The All-Russian Ulema Council: A Step Towards a Unified ‘Rossiiskyi Islam’?

photo-kazan-qolsarif_mosqueby Gordon M. Hahn

Traditional Russian Islam overcame at least some of its internal disunity recently after years of attempts to set up some kind of all-inclusive umbrella organization or body. In October an agreement was finally reached on setting up a ‘Council of Ulema’ (Scholars) for regulating Muslim theology and teaching across Russia. The breakthrough consists in the council including representatives of all the main umbrella organizations representing traditional Russian Islam.

Divisiveness within Russian Islam

Russia’s Muslims are diverse and lack clear leadership at the federal level. Different Muslim regions are loosely connected to one another both politically and in religious practice. It would be highly unusual, for instance, for an ethnic Tatar or Bashkir to be appointed to an imamate in the North Caucasus (or vice versa). The Soviet collapse prompted serious changes and splits within the existing Muslim clerical structures. The post-Soviet Muslim revival began with the struggle surrounding the partitioning of the Spiritual Board of Muslims, causing their further fragmentation. As a result, Russia now has more ‘chief’ muftis than any other country.

In January 1990 the North Caucasus Spiritual Board of Muslims (founded in 1945) survived split on the republican muftiates. In 1991, the first Congress of Muslims in Dagestan, the largest and most populous republic of the Russian Caucasus, prompted further division by establishing the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Dagestan (DUMD). This began an era of ethnic muftiyats during which each ethnic group in Dagestan established its own Spiritual Board. During that same period Sufi sheikhs, such as the ethnic Avar Said-afandi Chirkeyev (1937-2012), began to play a significant role in the ongoing re-Islamization of Dagestan and the rising influence of religion in power structures and business due to his numerous ‘Murids’ or followers. The patrimonial patronage or ‘clan’ system deepened the influence of Islam in Dagestan, since key jobs are controlled not simply by ethnic Avar or Dargin groups but also by members of the tariqats (brotherhoods) and virds (subunits of tariqats) concentrated around influential Sheikhs.

In Chechnya, the creation of a separate DUM in October 1991 also engendered conflict, when the leaders of the separatist, nationalist Chechen movement refused to recognize its authority, suspicious of its loyalty to the separatist cause. Instead, the separatists established an Islamic Center with the support of President Dzhokhar Dudayev. In Karachay-Cherkessia the two competing DUMS appeared, namely the republican Spiritual Board of Muslims (DUM) and the Islamic Congress of Karachay. Autonomous muftiates were also created in the republics of Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Adygeya, and even in predominantly Orthodox Christian North Ossetiya. In these regions, unlike in Chechnya and Dagestan, these newly established structures avoided serious internal problems in their early stages.

By the middle of the 1990s, the official state-supported Muslim structures in the North Caucasus had consolidated both power and resources, integrating or partially subordinating, for the most part, the other structures that stood as a challenge to their supremacy.  The era of ethnic muftiyats passed and the various competing groups agreed that the new and pressing religious challenge posed by Salafi Islam required cooperation and coordination.

Chechnya stands as a special case due to the fact that from 1991 to 1994 and later from 1996 to 1999 the republic was wholly out of Russian political or military control. In the first years of the de facto independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya, the leadership attempted to establish a Spiritual Board of Muslims exclusively loyal to the new government. The desire to secure the loyalty of Muslims, regardless of the anti-imperial rhetoric that underpinned it, significantly resembled typical Russian state policy. The separatist leadership found itself in confrontation with two Muftis, namely Magomed-Bashir Arsunukayev and Muhhamad-Hussein Alsabekov, and promoted Akhmad Kadyrov to the post of Chechen Mufti by spring of 1995. Paradoxically, unlike Mufti Alsabekov, Kadyrov became a leading separatist persistently fighting the Russians and ready to proclaim Jihad; later, he and his son Ramzan would become the symbols of pro-Russian policy in the region, including its religious aspects. In the late 1990s, Kadyrov consolidated control over the religious sphere and began to resist the spread of Salafi practices and views. The growing influence of Salafism led Kadyrov to abandon the goal of an independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya in favor of a pro-Russian position that would include unofficial Chechen autonomy under ultimate Russian sovereignty.

At a conference of the North Caucasus DUMs held on August 17, 1998 in Nazran, Ingushetia a new Coordination Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus (KTsMSK) was founded in order to unite the region’s seven DUMs. Magomed Albogachiev, the Mufti of Ingushetiya, became the KTsMSK’s first chairman. Although the KTsMSK opened a representative office in Moscow in 2001, its leaders managed to avoid confrontation with Russia’s other two main umbrella Muslim structures, the Central Spiritual Muslim Board (TsDUM) and the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR). Ismail Berdiyev, an ethnic Karachay born in 1945, has been the Chairman of the KTsMSK since April 2003. Berdiyev is a strong opponent of “non-traditional Islam” and an avid proponent of closer cooperation with the Russian state and the Orthodox Church. He is a regular guest at the televised public meetings organized by Russian President Vladimir Putin or other high-ranking officials with the country’s religious leaders, including the Muslim clergy.

However the consolidation of the official and state-supported leadership has not completely resolved the problem of fissures within the Muslim groups of the North Caucasus. As the Russian expert Akhmet Yarlykapov rightly notes: “The now-united spiritual leadership of Dagestan’s Muslims is not viewed as legitimate by at least half of the republic’s Muslim communities. Their motivations for this vary, though most of the complaints focus on the narrow Sufi characteristics of the republic’s muftiyat, which is represented by the Murids of one sheikh, Said-afandi Chirkeyev” (Akhmet Yarlykapov, “Dagestan; Stable Instability,” Safe World, March 2012, http://www.saferworld.org.uk/downloads/PPP%20-%20North%20Caucasus%20-%20Dagestan%20EN.pdf). Sufi groups, even those connected to the official clergy, play a distinct role in everyday life. Some, such as the followers of the Dagestani sheikh Tadjuddin (Khasavyurt), limit contact with a state they argue is led by “infidels.” They cannot change the current situation, as they have a ban on armed struggle and cannot forcefully rise against the authorities, but minimizing contact with them is permissible.

Another problem for integration of the DUMs that the muftiyats in the republics tend to lack full autonomy from their respective republican leadership to varying degrees. A recent example of this phenomenon is the March-April 2012 initiative of Chechnya’s DUM to divest itself of any relationship with KTsMSK. Chechnya DUM chairman Sultan Mirzayev made his official statement regarding this decision after a meeting with Chechnya President Ramzan Kadyrov, the likely force behind this move (“Is sostava Koordinatsionnogo Soveta Musul’man Severnogo Kavkaza vyshlo DUM Chechni”, Islamtv.ru,   http://islamtv.ru/news-1645.html).

A different story unfolded in the Volga-Urals region and the regions of Central Russia. Unlike the situation in the North Caucasus, ethnic Tatar and Baskhkir muftis engaged in a power struggle over who would create and lead the nationwide Islamic institutions and thus serve as the interlocutor for all of Russia’s Muslims with Moscow.

The unified Muslim Spiritual Board of European Russia and Siberia (DUMES) considered itself to be the successor of the Orenburg Muslim Spiritual Assembly. Re-established in a new form in 1944, it was divided in 1992 after the 6th Extraordinary Congress of Russia’s Muslims. The splits within DUMES were in part the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, as many imams desired to “be liberated from the Soviet legacy” and create an independent DUM. An incident related to the opening of the “Tauba” (“Repentance”) mosque in the early 1990s in Naberezhnye Chelny triggered a scandal within the spiritual board between Talgat Tajuddin, the Supreme Mufti, and Idris Galyautdinov, the Imam-khatib of the Mosque. The two figures sought to discredit one another and the official Islamic clergy as a whole. As a result, region-specific DUMs were established in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, while DUMES was transformed to the Central Spiritual Muslim Board (TsDUM) with its administrative center in Ufa, the capital city of the Republic of Bashkortostan. From 1992 to the present Talgat Tajuddin, an ethnic Tatar born in 1948, has chaired this structure. The TsDUM includes more than 50 regional muftiyats and pretends to a position as the legitimate official Muslim structure and the protector of the interests of Russian Muslims loyal to the state.

However, reality has fallen short of these lofty ambitions. On October 21, 1992, Tajuddin’s opponents organized the first Congress of the Supreme Coordination Center of Spiritual Boards of Russian Muslims. At that meeting the Charter of the organization was adopted and Gabdulla Galiullin was elected as its Chairman, receiving the title of “Supreme mufti of Russia” in 1994. In January of the same year a new autonomous Spiritual Board for the Central Region of Russia, the Moscow muftiyat, was established within the framework of DUMES. Initially, Ravil Gainutdin, an ethnic Tatar born in 1959 and the organization’s head, was loyal to Talgat Tajuddin and followed his lead. However, Gainutdin was ambitious, and his organization’s central location gave him geographical proximity to the Moscow city government. Gainutdin worked as a Production Assistant for Kazan-TV and later received professional theological training at the Bukhara Mir-i-Arab madrassah from 1979 to 1984. He was able to lobby himself as guarantor of the government’s interests within Muslim populations, and the Moscow muftiate took a more independent stance from the TsDUM and Talgat Tajuddin. At first, Ravil Gainutdin maintained a cautious equilibrium between TsDUM and the Supreme Coordination Center of Spiritual Boards of the Muslims of Russia, while strengthening his reputation as Moscow’s most reliable partner. Soon, the Moscow muftiyat emerged as the third major player in Russia’s Islamic community. Gainutdin, supported by the Moscow government, declared the Moscow muftiyat’s secession from the TsDUM, receiving from the Moscow city government authorities the Moscow Cathedral Mosque and the adjacent office building. In 1996 Gainutdin established the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR). The succeeding years featured fierce competition between the SMR and TsDUM for leadership among those of Russia’s Muslims living outside the North Caucasus where the TsKMSK has retained a near monopoly of the official organization of Muslims.

Gainutdin initially hoped (at least if his rhetoric is to be believed) to restore relations with TsDUM and invite the Supreme Mufti Talgat Tajuddin to join the ranks of the newly established SMR as a co-chairman. This hope was never realized in large part because of the two Muftis’ ambitions and the SMR began to overshadow the Supreme Coordination Center of Spiritual Boards of the Muslims of Russia (its leaders Gabdulla Galiullin and Nafigullah Ashirov became co-chairs of the Council) and challenged the TsDUM. By 1997 the SMR had developed constructive relations with all of the North Caucasus muftiyats, though Gainutdin to bring them under the SMR’s umbrella failed. In 1997 the focus of the competition between the SMR and TsDUM moved to Siberia and the Russian Far East. Within two years the Council was able to take control of more than 100 parishes from Yekaterinburg to Kamchatka. With the help of Tajuddin’s injudicious call for Jihad against the U.S after 9/11, the SMR superseded the TsDUM in the first years of Vladimir Putin’s first presidency. The SMR’s rise was crowned in 2004 when it was joined by the Tyumen muftiyat, perhaps the most important DUM in Western Siberia.

Tensions between the two competing Muslim structures have decreased somewhat since 2004. Before 2011 the Council of Muftis was very effective, with approximately 2500 Mosques falling under the SMR’s authority. It was by no means a coincidence that in June 2005 Gainutdin was allowed to represent Russian Islam during the ceremony of the Millennium ceremony and the opening of the Qolsharif Mosque in Kazan, the capital city of the Republic of Tatarstan. However in 2011 the Tatarstan DUM, which included more than half of the SMR’s parishes, left this structure. During the same year the DUMs of the Republic of Chuvashia, the Penza and Rostov regions also left the Council. Thus, the SMR lost its leadership in terms of number of communities. These defections left the SMR with only 15 percent of all Muslim parishes and largely locked out of the Russia’s two most important Muslim mega-regions, the North Caucasus and Volga-Urals (www.ng.ru/religion/2011-12-30/11_kazan.html).

Regardless of these “secessions”, Gainutdin remains one of Russia’s leading public commentators representing and articulating the views of Russia’s Muslims. In this capacity he enjoys the support of the Kremlin, the former and current mayors of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov and Sergey Sobyanin, and the presidents of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. He also boasts a good relationship with the most influential leaders in the North Caucasus region, including Ramzan Kadyrov. The information policy of the Council of Muftis has been especially effective. Russian television journalists friendly to Gainutdin host a weekly program entitled “Muslims,” and SMR representatives are ensured a dominant position in news stories and on analytical programs or talk shows. The SMR publishes some of the most popular periodicals among Russia’s Muslims, including the newspapers “Islam Minbere” and “All about Islam.”  SMR websites such as “Muslim.ru,” the web portal of the SMR’s journalists, and other websites are some of the most frequently read Muslim internet resources. Through the efforts of Muftis Mukaddas Bibarsov, Nafigullah Ashirov, Ismail Shangareyev and Wisam Bardvil, news pieces concerning the Council of Muftis of Russia and its regional affiliates dominate among the media items related to Islam that appear in Russia’s information space (www.farisov.ru/sobitija/nastojascheie-i-buduscheee-islama-v-rossii/). The SMR-TsDUM competition, the Tatarstan DUM’s independence, and the rise of several new umbrella structures has left Russian Islam’s institutional infrastructure more fractured than ever (see table below).

____________________________________________________________

RUSSIA’S PRESENT-DAY DUM UMBRELLA ORGANIZATIONS AND THE RESPECTIVE NUMBER OF COMMUNITIES

____________________________________________________________

DUM Umbrella Organization                                                       Number of Communities

Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus             2,200

Muslim Spiritual Administration of Tatarstan (DUMT)              1,300 (18 outside Tatarstan)

Central Muslim Spiritual Administration (TsDUM)                     1,050

Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR)                                                      750

Islamic Congress of Russia                                                                     50

Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Russia (DUMR)       20+

_____________________________________________________________

The Quest for Unity

In 2009 and 2010, the idea of the unification of the three official Russian Muslims centers (TsDUM, the Council of Muftis and KTsMSK) was discussed quite intensively. These discussions were initiated in November 2009 by TsDUM Mufti Talgat Tajuddin who presented the idea to then-President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev and later to all of Russia’s Muslims during a sermon devoted to Kurban Bayram (Eid al- Adha). This is an important Muslim holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to honor the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim  (Abraham) to sacrifice his young first-born son Ismail as an act of submission to God’s will before God intervened to provide Abraham with a ram to sacrifice instead.  However, the first tentative steps in this direction revealed serious differences of opinion between the three parties regarding the formation and power structure of this new organization.  SMR chairman Gainutdin proposed a different model based on the practices of the Tatarstan DUM. Saint Petersburg Mufti Jafar Ponchaev suggested that the organizations should be united around TsDUM. As a Nezavisimaya gazeta editorial noted: “An independent arbitrator is needed not just to unite these competing organizations but so that the muftis can sit at the same table and adopt truly effective solutions. Only the federal authorities can serve as such an independent arbitrator free from regional and ethno-national interests” (www.rodon.org/relig-100311095555).

Again in early 2010 Tajuddin proposed the creation of a Supreme Coordination Council of Muslims to include the leaders of the SMR, TsDUM, and KTsMSK; an idea  publicly supported by the Russian Presidential administration and Chechen President Kadyrov. However, Gainutdin doubted the wisdom or efficacy of such a change, even going so far as to raise his objections to Russian government officials.

The Kremlin, despite its rhetorical support, did not pursue this idea. Although it would likely accept and in the end perhaps find it easier to deal with one official representative of Russia’s Muslims, the Kremlin is accustomed and presently prefers to divide and rule by maintaining a balance of power between several representatives. The government’s desire to “contain Islam” also should not be discounted. A multiplicity of Islamic centers allows the Kremlin to play upon the differences between them, manipulate them, and thereby maintain some degree of control over them through its role as mediator and moderator. Any process of unification and centralization would make the Supreme Mufti a powerful player in Russian politics, and a single Russian Islamic organization would be in a position potentially to rally Muslims against the regime in different circumstances that those presently in play.

The ambiguity of the Russian authorities’ attitude towards Islamic unification underscores the Russia’s larger Islamic political dilemma. On the one hand, the government is interested in using the resources of Islam to strengthen Russia’s hand in the international arena and mobilize support from conservative and traditionalist voters on the domestic front. On the other hand, fears as well as phobias about the growing threats of radical Islam and terrorism dictate limiting Islamic influence on both Russian domestic and foreign policy. Given this dilemma, it is no surprise that the process of the consolidation of the different official Muslim structures largely fell off the elite’s agenda for several years.

However, in October the main Islamic umbrella organizations confirmed they had come to an agreement on creating a countrywide Council of Ulema which will include theologians from each of the main DUMs. The initial impulse that led to the new agreement to form the council came from a series of proposals contained in the so-called ‘Grozny fatwa’ issued in August at an international theological conference held in Grozny, Chechnya organized by the TsDUM, Chechnya, and its DUM. By breaking through the organizational and territorial barriers dividing largely Sufist Caucasus and Sunni Tatar-Bashkir Islam, they managed to gather a record number of foreign Sunni theologians and Russian muftis, who signed onto the fatwa that appeared to be a step in the direction of proposing a blanket ban on Salafism and Wahhabism. Thus, all of the North Caucasus republics’ chief muftis, DUMT chief mufti Samigullin, top TsDUM clerics, and independent muftiates’ representatives signed the Grozny document. These muftis taken together represented some 80 percent of Russia’s Muslims and Islamic communities. With the subsequent expression of support from the Bashkortostan DUM’s chief mufti Nurmukhammad Nigmatullin and Komi mufti Valiakhmet Gayazov, the only significant holdout was the SMR (www.ng.ru/ng_religii/2016-10-05/1_grozniy.html).

The SMR’s representatives walked out of the Grozny conference in protest to some of the declaration’s positions. SMR cochairman, mufti Mukaddas Bibarsov, then criticized the fatwa’s stipulations regarding who would be regarded as right-believing Sunnis limiting those to followers of asharit and matured Islamic interpretation, of the four traditional schools (mazkhabs) of Sunni Islam, and of the moral teachings (iskhan) of the founders of Sufism Abu al-Dzhunaidi, Abd al-Kadir al-Dzhilyani and Muhammad Nakshbandy. Fundamentalist Islam of the Salafist or Wahhabi type was deemed in the fatwa as a “deluded sect.” The SMR criticized these aspects of the Grozny fatwa as not corresponding to the reality of Islam in Russia today and issued a separate fatwa proposing that those who should not be included among the right-believing Muslims should be those who are intolerant of others’ opinions, strike against the life and property of other people, who denigrate the honor and dignity of other Muslims, and agitate for or provoke religious wars (www.ng.ru/ng_religii/2016-10-05/1_grozniy.html and www.ng.ru/faith/2016-10-28/2_6847_muft.html). Throughout autumn, the SMR and DUMCh exchanged criticism (www.ng.ru/ng_religii/2016-10-05/1_grozniy.html).

However, agreement to unite efforts to come to theological comity came at an October 25th conference in Moscow at which various Islamic theologians and top clergy spoke, including the SMR’s Shamil Alyautdinov (head of the Memorial Mosque in Moscow), SMR first deputy chairman Damir Mukhetdinov, DUMT chairman and chief mufti Kail Samigullin, DUMT first deputy Rustam Batrov, DUMT’s Rustam Nurgallev (prorector of the Russian Islamic Institute), Chechnya DUM Chairman Salakh Mezhiev, advisor of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and head of the Argun city mosque Adam Shakhidov, head of the independent muftiate, the DUM of Moscow and Central Russia Al’bir Krganov. These clergy and leaders issued a “Declaration of the Islamic Teachers of Russia,” announcing their support for the creation of an “All-Russian (Russia-wide) Council of Scholars” (Vserossiiskii sovet ulemov or VSU) to be “formed on the basis of consensus” and able to “play a key role in the discussion of questions important to Muslims and the organization of measures for countering pseudo-Islamic extremism” (www.ng.ru/faith/2016-10-28/2_6847_muft.html). The council could move to institute a ban on Salafism and Wahhabism or appeal to the Russian government to institute such a blanket ban.

The Salafi/Jihadi Factor in Russia’s Largest Muslim Nationality

A driving force behind the pursuit of such a ban is the persistent threat of radical Islamists and jihadists inside Russia, including within Russia’s largest Muslim ethnic group, the Volga Tatars, and the Republic of Tatarstan’s official Islamic structures [see Gordon M. Hahn, The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014) and Gordon M. Hahn, Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007)]. In 2012 the DUMT’s chief mufti was seriously injured and his deputy killed in two of a series of jihadi attacks in Kazan and its environs that seemed to realize Russians’ worst fears regarding the spread of jihadism from the North Caucasus to Russia’s more moderate Tatar and Bashkir communities. During the investigations into the 2012 Tatarstani mufti jihadi attacks revealed some penetration by Islamist elements, some from abroad and the North Caucasus, into the DUMT under mufti Gusman Iskhakov’s leadership in the 2000s (see Hahn, The Caucasus Emirate, pp. 218-20).

Years ago, another renegade Tatar clergyman, Iskhak Lotfullin, posted a series of six articles “In the Empire’s Smothering Embrace” in 2006 on Kavkaz-Tsentr, the website of the jihadizing radical nationalist Chechen terrorist underground, the so-called Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya, which soon morphed into the fully jihadist group, the Caucasus Emirate. At the time, Lotfullin led a group of Kazan muftis opposed to DUMT Chairman Gusman Iskhakov and supporting the February 2006 elections for the muftiate Iskhakov’s predecessor, Gabdulla Galiullin, replaced at Shaimiev’s urging in 1998 (www.islam.ru/press/rus2005-12-26/#10497). In the first two installments, Lotfullin began tracing “the Russian empire’s genocide against the Tatar people” or Russia’s imperial legacy going back to the 14th century without mention of the historical context of several centuries of competing violent imperial projects across Eurasia (and Europe) perpetrated by and against Russian principalities, Lithuania and Poland, the Golden Horde and separate Mongol hordes in which Tatars and Tatar-dominated khanates played an integral role. One-sided historiography is often not only a sign of ethno-political mobilization, but also of an aggressive nationalism of the kind propagated by extremists, including Islamists. Lotfullin’s fourth installment closed by recommending that the only way to avoid the “death of the Tatar people” is “the rebirth of its national culture and spiritual values formed around Islam.” Elaborating in his fifth installment, the mufti seems to condone violent jihad: “Speaking of Tatar Muslims’ Jihad, it is impossible to present it only as a purely external struggle against the oppressive believers of other faiths against Islam. No, Jihad for Tatars is also a struggle against their own shortcomings and weakness in Faith” (author’s emphases). In his final installment Lotfullin puts part of the blame for the transgressions against all Russia’s Muslims on the Russian Orthodox Church and in strong language raises the Chechen cause: “(C)rosses on Orthodox churches in Russia are still placed over an inverted crescent, and Russian tanks with crosses on their sides and blessed with the ‘holy water’ of army priests then swim in the blood of the peaceful population of Ichkeriya!” (www.kavkazcenter.net/russ/content/2005/09/21/ 37679.shtml, http://www.kavkazcenter.net/russ/content/2005/09/22/37709.shtml, http://www.kavkazcenter.net/russ/ content/2005/09/23/37735.shtml, http://www.kavkazcenter.net/russ/content/2005/09/24/37768.shtml, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2005/09/26/37816.shtml, and www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2005/ 09/27/37841.shtml.)

More recently, the DUMT expelled mufti Seidzhgafar Lotfullin from his position as head of the Zakaban Mosque in Kazan’, Tatarstan’s capitol. But this Lotfullin does not appear to have been an extremist and indeed had criticized a mosque for radicalism that was eventually shut down. Lotfullin was famous for his controversial statements most often aimed at protecting public morality. He recently criticized a female Tatar pop star for appearing in her video less than fully dressed before Kazan’s central White Mosque and the city of Bulgar, sacred to Tatars as the cradle of Volga Tatar civilization.

Perhaps more fundamentally, Lotfullin has opposed the new DUMT leadership under mufti Samigullin. The latter may be using the DUMT’s recertification process to vet out not just poorly trained and radical muftis but also opponents. On the other hand, according to a recent inspection of his mosque, a DUMT clergyman criticized various practices at the mosque and Lotfullin’s lackadaisical attendance at Friday prayers (www.ng.ru/regions/2016-11-25/3_6869_kartblansh.html). It cannot be excluded that Lotfullin’s expulsion from his post could radicalize him not just in his political opposition to the DUMT but in his religious orientation.

The streamlining of the DUMT is the Islamic counterpart to the Putin era’s taming of Tatarstan’s autonomy and championing of decentralization and federalism under previous Tatarstan President Minitmer Shaimiev. His successor, Rustam Minnikhanov, has followed the Moscow Kremlin’s line both in politics and religion, attempting to keep the DUMT in strict accordance with Moscow’s anti-extremism policies while maintaining Tatar leadership of Russian Islam. Tatarstani mufti and SMR Chairman Ravil Gainutdin has also shown some differentiation from the DUMT line by supporting a revival of the Tatar the late 19th century Islamic reform movement ‘jadidism’ in contradistinction to Samigullin’s more ‘qadimist’ or traditionalist line.

A New Split or Consolidation?

In November a new umbrella organization of DUMs was created uniting a series of independent DUMs, some of which had once belonged to the TsDUM and perhaps the SMR. The new structure – the Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of Russia (Dukhovnoe Sobranie Musul’man Rossii or DUMR) – elected mufti Al’bir Krganov as its chairman. Krganov is the chief mufti of the DUMs of Moscow, central Russia and the central Volga region the Republic of Chuvashiya. He first headed the Chuvashiya DUM and then the Moscow DUM under the jurisdiction of the TsDUM but was expelled by Tadzhuddin taking his Moscow DUM with him. Krganov claims his new DUMR includes Islamic communities from “tens of Russia’s regions,” including recent TsDUM defectors from St. Petersburg, Yamal, and Yugra (www.ng.ru/faith/2016-11-30/2_6873_islam.html). This is Krganov’s second attempt to create a Russian-wide DUM. In 2010 he formed the Russian Association of Islamic Accord (Rossiiskaya Assotsiatsiya Islamskogo Soglasiya or RAIS), but it suffered from divisions and dissolved. More importantly, Krganov spoke at the October Moscow conference which declared the intent to form the Council of Ulema and backed the project. Thus, Krganov’s new umbrella DUM could mark another step on the road to unification of Russia’s Muslim community.

The kinds of divisions extant in and between the DUMT, the SMR and other such umbrella organizations, however, now appear for the first time to be receding, allowing for the rise of the VSU. Whether the project will come to fruition, survive long, no less eliminate intra-Islamic tensions within Russia, however, remains to be seen. Most importantly, it remains unclear whether the Kremlin fully supports the project, given the political risks inherent in uniting the potentially powerful force that is contemporary Islam. On the other hand, the extent to which the Kremlin has been able to control and secure the loyalty of top clerics like Gaintudin, Tadzhuddin, Samigullin and Krganov could guarantee the further loyalty of Russian Muslims to the Russian state as existed across the pre-Soviet Russian Empire, with the exclusion of the North Caucasus as is true in part today.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an analyst and Advisory Board member at Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation (Chicago, Ill.), http://www.geostrategicforecasting.com; member of the Executive Advisory Board at the American Institute of Geostrategy (AIGEO) (Los Angeles, Calif.), http://www.aigeo.org; a contributing expert for Russia Direct, russia-direct.org; a senior researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group (San Jose, Calif.); and an analyst and consultant for Russia – Other Points of View (San Mateo, California), www.russiaotherpointsofview.comDr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book from McFarland Publishers Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War”. Previously, he has authored three well-received books: The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media. Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.

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About Gordon M. Hahn