Staunton, March 25 – The intellectual “stagnation” of Russia’s Muslims, the product of the Soviet past and the chaos of the 1990s, has opened the way for the rise of radicalism among them and must be overcome if the radicals are to be defeated, according to a leading Russian specialist on Islam.
That will require, Rinat Pateyev, an instructor at the Southern Federal University, the revival of ideas like those of the modernist jadids who set the intellectual tone for Islam at the end of the Russian Empire but whose work was almost completely destroyed during the Soviet period (expert.ru/south/2013/12/islamu-pridyotsya-idti-po-puti-modernizatsii/).
And the stagnation that induced in the Muslim community, he continues, was exacerbated by the chaos of the 1990s when radicals from abroad or with foreign training rushed in and promoted populist visions of Islam that led to its politicization and radicalization rather than to the modernization it very much needed and needs.
The author of two highly-regarded books, “Islam in Rostov Oblast” and “Political Aspects of Muslim Education in Russia” (in Russian) as well as numerous articles in scholarly journals, Pateyev makes these and a wide variety of other observations and arguments in the course of a lengthy interview given to journalists from the Expert.ru/South portal.
Pateyev notes that “the politicized part of Russia’s Muslims actively support” the Arab Spring, “but a significant part of the Muslim community is in no way focused on it,” instead concentrating on and living by “its own personal problems.”
The specialist says that radical Islamic ideas “completely delegitimize any government system because they are utopian” and that in Russia, those who have adopted them resemble those who “a century ago” followed the Bolsheviks and “built communism.”
The Islamization of ethnic Russians, he continues, is not likely to proceed very far, but those Russians who do choose Islam will inevitably be among the most radical because they are making “a double protect,” first by “breaking completely all ties with Russian society” and then by demonstrating this to their new co-religionists.
Talks between official and unofficial Islam like those the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Daghestan is pushing are unlikely to work, Pateyev argues, because they involve “only a small slice of the religious community” of that republic and because neither the MSD nor the radicals is in control of their supposed supporters.
The MSD “does not control its imams,” the imams “don’t control what is taking place in their mosques,” and the radicals do not control their followers who are constantly splitting and recombining. This “chaotic” situation at the very least cannot by successfully addressed by conversations alone.
The situation in the Daghestani umma, Pateyev continues, reflect the divides that arose in the 1990s. During that decade, the MSDs were subdivided frequently, Muslim religious schools multiplied, and mosques grew geometrically across Muslim regions.
In Daghestan alone, he says, “there are “now more than 2,000 mosques” and 15 religious schools “which pretend to be Islamic higher educational institutions. As a result, there are now far more Muslim hierarchies and far more Muslim religious leaders of various levels than there are among the Russian Orthodox Christians.
Because “in Islam there is no such thing as a church as such and no strictly centralized structure of administration,” this flowering of Islamic institutions has contributed to “very complicated relations” among those that do exist. But more important, Pateyev argues, “these disintegrative processes serve as a serious basis for the formation of radical circles.”
Asked if this diversity could lead to a Muslim Reformation, Pateyev said absolutely not and for the following reason: The Protestant Reformation reflected developments “outside of a [purely] religious context,” while in the Islamic world “all processes take place under religious slogans,” even when there is criticism of senior Muslim leaders.
Many Muslims, including those in Russia, have a very negative view of the West and believe that its recent behavior has deprived it of the right to dominate the world as it has in the past. For example, Pateyev says, “in Europe, on the one hand, they ban the wearing of the hijab, but on the other, they legalize single-sex marriage.”
“How will Muslims in fact view this?” he asks rhetorically. For most of them, the West is now “a barbaric world, and present-day terrorism is in many respects a reaction to the diktat of Western values.” There is no dialogue of civilizations, however much some on each side of this divide talk about it.
Asked if Russia’s “official” Muslim establishment could wipe out the extremists much as the Jesuits did the mafia in some parts of Italy, Pateyev argues that “this could happen if the Islamic religious leaders were able to overcome all their internal conflicts, consolidate, and begin to communicate to people simple truths.”
“Unfortunately,” he says, “the official religious leaders are not always able to seize the initiative from the radicals, including because of internal competition in Muslim circles.” Indeed, he adds, there is not even any possibility that the MSDs could provide the necessary teachers for Muslim studies classes in Russian schools.
The future of Islam in the Russian Federation, he says, largely depends “on the level of socio-cultural integration” of a given region. Tatarstan is “tightly integrated in the socio-cultural space of Russia, much more strongly than is the North Caucasus.” When you are in Kazan, “you feel that the process of the historical joint life of Russians and Tatars have had an impact and introduced much that is useful.”
But and with this he concludes, because the Islamic community is expanding and Muslims are moving into parts of Russia where they never were before, “everything could blow up at any moment.” All that is necessary is a video on the Internet, and suddenly, a conflict between two individuals could be presented in the media “as a clash of civilizations.”