Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Muslims from Russia who Study Abroad Often Return Hostile to ‘Everything in Russia’ or Don’t Return at All, Islamic Leaders Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 29 – A majority of Muslims from Russia who study abroad return home “negatively inclined toward everything that is taking place in Russia and in the Spiritual Directorates (MSDs)” or they choose not to come back at all, according to leaders of Islamic educational institutions.
Maksud Sadikov, head of the North Caucasus University Center, said that 500 to 700 of the more than 1,000 Daghestani Muslims now studying at Islamic institutions abroad are likely to return with their minds set against the situation in Russia and especially against the official Muslim leadership there (www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=3&id=29906).
But at least Sadikov implied that most Muslims from his republic who study abroad return home. Sharafuddin Chochayev, rector of the Islamic University in Kabardino-Balkaria, in contrast said that of 20 students who travel abroad, “on average [only] one comes back” to his homeland despite the need for their services.
“We are frequently criticized for [the Muslim Spiritual Directorate’s] failure to exercise control over those who travel abroad [for training],” Chochayev continued, but “we do not even know who is studying where because they go on their own rather than making arrangements through the MSD.”
Theircomments came in advance of a meeting on Muslim education that took place in Kazan yesterday and today. But both these two Muslim educators and other participants at the session in the capital of Tatarstan provided details on something that has been subject to intense media speculation but remarkably little detailed reporting.
Sadikov for his part also noted that 13 of the 17 higher Muslim schools in the Russian Federation are located in Daghestan, that they have just graduated their first fully-trained theologians, but that they suffer from both a shortage of resources and a decline in the number of people seeking to enroll.
“Earlier,” he said, “the prestige of Islamic spiritual education was high,” but “now it has declined,” even though the Muslim educator pointed out that “graduates of Islamic academic institutions as before remain in demand” given the shortage of imams, especially in rural areas of the country.
And Chochayev added that in his institution, competition for places has declined significantly over the last few years even though the average age of imams in Kabardino-Balkaria is now 60, a pattern that means a new generation of Muslim leaders must be trained to take their places.
Another speaker, Arslan Sadriyev, head of internal affairs of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR), agreed on both points, adding that Muslim educational institutions in Russia must take account both of the need to train people quickly and the difficulties of recruiting students for training that will not lead in most cases to highly paid positions.
And still others provided other details and perspectives. Rafik Mukhametshin, rector of Kazan’s Russian Islamic University, said the Russian system was just getting started, needed to borrow from the systems of Muslim training that exist in other countries, and must develop rapidly to come up to their level, a view echoed by his colleague in Kazan Rustam Batrov.
Unfortunately, Mukhametshin confessed, his institution in Tatarstan currently has academic ties with only a single Islamic institution abroad (in Turkey) and consequently up to now lacks the opportunity for the kind of continuing exchanges that could allow Muslim educational institutions in Russia to mature.
The challenge for his institution, the Kazan rector said, is enormous. In Tatarstan, there are now 1300 mosques – the republic is “almost an Islamic state,” he pointedly noted – but “only 20 percent of them” have their own permanent imams.” Consequently, he suggested, “one should not yet speak about the rebirth of Islam” there.
The only solution for these various problems, the speakers agreed, is for students in Islamic institutions to study at the same time in state universities, for the government to subsidize the Islamic training centers, and for the MSDs to assume a greater role in organizing training both at home and abroad.

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