Monday, 24 October 2016

Islam in Russia

This is a brief overview about Political Islam in Russia and the approach of the government to  Muslims. A short comment about sharia in Russia is placed at the end of this article.
Growth of the Muslim population in Russia
Muslims constitute over 50% of the population in seven of Russia's 85 administrative divisions [1].  Russia has also introduced visa-free entry (duration of up to 90 days) for the citizens of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan where Muslims form the majority of the population (ranging from 80% to 95%) [2]. The policy is aimed at compatriots living in these countries, who can speak Russian and know Russia well. But in reality it allows everybody who holds a passport of these states, to enter Russia [38].

The process of intense immigration from these countries was launched on the 22nd of June 2006 with full support of the Russian government. The desired population growth due to immigration is outlined as 300,000 people a year. The information about the state resettlement program is posted on Russian Embassy websites in the countries of Central Asia including Azerbaijan [3], Kyrgyzstan [4], Tajikistan  [5] and Uzbekistan [6]. The statistics of the application process indicate a vivid interest and intention to move to Russia by the citizens of the mentioned republics [8]. To stimulate that process, the emigrants will be subsidized to resettle as well as be provided with immediate education and medical service regardless of long waiting lists [9].   
According to forecasts, Russian Muslim population will reach 17-19% by 2020 (while the overall population may drop down to 130 million people). Most of that percentage would come from the Northern Caucasus [10]. Other statistics predict a general population growth due to immigration (with the death rate being higher than the birth rate) [11]. Thus the ethnic, national and religious structure of the country will change significantly.    
The number of mosques in Russia increased by a factor of 70 over the past 30 years. They now amount to about 7000 mosques and are geographically spread from Western and Southern regions towards Kamchatka and Sakhalin [12].
However, the Muslim population is growing, so the representatives of regional Muslim communities act as advisers and experts, and insist on adapting to the arriving Muslim immigrants by building more mosques and madrasas (religious schools in Islam), which will expand the Islamic environment beyond merely having places of worship [13].  
Mosques will provide the (non-compulsory) opportunity for studying  Russian language, and for providing both legal support and written advice for immigrants on how to behave in case of certain situations. They will also serve as temporary residence for illegal immigrants who will be waiting to obtain official papers [20], which would indirectly legalize illegal immigration. Their adaption is seen as only possible via mosques and local Muslim support. However, successful adaptation is a theory for now [14].
Russia against Islamic radicalism
The experiences of the EU show that if the population of Muslim communities grow and reach the status of a significant minority, the representatives of Islam start to request a political system based on sharia law. If we focus on the countries of Central Asia, 59% of Muslims say that sharia should be applied to Muslims only. They also support sharia as the official law of the country (35% in Kyrgyzstan, 25% in Tajikistan, 10% in Kazakhstan, 8% in Azerbaijan). The political rules of sharia are based on religious principles and describe many aspects of society and life. These principles are contrary to the democratic state based on  principles independent of religion. Generally, this political controversy is a significant cause of radicalism or, at the least, the dissatisfaction of Muslims.
During the conference "Traditional Values – Orthodox Christianity and Islam Against Terrorism and Extremism Together", the Muslim religious community, inspired by Chechen president R.Kadyrov, firmly advised the formation of a special governmental body to follow up and persecute any cases of "submissive activity" when respected Muslim books are considered to be extremist [15].
The federal state project focused on radicalism starting in 2007 [16]. Its official goal is “to design and implement the regulations to support Muslim religious communities (mosques), which are loyal to the government and to solidify their property and financial position in order to counteract radical cells”. The main idea of this project is based on the rule: “something for something”, or in other words, financial support for loyalty to governments. The implication of this project was outlined for the period of 2007-2010 and provided the basis for substantial financial support for Muslim enterprises.
By the end of 2007, Muslim religious organizations received a total of 800 million RUB (approx. 35 million USD), while Islamic religious and educational organizations obtained the opportunity to promote themselves on the state level [16], [17].  No other religions in Russia have such a privilege. The principle of the Russian secular state and equality of religions was thus violated. 
In spite of the state project against radicalism, Russian jails allow "orthodox" Wahhabism to be taught.  Specially trained imams carry out disciplinary talks with prisoners, and some jails now have rooms for Islamic worship [18, 19]. The result of this process is that a large number of prisoners convert to fundamental Wahhabism. The avalanche-like character of this movement causes concern among the authorities, but they fail to counteract it effectively.
Understanding Political Islam
Many Russian people do not view Political Islam as an ideology threatening secular democratic values and freedoms (of religion). This is caused, perhaps, by the memories of older generations of the peaceful coexistence of Muslim and non-Muslim nationalities under Soviet rule.
This ignorance of Political Islam is quite clear in the opinions of the Russian population. As an example, 10% of Russians are aware of the Islamic State phenomenon [20] and that it claimed certain areas of the Northern Caucasus to be their provinces.  It means that ISIS wants to establish a rigid religious state under sharia law in that area.  It needs to be understood that sharia law divides the world into  Dar-al-Islam, The House of Peace, which is the state under sharia law, and Dar al-Harb, The House of War, which means the state that is not under sharia law. The ultimate goal of Political Islam is to incorporate the House of War into the House of Islam. This goal was proclaimed by Mohammed.
On the other hand, 74% of respondents opposed wearing hijabs at schools and universities. In Moscow, the share of those who spoke against it reached the highest rate – 91% of those surveyed. This was also supported by the Russian Ministry of Education [20].
Sharia Law in Russia
In 2005 Russia joined the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and thus became subject to global Islamic movements and resolutions. This idea was fully supported by the Russian Orthodox Church [21], [22].
After the International Conference on Jihad, Takfir and Caliphate (25-26 May, 2012), it became evident that the processes which Europe is now going through, will also include Russia. The difference is that the Russian part of the ummah, the Muslim political, religious and cultural community, has not yet reached significant size and has not gained sufficient representation in regional and federal authorities.
According to the Moscow Theological Report, which outlines the Muslim stance on certain issues, military jihad is acceptable within a country to keep and ensure massive advancement of the religion. Infidels and their territories are the properties of Allah but, at times, actions against them may create a negative image of Islam. A Caliphate can be a solution to a modern society, particularly in the case of absence of a state governor or of his incapacity [23]. The Caliphate state is based on religious rules – sharia law. One of the major Muslim newspapers recognized the Theological Report as being as significant as the Cairo Declaration of 1993 [24], which outlined the idea of human rights based on sharia [25].
Understanding the opinion of Muslims in Russia is useful in this context. The statistics show that 52% of Muslims believe sharia is the revealed word of God, 42% favored making Islamic law the official law in their country and 58% believe religious leaders should have significant or at least, partial political influence [26].
Regardless of their apparent worldly lifestyle and frequently elitist position in business or politics, Muslims continue identifying with Islamic tradition when it comes to family, society and state.
In public speeches and interviews, leading and well-established adherents of the Islamic faith express these views both openly and indirectly [27, 28]. In the conditions of modern society, changes and modernization of Islam are not meant to happen. Instead it is deemed necessary “to manipulate the minds” and persuade those who experienced aggression at the hands of  Muslims [29]. 
It was also stated that the application of sharia law is unavoidable on a state level in Chechnya, Karachaevo-Cherkessiya and Dagestan, while in Russia, sharia may be introduced in experimental areas – to see how well it works. It will primarily concern property, inheritance and family disputes, as well as legalizing polygamy. Such an approach will create the necessary foundation for the further complete introduction of sharia on Russian land [27].
Following the scandalous statement by lawyer Dagir Khasavov on the “Ren-TV” channel, who attempted to introduce sharia legally, this idea was supported by the Russian Orthodox Church [30, 31]. It should be pointed out that according to Khasavov, Islamic law will be established in Russia anyway, and any effort to oppose it will result in serious “blood-spilling” violence [32]. Also, Chechnyan president Ramzan Kadyrov told the French newspaper Le Figaro that he does not recognize anything as being higher than Islamic law (as quoted by and [33].
Sharia Banking
A Russian and Malaysian Consortium began in April 2015 to research and analyze the potential viability of Islamic banking in Russia. It is expected that by June 2016, the Duma will amend respective points in the legislation which will allow sharia banks to operate in Russia [34]. Islamic financial services have been provided in Mahachkala and Kazan since 2011, but they were not granted Central Bank license, and thus they are not official banks. Their services are limited and exclude provision of loans and saving accounts [35].
As of September 2015 the first sharia bank cards were officially issued by Moscow Industrial Bank [36].
The Muslim population in Russia is growing in  numbers and has greater leverage to insist on Islamic values while being in a democratic society. Muslims are not influential enough to legalize sharia nationwide, so they will make it a parallel system contradicting the Russian constitution.
It will probably change over the years as the Muslim proportion of the population becomes significantly greater.
The active practice of  sharia, which implies various human rights violations and presents threats to the freedom and lives also of non muslims, is being promoted by traditional Muslims. It is not the invention of jihadists.  
This process is not new and is similar to the methods used by Mohamed. In the beginning of  Islam, Mohamed focused on its religious aspects. Later, after moving to Medina, Mohamed became a politician and warrior and was focused on jihad. His main struggle was focused on submission of non-believers and the physical fight against the enemies of Islam.
Written 9 January, 2016
Center for the Study of Political Islam

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