- Religious group. While the estimates vary, the number of Muslims in the Russian Federation is in excess of 20 million and may be as high as 23 million. The ambiguity of the figure stems from a number of factors: there is a large presence of illegal immigrants from Muslim countries (particularly Central Asia and Azerbaijan); only about half of all ethnic or legacy Muslims practice Islam; and a significant minority of some traditionally Muslim ethnic groups have embraced Russian Orthodoxy.Russian Muslims are most prevalent in the North Caucasus, the Volga-Ural region, and western Siberia, as well as the historical capitals of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Numbering more than 5.5 million, Russia’s largest and most influential Muslim national minority is the Tatars; the second-largest group is the closely related Bashkirs. Chechens, who number 1.4 million, are the largest Muslim population from the North Caucasus; other groups from the region include Avars, Kabardins, Dargins, Kumyks, Ingush, Karachay, and Adyghe, among others. Distinct from recent immigrants, diasporic populations of Kazakhs, Azeris, and Uzbeks are also significant. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the number of Russian Muslims has increased by one-third. Compared with the national average of 1.5, the fertility rate among Russia’s Muslims is extremely high, with some ethnicities averaging upward of 10 children per family. As a result, the percentage of Muslims to Christians in Russia is in flux, triggering fears among many ultranationalists.Fears among many Slavs that Muslims will embrace radical Islamist ideologies, as was the case in Chechnya, have also soured communal relations in the country. In contemporary Russia, deepseated religious prejudices and media portrayals of Muslims as either terrorists or criminals make life difficult for many Muslims, ethnic and observant. As a religious minority, Muslims often complain of poor treatment in the military, for example, bans on Islamic services, being fed non-halal meals such as pork, and so forth. However, since 1991, Russian Muslims have enjoyed greater freedom to worship and organize than at any other time in modern Russia.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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