Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Muslims Work to Integrate 20,000 Female Converts Each Year

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 13 – Some 20,000 Muscovite women – including more than 13,000 ethnic Russians – are converting to Islam each year, according to Russian demographic specialists. And this has led the local Islamic community to launch a hotline to address their particular needs, despite the opposition of some Muslim leaders.
The hot line was set up last week by a Muslim cultural enlightenment organization less to answer questions about family and marriage – the usual issues dealt with by such channels in the Muslim world – but rather to provide basic information about Islam itself.
That is because, Mikhail Pozdnyaev wrote in Novyye izvestiya yesterday, most of the women to whom it is addressed know relatively little about Islam and the culture of the Muslim community in the Russian capital and thus have many questions about what certain situations mean and how they should act (http://www.newizv.ru/print/79597).
Indeed, he quotes the words of Raisa Mordvinova, president of the Women and Politics Foundation, to the effect that women who have only recently turned to Islam, “need help considering the special features of their [new] religion” because “what is normal” in Islam is not in Christianity and vice versa.
The Moscow hotline, which offers free consultations with doctors, psychologists, and educators, currently operates twelve hours a day five days a week, Pozdnayev said, but its organizer, the Muslim media center “Golobushka,” hopes to be able to expand this service to 24 hours a day seven days a week in the near future.
While this is the first such hotline in the Russian capital, it is not the first effort of the Islamic community there to reach out to new believers. Several mosques in the capital have organized special classes for women like these, and one mosque has had an “ask the imam” page on its website for several years.
But not all Muslim leaders approve of this move into the virtual world. One who is especially opposed is Geydar Dzhemal, the chairman of the Islamic Committee of Russia and someone who often speaks out against innovations of all kinds among his fellow Muslims.
Dzhemal told Pozdnyaev that “if in the countries of the Arab world, such ‘hot lines’ are only one of the multitude of instruments for supporting the individual and not the most effective, then with us such services in reality are [only] an imitation of civil society.”
“We should not forget,” he continued, “that in Russia, ‘hot lines’ are associated mainly with the force structures where one calls in order to turn someone in. And the functions of a psychologist (and psychology in our country is the seamy underside of psychiatry) are not the same as the functions of a religious leader.”
Only a mullah or imam is “capable of giving spiritual advice in any situation,” the Islamic Committee head said, and “Muslims in the capital [including recent converts among women] need in the first instance to search for it at home, among friends, and at the mosque.”
But the shear numbers of converts, many of them the product of marriages between ethnic Russian women and Muslim me, is now so great that most of Russia’s Islamic community appears ready to welcome the establishment of such a channel, even if a few conservatives are certain to continue to speak out against it.

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