Pravda, July 21, 2008
Islam is likely to become the primary religion in the Russian Federation by 2050 due to the high birth rate in Muslim republics.
The current Chinese-led conquest of Russia’s Far East already seems to be a matter of immediate concern for the Kremlin. The ethnic birth rate disproportion in different regions of the country is another problem. The Muslim community may become the largest community by the middle of the current century. Therefore, Islam has all chances to become the predominant religion in Russia.
Ukrainian scientists of politics, Valery Chaliy and Mikhail Pashkov, believe that this is not the only challenge, which Russia has to face nowadays.
“The Russian macroeconomic stability is being shattered with the high inflation rate and growing food prices. Considerable funds are being invested in state-run corporations and are being spent on social needs. Corruption restrains the growth of the national economy. Russia dropped from the 120th to the 14th place among 160 countries on Transparency International’s corruption list. Russian found itself in the company of Gambia, Indonesia and Togo at this point. Russia takes the humble 58th place on the list of 131 countries on the integral rating of the competitive ability of the economy for 2007.
Islam is currently the second most widely professed religion in the Russian Federation. It is impossible to provide official statistics of “practicing” adherents of Islam or any other religion in Russia because there is no country-wide census or statistics done on this matter by any governmental organization. Roman Silantyev, a Russian Islamologist has estimated that there are only between 7 and 9 million people who practise Islam in Russia, and that the rest are only Muslims by ethnicity. Muslim communities are concentrated among minority nationalities residing between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea: Adyghe, Balkars, Chechens, Circassians, Ingush, Kabardin, Karachay, and numerous Dagestani peoples. Also, in the middle of the Volga Basin reside populations of Tatars and Bashkirs, many of whom are Muslims.
There was much evidence of official conciliation toward Islam in Russia in the 1990s. The number of Muslims allowed to make pilgrimages to Mecca increased sharply after the embargo of the Soviet era ended in 1990. In 1995 the newly established Union of Muslims of Russia, led by Imam Khatyb Mukaddas of Tatarstan, began organizing a movement aimed at improving inter-ethnic understanding and ending Russians’ lingering misconception of Islam. The Union of Muslims of Russia is the direct successor to the pre-World War I Union of Muslims, which had its own faction in the Russian Duma. The post-Communist union has formed a political party, the Nur All-Russia Muslim Public Movement, which acts in close coordination with Muslim imams to defend the political, economic, and cultural rights of Muslims and other minorities. The Islamic Cultural Center of Russia, which includes a madrassa (religious school), opened in Moscow in 1991.
The majority of Muslims in Russia adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam. About 2% are Shi’a Muslims. In a few areas, notably Chechnya, there is a tradition of Sunni Sufism. The Azeris have also historically and still currently been nominally followers of Shi’a Islam, as their republic split off from the Soviet Union, significant number of Azeris immigrated to Russia in search of work.
Many Muslim citizens, in particular Muslim clerics, often cite instances of arrest and harassment by authorities, as well as ocassional confiscation of Islamic educational sources. The problems have been exacerbated by terrorist attacks linked with Islamic extremism and Chechen independence. Many ordinary Muslims in Russia fear that they have become the victims of a violent backlash.
The rise in the Russian Muslim population, terrorist attacks and the steep decline of the ethnic Russian population have given rise to a greater degree of Xenophobia and Islamophobia in Russia. Violent racist attacks by ethnic Russians, particularly Neo-Nazi skinheads, which used to be mainly conducted against Jews, are becoming increasingly frequent towards Muslims. As such, Muslims bear the brunt of the escalating racist violence in Russia. Racist attacks struck 539 people in 2006, a 17 percent rise over 2005, the Sova analytical center said in a report. Nearly half of the 56 people killed in the attacks were from the overwhelmingly North Caucasus and Central Asia.
Eighty percent of Muslim literature published in Russia reflects ideas and principles of wahhabism, islamologist Roman Silantyev said.
“It contains appeals not to observe laws of non-Muslim states (and Russia is a non-Muslim state), to liquidate peoples with other religious convictions,” Silantyev told journalists at the Chelyabinsk Interfax press center.
According to him, the same can be referred to informational sources as “many of them are financed by wahabis and promote ideas of radical Islam.’
Silantyev believes the key problem is that certain Islamic leaders are identified with all Russian Muslims.
“We often see that a Muslim leader speaks out with radical statements or threats and serve them up as an opinion of the significant part of Muslims. While the reputation of the leader is often questioned,” the islamologist said.
He reminded, “according to the information of Russian general prosecutor’s office, people’s court twice condemned co-chairman of Russia’s Mufti Council Nafigullah Ashirov for robbery and disorderly conduct.”