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Ideological orientations of the Muslim Community in Russia

16.12.2008 12:58

One of the most topical issues of the Muslim community nowadays is the activity of different organizations, who operate on behalf of all the Muslims of Russia or a certain part of them. Despite the multiplicity of such organizations, Muslims have not developed institutes of solving their ethnic and confessional problems. Besides unannounced opposition of authorities, there are other reasons for such a situation: absence of commonly accepted leaders in the Muslim community of Russia and a wide spectrum of ideological and political orientations of modern Muslims.

Lately, several publications, aiming at classifying Muslim communities and movements, have appeared in specialized magazines. Naturally, such materials are often characterized with subjectivism of the author; nevertheless, such scientists, who share Christian world outlook, again and again try to contradistinguish “fundamentalism” and “modernism”, “political Islam” and “popular Islam”. Muslim leaders themselves create grounds for such statements as they follow separate Islam movements with an extremely narrow sphere of influence and drive themselves into the corner with phrases like: “Wahhabism is our enemy”, or “Sufism is heresy”, or “in Russia Islam has always been traditional” etc. It is synonymic to a formula “he that is not with us is against us”; and taking into consideration ambitious character of certain imams and national leaders of modern Russia, it is possible to make a conclusion about a split of the Muslim community into hostile factions and sects. In reality not all theoretical presuppositions of scientists are embodied, – as a rule, because of alienation of certain movements from real events. “Extremely far from people they are” – this is how we can characterize certain trends in Islam, which attract disproportionate attention of the mass-media and “Islam-studiers”.

In this following article we have made an attempt to describe the most significant types of different Muslim organizations of Russia (mostly using the example of the Volga region and Central Russia), basing on their ideological principles, either stated by themselves or expressed in their activity. Obviously, this article also bears a trace of subjectivism, like the ones criticized above. Although, we hope that it will become a starting point for a dialogue between the representatives of different movements and organizations.


The most significant factors, which have to certain extent influenced the formation of modern state of Russian Muslims, were confrontation between reformers and conservatives (jadidism – qadimism) at the edge of the 19-20 centuries, national movement of the first years of the Soviet rule and closeness of the whole Russian society for the last several decades. No doubt, ethnoconfessional consciousness of Russian Muslims has also been influenced by external political factors, like the Iranian revolution or the war in Afghanistan. But here we have to make a few remarks. Firstly, the first external conflicts, which have influenced the psychology of Muslim nations of the Soviet Union, were Arab-Israeli wars, as Muslim self-identification stood together with patriotic feelings (due to the political stance of the USSR in the Middle East). Secondly, Iran and Afghanistan have exerted more influence on the situation in the Central Asia than on the Muslims of the Russian Federation as such. Thirdly, neither of these conflicts has influenced citizens of our country to the same extent as the war in Chechnya, which has completely destroyed the stereotypes of “comfortable world outlook” of all the Muslims of Russia, including the communities of the Volga region and Central Russia.

The analysis of the modern state of Russian Muslims will be of no use, if we don’t take into consideration historical background of the existence of Islam in the USSR/RF on three socio-economic levels: on the level of the Religious Boards of Muslims, subordinate to the state, on the level of leaders-reformers, who are opposed to Religious Boards, and on the “popular level” (so-called “alternative” Islam). In this respect, it would be a mistake to base their prognosis of the development of Islam in Russia on the processes, which are developing in the modern foreign Muslim countries, or in the Muslim communities of Europe and US.

Due to certain political events of the latest decades, the Muslim community of the Volga region and Central Russia has principally a qualitatively new stage of its existence. Different ideological trends, typical of a critical state of society, have appeared and developed here. The authors of the present article are sure that ideological disputes in the modern Islam in general, and in Russia in particular, are explained not by the differences in madhhabs (differences in which are more of technical, than ideological, origin), but by the conflict of ‘aqhidahs, which allow or don’t allow rational interpretation of the problems of faith. As an ‘aqhidah is ideology in the first place, we will try to explain the ideological background of certain organizations and movements of the Volga region Muslim community; although we are aware of the fact that such a classification of ideological orientations is highly approximate.

Reformative orientations

A word “reformers” in Islam may be related to those who share opposite ideological views. Thus, both Muhammad Abdo and Jamaluddin Afghani were called reformers – meanwhile, their heritage is ambiguously interpreted, and sometimes they are accused of their affiliation with “peripheral circle of Western masonry”1. Followers of ahmadiya call the founder of this school “a reformer”; jadidists in Russia were reformers as well. Imam Homeini is called in the same way etc. Some reformers tried to change the dogmatic principles of Islam, while the other – only certain rituals. The authors have failed to find a suitable definition for the Russian Muslim movements described below: their ideological orientations are reformative, especially in comparison with a traditionalist platform of many muftis and mullahs.

In the middle of 1980s a group of Muslim leaders appeared in the USSR; they were in opposition not only to the atheist authorities, but also to the official Religious Boards of Muslims. Naturally, they could not state their position openly, moreover, quite few typical traits were peculiar to them at the first period of their existence: firstly, they presented “young” generation, which was younger in comparison with most mosque parishioners; secondly, they aimed at following Pillars of Islam – at that time it meant praying five times a day (this is what differed them from the other “ethnic” Muslims in the USSR); thirdly, they wanted to learn the Arabic alphabet. No political, oppositional to the powerful regime ideas were spread among these people; nevertheless, their religious views gave grounds for security service pressure. Nowadays, it seems weird to us that young people from this circle were summoned to the KGB – because they learned Arabic letters: teaching people the alphabet and Salat was the main aim for them at that period. Their community centre was Moscow: this group kept active contacts with its confederates in Central Asia, North Caucasus, and Tatarstan. Nobody spoke of creating an organization out of the group; later it would become known as “Saph Islam”. As they felt as a “separate” part of the community, these Muslims preferred to keep aloof from the traditional conventions of Russian “ethnic” Muslims: they didn’t give themselves a name, although they considered themselves to be “true” (following the basics of Islam) Muslims. Later, after establishing the first contacts with Arabs in 1992, a term “salafits” appeared; nevertheless, “moderate reformers” don’t accept it as it’s associated with the radical trends. In early 1990s the “reformative” component of this trend became clearer: they operated as an independent alternative to mufti directorates for preparing the conditions of “islamization” of Russian Muslims. Certain “reformers” thought it was necessary to eliminate mufti directorates as subordinate to KGB and to create new organizations, or even to destroy the system of mufti directorates at all. It was the “reformers”’ activities that led to the creation of the Islamic Party of Revival in 1990. The IPR became an organization that united nearly all informal (non-state) Islamic leaders of the USSR; after the collapse of the IPR its components started to operate independently.

Nowadays, “reformative” orientations towards global problems don’t differ a lot from the ideas of mufti directorates or even “Muslim officials”: for if we consider call to Islam and establishment of Islamic system in one or another sphere of human relations to be radical, then whole Islam is radical thought. The views of “Islam purity devotees” are especially clearly expressed towards non-global issues, which still arouse arguments and debates in the conservative Russian Muslim community – they are routine issues. The followers of the above-mentioned ideas are characterized by a certain extent of anti-traditionalist orientation, while anti-sufist attitude is more typical of Caucasian Muslims.

It is necessary to mention, that in general “reformative movement” of the beginning of 1990s belongs to the past; it has obviously become more “formal” due to the changes in conditions and, consequently, methods of activity. Financial flows from the countries of the Arab Gulf in the second half of 1990s has obviously decreased as a result of the fact, that foreigners have realized significant differences between pompous declarations and concrete actions. The negative aspect of the “reformers’” activity was their alienation from people, caused both by the above-mentioned factors and by the lack of communication with people. Actually, if mejlis, being the most popular convention for Moscow Muslims (Tatars and Bashkirs), arouses negative reaction due to certain “non-Islamic” aspects, how is it possible to spread ideas, in the absence of a proper tribune and press? If mufti directorates are perceived as ideological enemies (while “reformers” still can work and coexist with certain muftis, whom are even called “priests”2), how is it possible to communicate with mosque parishioners? Because of this the leaders of such trends are in such a drastic need of their “own” mosque.

Radical orientations

The IPR became a shield for all informal Islamic movements of the former USSR. At that time the conditions for radicalization of certain groups, which later became separate trends with their own ideology, already existed. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons for radicals activation was the foreign influence. These groups have significantly increased their level of activity in the second half of 1990s. The example of Dagestan is the most evident one.

Caucasian radicalism has its own history and its leaders. Caucasian radicals (those from Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia) give the priority to the “Sufism” issue, as Sufism has a very specific meaning and form in Caucasus. The followers of this idea have become a significant part of the Volga Muslim community due to the changes in the ethno-demographic situation in the capital and due to the very quick “establishment” of the Muslims from North Caucasian republics in the Volga region and Central Russia. Without delving into details, it is necessary to mention that a specific character of this type of radicalism is predetermined, in the first place, by the specific Caucasian mentality and the history of development of their version of Islam in a complete isolation from the rest Islamic world. A notable fact is that the most important representative of Caucasian radicalism M. Bagautdin from Kizlyar (Dagestan) actively participated in the activity of the Islamic Party of Revival in the beginning of 1990s.

Wahhabism is a conventional term which has received broad recognition on the territory of CIS in 1990s. On the one hand, it is used to define “renovated” radicalism of certain Muslim leaders and movements, on the other hand – it disguises islamophobic discourse of the mass-media on the post-Soviet territory. The term “wahhabism” is interpreted according to political condition, and it is proved by the whole latest history of the mass-media in Russia. According to the mass-media, Wahhabists disappeared in the Volga region and Central Russia in 2003, when the Russian authorities established friendly relations the most significant countries of the Muslim world, including Saudi Arabia. It is use to musing on this widely debated topic, nevertheless, it is necessary to mention, that the growth of radicalism in any form – as in Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Adygheya, Tatarstan etc. – is as a rule a reaction of ordinary Muslims to injustice. A bright example of such awful negligence of a so-called professional Islam specialist is an article of G. Miloslavskiy in “Islam and Politics”3, in which he wrote: “The sources of Wahhabist tradition (Arabian Wahhabism) are Quran (its literal interpretaion), six “canonic” Sunni hadith collections…, two tafsirs – Ibn Kathir and al-Badawi”. Try to find any difference between “Arabian Wahhabism” and Islam in Malaysia, or Turkey, or Morocco, or Germany, or the Volga region, or anywhere else!

Therefore, Wahhabism is a certain bugaboo, used for political purposes; it is necessary to take into consideration that there are certain imams, who are called “Wahhabits” because they associate with sponsors and teachers from Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf countries. Not all of them are radicals, and the level of radicalism is different in each case. Whom can we call a Wahhabite, then? We must admit that there is a cause–effect relation between the literacy level and the radical stance. Imams we call Wahhabits are ideologically backward and conceptually illiterate, badly educated and not understanding the deep sense of sacral texts, who are the main obstacles to progress.

One of the extremist radical sectarian ideas is called in Arabic “at-taqfir wa-l-hijra”, or “accusing /Muslims/ of atheism and movement”. This phenomenon takes place in many Muslim countries. Similar ideas are shared by certain Russian Muslims. Such a group existed in Nizhniy Novgorod in the second half of 1990s. These people called themselves “muwahiddun” (Arab. “united”); they didn’t have any contacts with city mosques, they considered the Religious Board of Muslims for the Nizhniy Novgorod region an alien structure (“we are on our own, and they are on their own”), and moreover, from time to time they accused certain Muslims – including those working in the mosque – of being “qafirs” (“infidels”). Many of them divorced with their wifes because of the “non-Islamic” behavior of the latter. The absurdity of this idea can’t be understood logically; the analysis of the group’s activity is complicated by the outstanding illiteracy of its leaders (thus, their shallow knowledge of Islam was received from literature of a certain kind, translated into Russian). All secondary ritual issues are given hear the main priority. The group comprised both Tatars and Caucasians. In late 1990s the majority of the group performed “hijra” [imitation of the Sunnah of the Prophet, movement, prescribed by radical imams to those Muslims, who don’t have a possibility to follow their religious duties to full extent] to Mordovia, where they were later assimilated by more moderate communities.

Another radical trend is the movement “at-tabligh wa-l-da’wa” (proliferation of Islam and call to Islam), the main centre of which is situated in Pakistan. “Tabligh” group (which is not officially established) present, as a rule, a circle of young people, parishioners of different mosques. They confine the meaning and essence of Islam to da’wa – Islamic call. The characteristic traits of this trend is the lack of strategy, plan of development of society and political apathy. They carry out call to Islam in close groups, in different cities. The members of this group often came to different cities of the Volga region in 1990s – from Pakistan, Bangladesh etc. Paying tribute to their sense of purpose, readiness to sacrifice and strong faith of these people, we want to admit that this way of call is not the best and the most effective. Firstly, teachers don’t know languages of peoples of Russia, and sometimes even English – so that two interpreters (Urdu-English and English-Russian) are needed. Secondly, such preachers, as a rule, have very scarce knowledge about the country they come to for spreading Islam. Naturally, they don’t know anything about the conditions of islamization, history of Islam and its local peculiarities. Thirdly, sometimes even the literacy level of preachers is lower than the level of their Russian audience. All these negative aspects are also indirectly related to the Russian followers of this movement. But the methods of the local preach and the topics it touches upon make a depressing impression.

One more movement of foreign origin is the “Hizb ut-tahrir” (the Islamic Liberation Party). This Party was formed in the end of 1940s in Jordan under the influence of events in Palestine and preached the creation of Caliphate. The institute of caliphate was considered the key to the majority of problems of the Islamic world. The “Hizb ut-Tahrir” declares its aim as the revival of Caliphate by peaceful means – by preaching. Despite the absence of a military component in the program of the party, it is considered a terrorist organization in several states of the Middle East, because of the threat to political regimes of these countries. Nowadays, due to pressure, the headquarters of the “Hizb ut-Tahrir” moved to Great Britain. The region of the post-Soviet territory where the followers of this party operate most actively is Central Asia, to be more exact – Uzbekistan. In the light of a constant flaw of people from this republic to Russia its ideas have been distributed to a certain extent in the Volga region, Central Russia, and even Siberia; FSB and prosecutor’s office made efforts to organize criminal prosecution of the party. The question about the deviation from their activity from the present legislations is still unclear; anyway, personal choice of faith should not be considered as grounds for persecution in democratic society. Moreover, law bodies seem not to have proper knowledge about the organization “Hizb ut-Tahrir”, as the activity of this organization is so unknown to Russian people, including specialists, that there even no scientific research regarding it has ever been published. It is not a surprising fact – this organization has never operated on the territory of Russia; our country has never belonged to its sphere of interest – therefore, we don’t have specialists who understand the difference between the “Hizb ut-Tahrir”, the “Hizb al-Kataib al-Lyubnaniya” (Christian Maronite party of Lebanon), and “al-Hizb ash-Shuyu’iya al-Siriya” (Communist party of Syria). That is why independent experts unanimously call the “Hizb ut-Tahrir” case а one more fabricated case in the framework of islamophobia in Russia.

Another, very interesting and close to patriotic movement Islamic ideology is presented in Russia by G. Jemal, who declares the principles of the “Islamic project” on the TV and in press and who also took part in the IPR. The essence of the “project” – is the uniting of geopolitical interests of Russia and Islamic world movements for fighting with Western, “Atlantic project” and consequent islamization of the country. Muslim tactics, according to G. Jemal, must be confined to establishing contacts with second and third echelon officials and anti-Western political movements for going to the foreground together with new allies and influencing the domestic and foreign policy of Russia. Realism of this project is debatable, but, anyway, G. Jemal must have significant support from authoritative persons, if he has a possibility to express such “radical” ideas in the mass-media quite regularly.

Pseudomessianic trends

From time to time Islamic world faced the appearance of people, who called themselves Mahdi, or Messiah, or Caliph etc. It happened more often in Shia Islam, especially during the initial period of its development; in Sunni Islam this phenomenon became more widespread in the 19-20 centuries, when Muslims felt the absence of centralized Islamic authority especially acutely. In Russia such ideas have not gained popularity – possibly, due to the fact that Muslims of this countries have never been part of the Caliphate.4 Only recently have we heard about a Pakistani organization of Caliphate revival (its representatives came to Moscow in 1995). In the middle of the 1990s “Caliph” came to Russia himself. It was a man from Avtury village of the Chechnya Republic, Adam Deniyev, who also took part in the IPR. His former IPR colleagues considered him either a mentally ill person, or a security service “spy”, who was setn by the KGB to split the party. In pre-war period “Caliph” was persecuted in his motherland because of his richness. In the war period Deniyev criticized military operations and went to Moscow, where he became an ”independent” critic of Mashadov. His followers were both Caucasians and Tatars. Deniyev regularly published the “Adamalla” newspaper (“humanity” in the Chechen language; the word “adamalla” is originated from the word “adam” – man, while Adam is also the “Caliph’s” name) in Russian (with articles in Arabic and English, as well). Later he was killed in unclear circumstances.

Besides openly “messianic” ideas sometimes similar in some aspects trends appear in society; their activity is connected, as a rule, with a mentally ill person, who is used by tricksters in their goals.

Pseudoradical orientations.

Some politicians, who in reality share quite conformist ideas, have got used to using rather radical ideas in their speeches. Such declarations may bring significant profits in communication with foreign financiers, who are concerned with Russian Muslims. Addressing Soviet (both in upbringing and mentality) public with radical thoughts and threats helps them to gain popularity and to become a certain intermedium between extremists and “normal people” in officials’ eyes. Sometimes even mosque imams, who want to improve their relations with authorities, are not avert to such a “radicalization”. In general, “idle” threat policy has become a widespread phenomenon in our country, which has lost its great power status and doesn’t want to accept it. Similar processes are developing within the Muslim community.

The most conformist pseudoradical organization was, possibly, the Islamic Cultural Centre of Russia, headed by A.-V. Niyazov (formed in 1991). When its activity began, Moscow Muslim community was full of different gossips about his ethnic origin, later such question became secondary – as well as his problematic relations with the Moscow mufti. In different periods of its activity the ICCR had different, sometimes hostile to one another, allies. The ICCR’s staff was nearly totally changed once a year; a lot of regional branches of the ICCR started acting independently. In their contacts with officials and politicians the ICCR’s leadership often uses “radical” declarations. The most famous projects of all those, which the ICCR tried to embody, were the following: “governmental” ‘umra in January 1994 (with participation of leaders of several federal republics, first echelon officials of Russia and Moscow, officials from the CIS countries, intelligentsia representatives, etc.); laying the cornerstone of the Eastern Cultural Centre in Moscow in summer 1994 (the project was buggered by “public disorders”, causing emotional reaction of the mass-media); projects of Tatar settlement in Zamoskvorechie (1995) and Eastern humanitarian complex in Nagatinskaya bottomland in Moscow (1995-1996); several international Islamic conferences and meetings; active participation in the creation of the Russian Muslim Council on the eve of State Duma elections in the end of 1995; attempts to create a Muslim party “Refakh” in 1999 (its name reflects the pseudoradical style of the ICCR – as the Islamist party of Welfare in Turkey was called the same way until 1998). It is obvious, that these initiatives were supposed to bring either political or financial effect. “officials from Islam” – this definition perfectly suits the ICCR’s leadership and similar persons.

The Russian Muslim Council (RMC) has always been in the limelight of the mass-media since its formation (1995) – in particular, because of different scandals over its activity. Begun as a personal project of Ahmet Halitov, an important LDPR member, it soon moved under A.-V.Niyazov’s control, and later it developed as an independent “Russian Muslim” party, headed by initially compromise N. Hachilayev. Nadirshakh followed in “ancestors”’s footsteps in his activity: his bright personality, which epitomized “radical Muslim plans”, attracted public attention; his active foreign and internal political activity (encounters with Qaddfi, “Taliban” leadership, “Nation of Islam” leadership etc.) gave grounds for gossips. Unfortunately, neither of this notorious acts has brought any significant profit to the Russian Federation Muslim community; moreover, the RMC didn’t influence Tatar, Bashkirian and Western Caucasian regions at all. Hachilaev’s activity as a State Duma deputy was not effective either. The RMC as a party “passed away” without a great public resonance – after a notorious military incident in Makhachkala in 1998 and deputy immunity removal from N. Hachilaev. Later he was killed in his house in Dagestan under rather unclear circumstances.

Pseudoradical ideas appear in Russian muftis’ and imams’ speeches. The most obvious example is events of 1992: split of the SDM of European Russia and Siberia (SDMES) and appearance of independent SDMs of Tatarstan Bashkiria, the Volga region, Siberia etc. and their consequent integration into the HCCSDM. The Highest Coordinating Centre of the Spiritual Directorates of Muslims of Russia was formed in 1993-94 from the above-mentioned directorates and some other ones; the mufti of Tatarstan G. Galiullin was elected the HCCSPD chairman, although in fact the leadership belonged to the Executive Committee of the HCC in Moscow, headed by N. Ashirov. Besides quitting the SDMES – the most radical act at that time – imams’ “radicalizm” was expressed in their declarations, speeches and certain actions: participation of the Volga region SDM head M. Bibarsov in the IPR conference; occupation by G. Galiullin’s followers of the “Marjani” mosque in Kazan; “Muhammadiya” medrese assault by shakirds; relations of G. Galiullin with nationalists; creating of the nationalist opposition movement etc. Obviously, radical actions of the Tatarstan mufti directorate former leadership were guided not by ideological views, but by the absence of organizational and administrative skills, especially taking into consideration a highly liberal attitude of Tatarstan leaders to the growth of Islam influence in the republic. As it has already been mentioned above, imams’ “radicalism” has material roots and is easily transformed in changing conditions.

Pseudosufi trends

We must have named this category a “Sufi” one, although there are no pure Sufi organizations neither in the Volga region, nor in Central Russia. (Only famous Sufis books – by J. Rumi and Ibn Arabi – can be an example of “pure” Sufism). A trend, which attracts most attention of dilettantes, is neo-Sufism as such – i.e., occult religion forms, which have profaned eastern teachings (Buddhism, Zen, Dao, different Hinduism trends) or mystical astral cults (K. Kastaneda’s teaching etc.) in the form of Sufism. A mixture of everything pseudo-Sufi and occult is typical for a formerly popular magazine “Science and Religion”. A shallow article by A.A. Ozhiganova “Sufis in Moscow”5 mentions followers of Inayat Han and his son Wilayat Han under a conventional name of the “Sufi Spiritual Centre”, or “M Group”; Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, or Osho (“Osho-Centre”, connected with Osho by means of his Italian follower Wedei, who often comes to Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Uzbekistan); Indian guru Babaji followers etc. Besides, it mentions tijaniyya, naqshbandiyya, and mevlevi tariqahs. In general, neo-Sufism is the object of interest of non-Muslims, who are not connected with the Islamic civilization and don’t have any proper knowledge on pure Islam values.

Such neo-Sufi centers are far from traditional Sufism – in particular, Caucasian one. It is well-known, that in North Eastern Caucasus Islam got enrooted in the form of muridiyya; previously dominant naqshbandiyya tariqah gave its place to qadiriyya tariqah in Chechnya and Ingushetia after the Russian-Caucasian war. Changes in the ethnic composition of the Muslim community of the Volga region and Central Russia lead to the appearance of the followers of these two tariqahs here, and qadiriyya one attracts by far more attention, that naqshbandiyya.6 Tariqah’s followers don’t have any organizational center; but the Muslim political organization “Nur” leadership used to support tariqah’s followers. As far as the relations between the tariqah movement and the Sufi values and ideal as such are concerned, “there are no Sufis and Sufism in Caucasus, although there are “tariqah followers” and tariqahs”, as one young Islamic Dagestan activist put it. Meanwhile, nowadays representatives of other ethnic groups (including Tatars and Russians), who come to Dagestan to visit local sheikhs for studying and “initiation” into the tariqah, besides a significant part of Caucasians, belong to the tariqah.

A bright example of pseudo-Sufism is the “Ansar” publishing house, which appeal to “traditional Sufism” and publishes books by famous Sufis, but at the same time issues such notorious books as “Love and Sex in Islam”. Therefore, scandalous cover prevails the declared “Sufi wisdom”.

Situation in the Tatar-Bashkirian community is by far simpler: Tatar Sufism (in the naqshbandiyya tariqah form) passed away in Soviet times. Complete extirpation of ishans (at least, in European Russia) broke the tradition of inter-generation mystical knowledge transfer; only the so-called baguchelars keep the remains of this knowledge. Nowadays, traditional conventions of Tatars and Bashkirs are bound in lots of rituals of Sufi origin, but they have lost their initial meaning and are not perceived as something “special”, to say nothing of “Sufi”. Attempts of Sufi revival among Tatars are connected with people, who were taught by naqshbandiyya sheikhs in Uzbekistan (although, their “education” period was short, and, therefore, some “Sufis” have rather scarce knowledge on Sufism7). In general, Sufism among Tatars and Bashkirs has gradually united with Muslim traditionalism.

Traditionalist orientations

While in Russia of the XIX-XX centuries qadimists were opposed to jadidists (the first were, in general, from the older generation, while the second – from the young one), nowadays all radicals, “reformers” etc. are opposed by traditionalists – in the first place, mullahs (in the clearest and purest meaning of this word). Mullahs among Tatars and Bashkirs are old men, who have learned several prayers, and, the most important point, know the details and order of different ceremonies and traditional rituals, which, as a rule, are of Sufi origin (therefore, traditionalism in Tatar-Bashkirian community is often intertwined with above-mentioned pseudosufism). Generation conflict is eternal and inevitable in any society; the modern youth disapprove of the institute of mullahs and don’t accept their authority (in Caucasus the same phenomenon is radicalized and is called “Wahhabism”). But Islamic institutes and medrese (especially foreign ones) don’t teach rituals and traditions, which don’t exist in Sharia or are deformed; meanwhile, the population has a habitual ritual of holding certain arrangements, in this aspect the old generation can handicap any young medrese graduate. It is well-known, that even if the young generation representatives in the family know Sharia laws in details, the ritual issues are the old generation’s priority. Obviously, such a state of “undeclared war” will not go away in each concrete case, until the youth adopts at least some rituals.

Pseudoconservative orientations

Mosque has always been the citadel of the mullahs institute – one of the most conservative elements of the Muslim community. Although, taking a more attentive glance at the activity of certain mosque leaders, the authors have come to a conclusion about pseudoconservative orientation of mosques. Using traditionalist ideas and abiding by them in words, in reality mosques often deviate from their principles, if needed. Thus, mosque “conservatism” is nothing but “radicalism” of “officials from Islam”, but vice versa. In our opinion, one of the hardest tasks the mosques face, besides the financial issue and the problems of authority relations, is the problem of keeping balance between old parishioners and the youth. The problem’s core is in the total absence of an intermedium between them – a middle age generation (this statement and the below-mentioned conclusion refer, in the first place, to such ethnic groups as Tatars, Bashkirs, and Azerbaijanis). If old people perceive religion as dogmatic prescription, which can not be subject to any interpretation and is confined to literal prescription following, the youth is inclined to searching for a rational explanation of various faith issues and accepts only the ritual minimum from the Sharia. In reality, these two outlooks are absolutely contrary to each other. As far as the middle generation is concerned, as it has been brought up in “religious vacuum”, it has scarce knowledge on dogmatic princliples and rules of Islam and, in general, doesn’t follow the Sharia prescritions. The first two groups are widely represented among the parishioners, while the third is poorly represented. Therefore, mosque imams have to satisfy contradictory demands of two different age groups, giving birth to the mosque policy characteristic, that we called “pseudoconservatism”.

Deep philosophic meaning of a letter to the “Muslim Messenger” newspaper by a certain “reader Abdulla” deserves at least partly quotation of the text in the present article: “No doubt, traditional Islam [which has been elaborated by Russian Muslim minorities for fighting assimilation] is good for survival, but, unfortunately, is absolutely unsuitable for calling others [i.e. non-Muslims], as representatives of other ethnic groups will refer Islam prescriptions not to God’s rules, but to hostile conventions. It is necessary to mention that a genetic fear of assimilation [of Muslim minorities] prevents the distribution of Salafist Islam (pure Prophet’s Islam – PBUH), while the acceptance of this doctrine is a vital condition for distribution of religion on the territory of Russia… But can we require a view change from mosque parishioners? I think – no, at least, until we eliminate reasons that cause this problem”.8

Shi’a trends

All the above-mentioned ideologies belong both to Sunni and Shi’a Islam; but due to the dominance of Sunnism in the Volga region Muslim community and in Russia, in general, and due to apartness of Shi’its, it is necessary to put a special emphasis on their activities. In the CIS the majority of Shi’a imams is presented by Azerbaijanis (up to 2/3) and several small Iran-language ethnic groups: Tats, Talysh people, Kurds, Persians etc. In Soviet times Azerbaijanis were the second largest Muslim nation (after Tatars) in many large cities of Russia; due to the active migration flows from Azerbaijan to Russia after the collapse of the USSR, their number must have significantly grown. Although, the dedication to faith of the middle generation, described above concerning Tatars, is even less in the Azerbaijani community. Possibly, religious indifference of the “new” Azerbaijanis, represented in large cities, can be partly explained by their social structure, and partly by their alienation in the city; dogmatic specificity of Islam in Azerbaijan seems not to exert any influence on this situation. In the end of 1990s the religion revival processes in the Shi’a community were more visible, to some extent due to a certain stage of activation of the Iran embassy in Russia. In Iran several books about the Shi’a ideology, translated from Farsi into Russian, were published. In general, Iran embassy activity was the key factor in this process; their projects include regularly issued “Third view” journal (Iran press digest in Russian), various cultural and religious arrangements, and the establishment of a college for Russian students in Zelenograd in 1998. In the latest period Iranians have visibly decreased their level of activity in this sphere. But the Shi’a movement suddenly received support: for example, a Moscow entrepreneur R. Bayazitov built a Shi’a mosque on the territory of his complex in Otradnoye. Obviously, Azerbaijani factor will only increase in large Russian cities.

Moreover, the Shi’a movement has become actual in the Muslim neophyte community. An abovementioned philosopher of Azerbaijani origin G. Jemal created an intellectual Shi’a circle, involving Muslim neophytes. Their activity is expressed in the National Organization of Russian Muslims (NORM) and Islam.Ru portal.

One of the Shi’a trends – Ismailism – has its followers on the CIS territory in the Kohistan-Badakhshan Autonomous Province of Tajikistan. Due to a strong deviation of Ismaili ‘aqidah from Islam prescriptions, nobody in Islamic world considers this trends as “Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jama‘h” (“people of Sunna and community”, which include Sunnis and moderate Shi’its); nobody would take this trend into consideration at all, but for the unique role of an Ismaili imam Aga Han IV. In large cities of Central Russia there are small, but active (in trade) Pamir communities (although, as far as we know, they don’t have any special relations with Aga Han9). Moreover, the general growth of Afghani immigration leads to the increase in number of Ismailis, who keep in touch with the centre of Aga Han. It is necessary to mention a visit of Aga Han himself to Moscow in the middle of the 1990s (during which he had an encounter with the Moscow mufti).

As for the other Shi’a trends, which are not traditional for the CIS (moderate Zaydits, “extremist” Druze and Alawis-Nusayris), we suppose that they are represented by a certain part of immigrants from Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey.

Dogmatically nonindigenous trends

Habashism came to the CIS territory from Lebanon in the beginning of the 1990s. This ideology is based on the Shafi’i maddhab, i.e. it is Sunni, but its meaning is confined to fighting Wahhabism (in its Saudi version), Shi’ism (in its Lebanese version), and the Druze. As they have a radical stance on genuineness of Islam trends, Habashis are inclined to accusing everything connected with Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia of qufr (atheism). This community’s masters are Abdullah Al-Habashi, ash-Shuaini, Sidi Ismail etc., their center in Lebanon is called “Jam’iyyat al- Mashari’ al-Khayriyya al-Islamiyya” – “Association of Islamic Charitable Projects”. The center of Habashis in the CIS is the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Ukraine (SDMU) in Kiev, formed in 1994 with an obvious support of the authorities and mufti A. Tamim (this mufti is considered a fraud by Tatar communities of Ukraine, except the one of Crimea, which is neutral). In the beginning of the 1990s Habashis, who are very active in preaching, were involved in teaching in several places, including the Moscow mufti directorate. Obviously, the permission was given to Lebanese teachers by those mosque employees, who don’t know details about Islamic ‘aqidah. Only in the second half of the 1990s, obviously, due to Saudi “recommendation”, these teachers were ousted from the mosque. The most active Tatar neophytes go for improving their qualification to Kiev and even to Lebanon.

Ahmadiyya trend, formed in British India in the end of the XIX century by Mirza Gulyam Ahmad, who declare himself as Christ in 1891, was later split into two sects, opposed to each other: one of them (Qadianis) consider Mirza Gulyam to be “a prophet”, while the second one (Lahore community) – only as a “reformer” of Islam. Islamic world doesn’t accept this sect as a Muslim one and calls it anti-Islamic. Ahmadis are involved in active missionary outreach in many regions of the world. Nowadays the center of the Ahmadiyya movement (Qadianis) is in London, where they broadcast their monotonous preaches by satellite. In the former USSR Ahmadis got enrooted in the beginning of the 1990s in a region with a most alienated Muslim community – in Lithuania (in Kaunas). The result of their activity was a split of Lithuanian Muslims, who still have not created a religious centre. At that time Ahmadis acted in Belorussia as well (in particular, in Grodno); later they appeared in Kazan, but had to go away after an “assault” against their preachers in 1995, performed by “unknown persons”. This movement preachers are Pakistani immigrants, who are involved in “business”. The most significant book, published by them, was the Quran translation, performed by a poet of Tatar origin Ravil Buharaev from English. Later another translation from English version (by Muhammad Ali, 1917), performed by A. Sadetskiy and published in the USA in 1997 by a Lahore sect.

Bahaists, as opposed to Ahmadis, don’t consider themselves to be Muslims. Nevertheless, as they have a Muslim origin, we will give short commentary on their missionary activity in Russia. The main centers of Bahaists in our country are Vladikavkaz, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Murmansk, Kazan etc. In Tatarstan Bahaists faced certain negative pressure – both physical and moral. Bahaist literature, published in Russia, is nothing but primitive texts, which can attract interest only of those, who are not sure in their own religious identity.

National movements

All above-mentioned refers to religious trends as such; while in this section we will discuss organizations, which aim at national and cultural development of certain nations. Although, from an outsider’s point of view, national issues are hardly related with religious ones, in Muslim culture the religious component is so intertwined with the ethnic tradition, that it is impossible to separate them. This is understood by the national intelligentsia, but each person makes his own conclusions out of this statement. Among Tatar national organizations in Tatarstan there are those, that are totally opposed to Islam and aim at Tengriism and runic alphabet revival. Others, who dream of building secular society, following the Kemalist Turkey example, separate a religious and a secular sphere and stand for Latin-based alphabet. Extremist radicals, who declare the necessity of Tatarstan independence, use Islamist radical rhetoric (the “Ittifak” movement and its leader F. Bayramov).

In the beginning of the 2000s national movements of “ethnic Muslims” experienced a certain turning point. It was expressed, at least, in three phenomena. Firstly, businessmen of Muslim background, who had actively financed building of mosques in cities and villages, suddenly understood, that empty mosques didn’t played any role in national religious revival. Gradually, they understood that without a proper informational, ideological and political base all achievements of national business may be destroyed at any moment, and nobody will defend them. This happened with Azerbaijani business in Nizhny Novgorod 2-3 years ago. Joint of authorities and the Church increased the suspicions in ethnic discrimination of business, resulting in the increase in financing conceptual projects in this sphere. Secondly, national organizations, that had receded into the background, gave their place to national cultural autonomies, created in many regions of the country. Thus, a “generation change” happened, making old, Soviet activists outsiders. Thirdly, Nizhnegorodsky region experienced a unique precedent of uniting of a national autonomy with religious leaders: despite active resistance of “secular nationalist”, Tatar autonomy was headed by an imam of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims, resulting in uniting of forces and finances of these two “mainstreams”, engaging representatives of different ideological trends and moving the national cultural autonomy activity into a different, qualitatively higher level. All these facts prove that in the national movement of “ethnic Muslims” idealism is gradually substituted by pragmatism.

It is necessary to mention that the tasks of national cultural movement are very humble (1 – having representatives in authority bodies, 2 – having building and other property for its activity, 3 – having a city budget item) and can be realized, under condition of proper methods. Nowadays, although, the unity between national organizations is unlikely to the same extent, as the unity of Russian imams.

As we don’t have an opportunity to describe the activity of national organizations of other Muslim nations of Russia, we would like to draw the readers’ attention to one difference between the Tatar movement and the other Muslim movements in the Volga region and Central Russia. Tatar diaspora (in comparison with other nations) depends to a minimal extent on processes in its “titular” republic. It is explained by the ethnic composition of the Tatar community (from 1/3 to 40% of Tatars are Mishars from different parts of the Volga region, for who don’t perceive Tatarstan as motherland) and by historic background of this community. As far as the diasporas of other nations are concerned, they are stimulated by events in their “titular” regions (besides Russian, Muslim, Caucasian, and Turk events).

Moderate enlightning orientations

Undoubtedly, each trend of Islam has education in its base, and each trend may be called “moderate”: you can always find somebody more radical. The groups of people, which will be described below, don’t form a united block and, possibly, hardly cooperate with one another; nevertheless, philosophic, and not emotional and impulsive, enlightment is what Muslims (and non-Muslims) need today. The history of enlightment in modern Russia, possibly, dates back to the first issue of the “Muslims” magazine: without delving into details, it is necessary to say, that they acted on a qualitatively new level of enlightment, which is higher, than that of most organizations and movements, analysed above. Some articles, which are worth of thorough studying, caused boom in the Russian mass-media. Even in the aspect of design the magazine is incomparable with various “printed publications” of Russian mufti directorates. Naturally, the expenses must be very high, and the irregularity of issuing is explained by financial problems. The editor had to admit, that they still “didn’t feel the support and attention”10 of mufti directorates. There is information about apparent and secret opposition of certain muftis to distribution of the magazine. Obviously, as the magazine has not received the support of mufti directorates, it sank into oblivion, and the most active part of its staff began working at Islam.Ru portal, unwillingly changing their views to the support of Dagestan pseudosufism and G. Jemal, and losing their independent stance.

Competent enlightment is what an outstanding Muslim scholar from Dagestan Ahmad-qadi Ahtaev dedicated most years of his life. His role was highly praised by Muslims in the IPR activity period, as he was elected the head (amir) of the party. Later Ahmad-qadi made active efforts for establishing concord in the Muslim community – in the first place, in Dagestan, with its crisis in relations between radicals and tariqah followers. The leaders of both groups have been extremely far from joining rational dialogue, the necessity of which was one of the main ideas of Ahmad-qadi. His sudden death in 1998 in fact destroyed all hopes for a peaceful end of the conflict. A rational comment on the activity of Ahmad-qadi is the following one: “fanatics and isolationists may have local influence… but due to their program they are unable to formulate perspective tasks of their nations; to say nothing of their loud and scandalous behavior and lack of charisma”. It is ustaz Ahmad-qadi who occupied more realistic stance on Russia, enjoyed respect in Chechnya and Dagestan – of those Muslims, who approved neither of radicals, nor of “clergy” of Soviet type.11 Various activists in Dagestan, Chechnya, North Ossetia, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and Moscow call themselves the followers of A. Ahtaev.

According to common sense, it is moderate, competent enlightment that is the main enemy of the state apparatus. Talks about persistent secret control over young imams and a strange and sudden death of ustaz A. Ahtaev prove this statement. As the Kremlin still doesn’t have rational model of its Caucasian policy, losing this region may become a catastrophe for Russia; it is competent enlightment activists, like Ahmad-qadi, who are opposed to such a scenario.

An ayat of the Quran: “Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation…” (Quran, 16-125) perfectly reflects the spirit and materials of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of the Nizhegorodsky region (SDMNR) and its partners (Nizhnegorodsky Islamic medrese “Mahinur”, Nizhegorodsky Islamic Institute named after H. Faizhanov, and Regional national cultural autonomy of Tatars of Nizhnegorodsky region). Naturally, each region of Russia has its specific traits, but the majority of other Muslim structures in our country have followed one of the three ways of Islam revival: mass building of mosques, or emphasis on education (as a rule, on medreses), or searching for “daily bread”. It is hard to understand the proportional representation of these three ways in the activity of each Spiritual directorate – but all three ways are of vital importance and necessity. But the Muslims of Nizhny Novgorod, due to their historical background or specific mentality, have decided to follow another way. The SDMNR puts the main emphasis on “creating modern Islamic ideas, actual for society”. What ideas from the Muslim informational space may be interesting to Russian society, which is often characterized as “Orthodox”, but is atheist in its essence?

Firstly, this is ideas of activation of relations of Russia with Islamic world. This task can be fulfilled by a Muslim vice-president of the Russian Federation: a fist echelon official, a representative of Muslim culture, a coordinator of Russian participation in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (where the RF is presented as an observer) and affiliated structures like the Islamic Bank of Development.

Secondly, the SDMNR activity is aimed at the realization of the idea of Umma unity, particularly, by the reduce in number of muftis. This statement is substantiated both by Sharia sources and by historical precedents, for example, of the First All-Russian Conference of Muslims, held in Nizhny Novgorod in 1905. In the SDMNR’s opinion, uniting of multiple and often rival mufti directorates, as well as forming the independent Council of Ulamas of Russia, would contribute to consolidation of Muslims, especially in circumstances of a joint between the state and the Church.

At last, broad publishing and enlightening activity of the SDMNR is aimed at opposing extremist and radical ideas, spread among the youth due to idleness or lack of competence of traditional Spiritual Directorates of Muslims, which have not elaborated acceptable youth policy. Moreover, the realization of the SDMNR’s ideas, in our opinion, will lead to neutralization of international and interfaith conflicts in our country, which are harmful for the unity of the country and society.


These are certain ideological and political orientations, spread in the Muslim community of the Volga region and Central Russia. Undoubtedly, this description is incomplete. We have not discussed political Muslim organizations as such. Besides, pointing out the alienation of the majority of the described movements and organizations (except mosques) from ordinary people, we have not commented on popular ideological trends, as these issues are not of specific Muslim character, but of All-Russian one, and belong to the general national political framework. Moreover, we have not touched upon certain topics, which require a special research: ideological trends among Muslims – immigrants from Arabic countries and Turkey; ideological trends among “new” (non-ethnic) Muslims, actuality of ideological and political principles of Islam in Russian society etc.

Multiplicity and variety of ideological and political views of Russian Muslims should not frustrate the reader, as such processes reflect the complicated, “transitional” period of our society. Traditionalists and radicals, mystics and weird persons can be found in every country and in every nations. The task of the specialist in Islamic studies is to single out and to describe such movements. The task of the Islamic activist is by far harder: it is confined to finding such a path, that will require the hardest intellectual effort, remaining at the same time within the framework of the Holy law and in harmony with the logic of social development.

Damir Mukhetdinov, Damir Khayretdinov


1. Jemal G. What Islamic Fundamentalism is.// Muslim Messenger, Vol.2, June 1999. P.3.

2. We remind the reader of the fact that one of the main goals of Islam is complete elimination of the institute of priests as medium between God and people.

3. Miloslavskiy G.V. Wahhabism in ideology and politics of Muslim countries// Islam and politics. – M., 2001. – P. 70-85.

4. Except Dagestan, Transcaucasia, and Central Asia in the initial period of islamization.

5. Moscow: peoples and religions. – Institute of ethnology and anthropology of RAS, M., 1997. P. 173-184.

6. In Dagestan and a Dagestan diaspora the shaziliyya tariqah is presented as well.

7. The yassawiyya tariqah from Central Asia also has a certain influence on Tatars and Bashkirs of Russia.

8. Muslim Messenger, Vol.2, June 1999. – P.8.

9. It is necessary to mention that the Kohistan-Badakhshan managed to survive only due to humanitarian aid of Aga-Han during the recent civil war in Tajikistan.

10. Muslims, Vol.2 (3)., May-June 1999. – P.2

11. From an article by D. Sergeyev in the section “Relation of Islamic movements of Dagestan”//IN-Religions, March 1998.

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