A Better Future for Russian Muslims
Besides the many Muslim immigrants in Russia, Islam is an organic part of Russia’s religious body. Regardless of different opinions over the exact number of Muslims in Russia, they are an important minority and can participate in building the future of their country. Thus, it is of vital importance for the government and Muslims as well as non-Muslim citizens to review their stances towards each other and subject them to possible rectification. Although there are positive elements in these tripartite relations, there might be some points in need of reconsideration. Authorities and Russian citizens should understand that Islam in its nature has very strong elements and factors for protect itself against any sort of external pressure. Muslims might be reserved for a while, but this cannot last forever and sooner or later they will react against what they consider a threat to their faith. Islam is strong enough inside to make its followers sacrifice to safeguard it. The “Arab Spring” was, in some aspects, based on such characteristics. Russia has such experience as well.
To facilitate better communication, it is important to let Muslims feel that they and their values are respected by society. They need to have a sense of belonging to Russia as their motherland.
Regulations like prohibiting the hijab in school is a challenge to their faith, something that they cannot get along with. The three above-mentioned sides should do their best to decrease tensions to the most minimal level possible. They should be sophisticated enough to realize that they have to live with each other.
For Muslims’ part, it is a mistake to lead conduct which makes others feel threatened, like making Christians convert to Islam or complaining of Muslims converting to Christianity, and sometimes exaggerating the issue. Of course, people are free to choose the faith they like, but it should have its natural process without rushing to make everything public and inflaming the anger of others.
In the same way, the Russian Church and nationalists must also avoid provocative conduct. The ability to let dark memories fade away is a sign of progress. They ought to practice this in order to look towards the future. Muslims, naturally, have some financial needs for being able to perform their religious ceremonies. It is reasonable for the government to take care of these needs. Otherwise, foreigners like Arabs or others will come to “investigate” these areas and will make their demands be handled the way they desire, going beyond mere state financial support. This could pave the way for the influence of others and hurt the country's national security as well as the wellbeing and stability of Muslims. When the state pays for a mosque, it can prepare it with books and religious-cultural products and even its own preachers. Turkey is a good example here: even though the government was secular, they never ignored religious issues and dedicated great amount of the budget to religious causes. They very well knew that their national interests and security were connected to the people’s faith. They took care of these facts lest others might come to invest in them with their own agendas. Of course, offering support should be done in a way that cannot be considered interference.
Another point is Islamic studies in Russia. It is a mistake to abandon studying Islam in school. This ignores the problem instead of solving it. Muslim youth need to learn about their religion, because when they don’t obtain this in school, then they will learn it in other places. Having a correct, moderate image of Islam presented by trusted scholars and taught by trained teachers is much better than letting children learn their religion in unofficial schools which could present a wrong picture of Islam to innocent children.
Leading Russian scholars should think about having high level academic courses for Imams and students interested in Islamic studies to free them from the need of traveling to other countries for this.
If they are determined to dispatch some students to other Muslim countries, then they must be very careful in choosing which country. One of the good decisions mentioned in the recent conference in Chechnya was to send students to Egypt for religious studies. In comparison, Egypt might be better than other Arabic alternatives. Strong Russian Islamic centers will protect Russia and its Muslims from many problems in the future. The Muslim scholars whose hearts ache for their people and their country as well must come to the scene to struggle for removing students’ need to travel abroad. Iran's case is a good example to be raised here. For centuries, scholars moved from Iran to Iraq in order to study there. It was almost 95 years ago that Sheykh Abdulkareem Haeri revived the school in Qom and by the efforts made by him and other scholars, the school of Qom finally surpassed Iraqi counterparts, thus removing the need to travel to Iraq anymore. Recent years have even witnessed a reverse immigration from Iraq to Iran. Feeling independent can bring many fruits for Russian Muslims and make them feel more Russian than when they are weak and under the religious guardianship of others.
For Russian Muslims to be patriots, many existing problems, like their being recruited to join extremist groups in Iraq, Syria, and other lands in the future, must be solved. In short, treating them with respect and accepting them as fellow citizens can cause a better fortune for Russia than in the case of ignoring them.