Staunton, April 14 -- An apparently off-the-cuff remark by Yunuz-bek Yevkurov, the head of Ingushetia, may prove to be the death knell for the Muslim Spiritual Directorates, institutions that have no canonical basis in Islam but that the Russian state has promoted as a way to control Muslim life.
Last month, Yevkurov abolished the muftiate or MSD in his republic; and this week, he explained his actions during an interview with Russia-24 television (interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=62573).
“When we see that [the obligations of the MSD] are not being fulfilled as they should, we try to correct the situation. Why did we decide on disbanding the muftiate?” Because the Muslim leaders resisted by force efforts to change their direction, and in such instances “the powers htat be always take decisions.”
According to Interfax, Yevkurov called both the work of the muftiate with the rising generation and with the families of detained militants and drug users “ineffective,” adding “there is nothing terrible” in disbanding the muftiate or MSD. “Earlier we lived without a muftiate,” he declared, implying that the Ingush could do so again.
On the one hand, of course, this is nothing more than an indication of the longstanding view of the Russian state that it and not the community of the faithful will decide what the MSDs should do and a warning to their heads, usually called muftis, to heed what the state says or face the abolition of their institutions.
But on the other, it is a direct threat to the MSD system from two directions. From above, it is an indication that some officials in Russia no longer view the MSDs as their handmaidens in controlling the Islamic community. And from below, it makes clear what Muslims have long maintained, that the MSDs are nothing more than agents of the state and should be eliminated.
The first MSD was established by Catherine the Great. During World War II, Stalin restored the system, leading to the creation of four MSDs in Soviet times, three regional ones and one for Shiites throughout the USSR. Since 1991, the MSDs have increased in number radically as various trends have created their own. There are now more than 80.
Many Russian analysts and officials have sharply criticized the MSD system, but they have not been able to do away with it because they have not been able to propose anything to put in its place. That makes Yevkurov’s remark intriguing because he is clearly suggesting that there is no need to put anything in place of the MSDs.
If his notion spreads, that could lead other regional leaders and possibly Moscow to disband the MSDs and thus to downgrade these quasi-official, quasi-religious institutions. That might lessen Russian control of Islamic parishes, but it would have an effect many Russians would be pleased with, the downgrading of spokesman for Islamic causes.