Staunton, March 25 – Moscow is beginning to recognize that it cannot control Islam in Russia via its preferred method of creating a single hierarchical structure, Aleksey Malashenko says. Islam in Russia like Islam in the world at large is simply too diverse for such a structure to work.
For the past two decades, leaders of several of the largest Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) have competed for the honor of being the Islamic equivalent of the Moscow Patriarchate for the Russian Orthodox. All have come up short, and Malashenko’s argument suggests that such projects are unlikely to be revived anytime soon.
In an article on Kavpolit.com, the MGIMO professor who is attached to the Moscow Carnegie Center says that there have been “certain integration processes” within the umma of the Russian Federation but one “should not exaggerate their significance” because the community is so varied (kavpolit.com/articles/islama_kotorogo_hochet_vlast_dobitsja_nevozmozhno-15228/).
The Russian umma is extremely diverse, he points out. There are “at a minimum,” two distinct “enclaves,” the North Caucasus and everywhere else, with the latter divided as well. But the situation has been complicated by migration and also by the appearance of radical trends, something that should not be either “exaggerated or minimized.”
Two MSDs aspire to control the entire Muslim space, the Central MSD in Ufa under Talgat Tajuddin, a Soviet-holdover who sometimes styles himself the Supreme Mufti of Holy Rus, and Ravil Gainutdin, who established the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR) and recently set up the MSD for the Russian Federation.
Both of these leaders represent traditional Islam in the Russian understanding, Malashenko says, and both think that they could be Muslim “patriarchs,” something Moscow would like but that “cannot be achieved” because of diversity and because of the importance of other trends, which should not be treated as “criminals and bandits” as is sometimes the case.
The reason Muslims in Russia are so diverse and becoming even more so is that they are “part of the worldwide Islamic Umma” and as such are affected to varying degrees by all the processes taking place in the Muslim world at large. Moscow is slowly coming to terms with this reality and exploring new possibilities for dealing with the various MSDs and trends.
No big breakthrough is likely anytime soon, he suggests, adding that “if one speaks about the leader of the Muslims of Russia, one can mention” in the first place Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov who very much wants to assume that role. But Malashenko says that he personally “can’t imagine” Kadyrov exercising leadership over Kazan, Moscow or Ufa.
To be sure, Kadyrov is “one of the unique figures of the Russian Muslim community, “but to be leader of all Russian Muslims is impossible by definition.” The Chechen leader himself may want to take that role but even he “understands that Saratov is not Chechnya.”