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The Tension at Russia’s Center: Radical Islam in Tatarstan

The Tension at Russia’s Center: Radical Islam in Tatarstan

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This policy brief looks at new religious extremism in Russia's Volga Ural region.

This policy brief looks at new religious extremism in Russia's Volga Ural region.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Aug 16, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program
August 2012
1744 R Street NWWashington, DC 20009 1 202 745 3950F 1 202 265 1662E ino@gmus.org
The July killing of an Islamic leader in Tatarstanshocked the Russian region’sleaders and citizens. Terroristattacks are generally rare in theVolga Ural region. The collapseof the USSR opened up a newupsurge of Islamic religiousactivity, and mosques muststill often go outside Tatarstan
to fnd imams. ConservativeNorth Caucasians and othersare now actively infltrating all
Tatar mosques, and tensions,and sometimes violence, are theresult.
 The Tension at Russia’s Center:Radical Islam in Tatarstan
by Nadir Devlet
On July 19, 2012, the mui o atarstan, Ildus Fayzov, was injuredwhen his car was bombed in Kazan,the capital o the autonomousatarstan republic, about 735 km (450miles) east o Moscow. At the sametime, Valiulla Yakubov, ormer deputy mui o atarstan and the imam o theApanay mosque, was gunned downby at least six bullets. Tis kind o terrorism might pass with little noticein the North Caucasus, or example inChechnya, Ingushetia, or Dagestan,where acts like this are requent. Butin the Volga Ural region, home to theurkic Muslim atars and Bashkirs,terrorist attacks are rare generally andunprecedented against clergy or thelast ew decades. Te incident shockedatarstan’s authorities and citizens.atarstan’s regional leader, RustamMinnikhanov, condemned the attack while visiting the injured Fayzov. Hedescribed the event as an attack againsttraditional Islam.Islam indeed has a deep tradition inthe Volga-Ural region, longer thanOrthodoxy. Bulgars, the oreatherso today’s atars, ocially recognizedIslam in 922. In 1789 under Catherinethe Great, Islam was recognized as anocial religion in Russia. Until theBolshevik revolution in 1917, Muslimso Volga Ural region and Siberia werecontrolled by a single muiat, or reli-gious administration, in Ua (today thecapital o Bashkortostan). ModerateIslam ourished, and many amousIslamic scholars emerged. Religiousschools (maktap) and high schools(madrasah) were known as centersor modernization, especially at theend o 19
century. Kazan became animportant Islamic center or Russia’sMuslims, and its amous Muslimmodernists, or
, were knownthroughout the Islamic world.Te communist takeover changedall this. It eatured the abolition o religious institutions and the suppres-sion or killing o most clergy. Likeother Soviet Muslim citizens, atarsand Bashkirs were orcibly cut o rom their religious traditions or 70years. During the Soviet period, themuiat in Ua was responsible or nomore than 20 mosques. Such mosqueswere visited mostly by retired oldermen. wenty to 30 clergy, who wereeducated mainly in the religiousschools o Uzbekistan, suced to tendthese mosques.But the collapse o the USSR openedup a new upsurge o Islamic religiousactivity. New mosques sprang upeverywhere, and old mosques werereturned to believers. A dramaticshortage o imams developed or allthe new and old mosques, and thiscreated a vacuum into which owed
Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program
individuals with marginal religious credentials — orexample, ormer Soviet-trained propagandists o atheism —who were allowed to act as new imams. When the shortagepersisted, other Muslim countries and urkish religiousassociations oered their help. Many youngsters traveledto these Islamic countries to receive education sucient tobecome Muslim clerics.Te Muslim Religious Board (MRB) was set up in 1992. In1998, the atarstan Muslim Uniying Conerence electedmui Gosman Khazrat Iskhakov its chairman. Te maintendency o this early post-Soviet period was towardstabilizing inter-conessional relations and acilitating theinteraction o state bodies with Muslim institutes and orga-nizations. oday, atarstan, along with Dagestan and theMoscow region, is considered a leader among the regions o the Russian Federation in terms o the number o unctionalreligious communities.Te most signifcant event or the Muslims o atarstan wasthe grand opening o the Kul Shari Mosque, the largest inEastern Europe, on June 24, 2005 in Kazan. Tis projectwas acilitated by atarstan’s ormer president MintimerSheymiyev, a gesture that demonstrated the state’s debt toreligious aairs. Te mosque memorializes the independentKazan Khanate period, which was destroyed in 1552, thedate rom which all Muslims o the region were broughtunder the Russian rule.According to the Republic o atarstan’s ocial website,revivals in the Muslim
(religious society) havenot always been peaceul. Te most dicult problem isthe unveiling o various radical currents hiding under thelarger Islamic umbrella, which undermine the traditionso the region’s established Islamic practice. Te problem o 
spreading in Russia is especially serious becauseit erodes both religious and national traditions, strugglesthat take place within state institutions. Te problem o spreading wahabism and other Islamist approaches is linkedto training o clergy, especially those who receive religiouseducation abroad.In the early 1990s shortly aer the Soviet Union collapsed,religious propagandists rom Saudi Arabia began arrivingin Russia to spread their conservative doctrine. So, too,did urkish imams and educators, most belonging to theFethulla Gülen movement. Tey opened private schools,which attracted the attention o parents because o thehigh quality o the Gülenist education, not unlike Chris-tian missionary schools. Students able to attend Gülenistschools learned Russian, English, and their national tongue.At the same time, the Gülenists propagated Islamic educa-tion in the dormitories. Moscow eventually identifed theseurkish schools as dangers to religious stability in atarstanand moved to close them down. Kazan at frst resistedMoscow’s decision, but on the basis o a High Court verdictin 2008, the last Gülenist schools were closed, all Gülenistreligious activities were orbidden, and a number o urkishcitizens were deported. Gülens movement is derived romNurcular movement, which seeks to puriy Islam, but it issome distance rom the radical conservative doctrines o the
. Moscow’s concern clearly was thatthe Gülenist pathway could lead to these radical destina-tions, and indeed some Gülenist students embarked on this journey.Authorities sought ways to put barriers in ront o theseconservative movements. One approach was to revitalizethe development o national religious traditions, which wereconsidered less susceptible to the orce o Islamic conser- vatism due to their deep historical content. Eorts werealso made to marginalize the revival o obsolete or alienreligious practices within atar Islam. But these eorts andothers have not been able to stop the inuence o 
 Islam, which insists on the recognition o 
(religious)laws and customs rom the Prophet’s time.In an interview with Rimzil Veliev on June 7, 2012, Yakubov spoke directly about how this emerging radicalism wassurmounting impeding nationalist barriers, like theatar language. On this ront, he lamented that the atarlanguage would likely disappear rom mosques in 10 to 15years because o the inow o imams rom the Caucasuswho belong to the Shaf school o Sunni Islam (atars andBashkirs belong to Hanaf school) and use Russian in theirpreaching, not atar or Bashkir.
The problem of spreading wahabism and other Islamistapproaches is linked to training of clergy.

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