan, and representatives from foreign ministry.
Among the latter are the rector of the Moscow Islamic University, the deputy head of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD), the chairman of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), and the chairman of the International Islamic Mission in the Russian Federation.
Over the past year, this foundation has provided to Russia’s Muslim educational institutions in particular some 14 million rubles (about 600,000 U.S. dollars). Such an amount seems small only to those unaware of how little money Muslim institutions in that country have had up to now.
Indeed, much of the funding they did receive in the past came from Muslim governments and institutions abroad, something that Putin’s foundation was set up to limit lest this foreign funding open the way to the spread of Islamic ideas at variance with those of what Moscow calls its “traditional” moderate Muslims.
Not surprisingly, many Muslims in the Russian Federation are likely to view this foundation as a threat to the independence they enjoyed from their government because of foreign funds, even if at the same time they are only too pleased to take whatever money the Kremlin offers.
Their concerns about this foundation are likely to find an echo among Muslims outside of Russia, with some of these welcoming Moscow’s support of the faith but probably far more concerned that this Kremlin move represents an effort to once again limit contacts between Russia’s Muslims and the umma outside.
And it thus appears that the real reason the editors of this Muslim site – itself created, its masthead says, to promote “the development of civil society in the Volga Federal District” -- put out this editorial is that some Muslims there believe they can take the Kremlin’s money while continuing to accept it from foreign sources.
That is a delusion, the editorial says. Russia’s Muslims need to recognize that Putin’s foundation is -- together with their own efforts -- the best hope for the future and thus turn away from foreign sources. If they don’t, it strongly implies, not only will Moscow cut off the one form of funding but quite certainly try to end the other as well.

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