Thursday, October 17, 2013

Rise of Russian Muslims worries Orthodox Church

This article from 2005 provides some greater context for recent reports of hundreds of Muslim jihadists being arrested in Moscow, stories of mosque permits being denied, and a translation of the Koran being banned and confiscated as "extremist literature."

Some assertions in the article by various Muslim sources should be viewed with healthy skepticism, especially regarding conversions to Islam and the waning of the Orthodox Church. Such vague statements without support sound more like self-serving Muslim propaganda.

Russia will likely continue to exert firm control over its Muslim population, as laxity towards Islam leads only to Muslims becoming ever more supremacist, intolerant, and violent, as can be seen across Europe.

The rise of Russian Muslims worries Orthodox Church
by Jeremy Page — Times Online — 8/5/2005

THE religious leader of Russia’s Muslims has alarmed Russian Orthodox Church leaders and ultra-nationalists by asserting that the country now has 23 million indigenous Muslims — at least 3 million more than previously thought. 

According to the last census, three years ago, about 14.5 million of Russia’s 144 million population were ethnic Muslims. For several years religious leaders have put the number at nearer 20 million. 

But Ravil Gaynutdin, chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, said this week that the number of ethnic Muslims in Russia was 23 million and was growing fast. “They are indigenous residents of our country, not migrants or immigrants, and have been living here from time immemorial,” he told a meeting of the European Union of Muslims. “The number of people professing Islam in Russia is constantly growing.”

Russia is also home to an estimated 3 million to 4 million Muslim migrants from former Soviet states — roughly 2 million Azeris, a million Kazakhs and several hundred thousands Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz. 

Some Russians are also converting to Islam, according to Sheikh Farid Asadullin, of the Moscow Council of Muftis. “Ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Belarussians, mostly young and intelligent, see in Islam an answer to their questions,” he told The Times. 

Islam was strictly controlled in the Soviet Union, which had only 500 mosques, but has enjoyed a
renaissance since 1991, helped by funds from the Middle East. Russia alone now has some 5,000 mosques. 

The rise in the Muslim population has raised fears among Russian Orthodox Church leaders and
ultra-nationalists that Russia could one day become a Muslim-majority nation. The Church claims to have 80 million followers, but religious experts say the number is closer to 40 million and on the wane. 

Russia’s overall population is declining, due in part to the adverse effects of high alcohol consumption, but numbers are rising in Muslim regions, where large families are common and alcohol consumption is more moderate. Russia’s total population dropped by 401,200 in the first half of this year, but the population rose in 15 regions, including the republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia. 

Rosstat, the state statistics agency, said the average birth rate per woman was 1.8 in Dagestan, compared with 1.3 for all of Russia, while male life expectancy was 68 in Dagestan, against 58 for all Russia. 

Aleksei Malashenko, an expert on Islam in Russia, said: “The real problem is the crisis of the Russian population, not the increase of the Muslim population. And, of course, the Church is not so powerful or so significant for Russians as Islam is for Muslims. This doesn’t mean that Russia will become a Muslim society in several years, although maybe in half a century we’ll see something surprising.” 

In the short term, the trend was likely to affect only the North Caucasus, where the proportion of ethnic Russians was already dropping rapidly, and Moscow, where the proportion of Muslims was rising, he said. 

Russian forces have been fighting Chechen rebels for more than a decade and the bloodshed is now spilling into neighbouring republics and radicalising many young Muslims. 

Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s first Deputy Prime Minister, announced plans this week to build Europe’s largest mosque in the Chechen capital, Grozny, to try to attract people to mainstream Islam. 

Moscow, a regular target for Chechen rebel attacks in the past two years, is home to an estimated 1.5 million Muslims, including about 100,000 Chechens, who are often harassed by police and skinheads. 

Mr Malashenko said: “Islamophobia and xenophobia are on the rise. We can already see the effects with several nationalist groups. Despite all the conflicts, the situation is quite stable, but I don’t believe it will stay the same.”