Russia’s Muslims begin talking about a ‘Muslim Russia’

Russia’s Muslims are beginning to change the way they talk about the relationship between their religious community and their country, a shift that reflects their own growing self-confidence but one that frightens many ethnic Russians who see it as a threat to their own status.
Until recently, Daniyal Isayev writes in a commentary on the Islam.ru portal, the Muslims of Russia, like most analysts who discuss their community, typically spoke “about ‘Islam and Russia,’ ‘Islam in Russia,’ and even ‘[non-ethnic] Russian Islam.” But they “never” referred to “‘Muslim Russia.'”

Now, he writes, ever more of the faithful there are doing just that, a reflection of “how much is changing both in the world and in Russia itself” — and “especially in the consciousness, self-conception and position of Muslims” living in that country.

This shift does not represent a split in Russian society, the Muslim commentator insists, but rather represents an affirmation that Islam is “an inalienable part of Russia” and that “Russia as a state and civilization could not exist without Islam and the Muslims.”

The Islamic community emerged “on the territory of contemporary Russia not only centuries earlier than in many other regions of the world which today are considered traditionally Islamic but centuries before the appearance of the [ethnic] Russian people and [ethnic] Russian and [non-ethnic] Russian statehood.”

“Muslim Russia,” he writes, “is Derbent, Kazan, Astrakhan, Ufa, Tyumen, Orenburg and so on. Today, this is also Moscow and St. Petersburg. {It] is the creativity of Pushkin, Lermontov, and Tolstoy, … an enormous territory and peoples of Northern Eurasia who were drawn together by the Golden Horde.”

Moreover, “Muslim Russia is [also] the victories on the fronts of the First and Second World Wars, gold medals at the Olympics and scientific achievements of recent years.” And the future of Muslim Russia, Isayev suggests, is certain to be even richer and more beneficial to the country.

That is because “Muslim Russia is not a finished or finally completed phenomenon. [It] is a dynamically developing present and a magnificent future of our country,” one in which Russia’s Muslims “every day acquire ever greater certainty in their own strength, in their own goals, and their own future.”

In many ways, Muslims today are playing in Russia the role of the creative minority that the English historian Arnold Toynbee suggested every country needs. And by doing so, they are thus helping others in Russia to overcome the “deep crisis” that many have been experiencing.

Of course, Isayev concedes, “Muslims of Russia are a religious minority,” but that should not disturb them at all. “In this there is nothing strange or out of the ordinary. The entire history of Islam was written by Muslims who were [at one point] minorities in their own motherland,” whether that was in Mecca or somewhere else.

And precisely because Russia’s Muslims live today “not only on the borders with non-Muslim societies but also on the borders of a new, post-industrial world, which puts before Islam ever new challenges,” they may have a special role to play not only for Russia itself but for the entire Muslim world.

Indeed, in this, the 21st century, it is entirely possible that “Muslim Russia can become the advance guard of the development of Islam in Northern Eurasia” and even of the development of the Islamic community of the entire world. “Only Allah knows,” Isayev concludes, just what role in the future Muslim Russia is fated to play.”

But there is one role that “Muslim Russia” is already playing: as a bogeyman to many non-Muslim Russians who feel that the rapid growth of the Islamic community in their country at the present time represents a threat not only to their way of life but even to the existence of the Russian state itself.

Indeed, in the words of one Russian nationalist writer, Russians today “no longer feel themselves masters in their own house” but rather like unwelcome and even temporary guests in a country that they had always assumed to be theirs alone and certainly not a Muslim one
(http://www.apn.ru/column/article18631.htm ).

Many other Russian commentators feel the same. One suggests that that the Russian government is increasingly opposed to ethnic Russians either to curry favor with the West, avoid violence or win support from the significantly more pliant non-Russian communities.

Another suggests that non-Russians are allowed to attack Russians in ways that Russians are not, something that not only drives many Russians out of non-Russian regions but fuels the anger of even those Russians who live in still predominantly Russian rgions (http://rus-proekt.ru/people/2652.html).

And yet a third uses openly racist language to insist that ethnic Russians are being overwhelmed by what he calls “hot southern blood” and are now reduced to identifying themselves as ethnic Russians when they seek housing in a country that is named after them .
The existence of these two sets of attitudes, the increasingly self-confident Muslim one, on the one hand, and the increasingly defensive ethnic Russian one, on the other, points to more conflicts ahead, unless the authorities and cooler heads on both sides pull back a little and reflect on just how dangerous such clashes could be.

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