Islam

   Islam is the second largest of Russia’s religions. Approximately 20 million or 14 percent of Russia’s citizens are ethnic or legacy Muslims; of those, slightly fewer than half are active members of the faith. The vast majority of Russian Muslims are Sunni of the comparatively tolerant Hanafi school of jurisprudence; there is a small minority of Shiites in Russia. Russian Muslims are most prevalent in the Volga basin and the North Caucasus, as well as the historical capitals of Moscow and St. Petersburg. There are another 3–4 million immigrants in Russia who profess Islam, principally from Central Asia and Azerbaijan.
   The presence of Muslims within the Russian Empire dates to the annexation of the Khanates of Kazan (1552) and Astrakhan (1556). The Romanovs steadily incorporated lands of Dar al-Islam over the next few centuries, culminating with the conquest of Central Asia in the late 19th century. Under Joseph Stalin, Islam—like other faiths—was suppressed, with Islamic schools (maktabs) being closed, bans on veiling, restriction of the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), the persecution of imams, and the abolition of sharia (Islamic law) and waqfs (religious land grants). Prior to the Bolshevik revolution, there were more than 25,000 mosques in the country; this was reduced to barely 1,000 by 1942 and then halved over the next 40 years. In the post–World War II period, religious training in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was limited to two sites within Russia (Ufa and Orenburg) and to muftiates in Baku and Tashkent. By coopting the Islamic ulema (religious scholars), the Soviets were able to procure a pro-statist “official Islam,” though many Muslims continued to worship in secret.
   During perestroika, there was a resurgence of Muslim identity in Russia, particularly among legacy Muslims who had been deployed to fight in the Soviet-Afghan War. In 1990, legal reforms allowed for nearly all aspects of Islamic life to flourish in the USSR. After 1991, Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey, began funding mosque-building, religious education, and Islamic charities in the Russian Federation; there are over 5,000 mosques now in operation. Many Russian Muslims also traveled abroad for pilgrimages or study at Islamic universities. Islamist political organizations sought to improve the plight of Russian Muslims and promote a resurgence of the faith after decades of enforced atheism. The Chechen War and the concomitant spread of jihadist terrorism have made the Russian state particularly wary of so-called fundamentalist Islam, often labeled Wahhabism (vakhabizm). During the 1990s, conflicts, such as the one in North Ossetiya, have been colored by Orthodox-Muslim strife, further fanning the flames of the purported “clash of civilizations” within Russia. Efforts have been undertaken to assist in the development of a Russian form of “Euro-Islam” free of influence from the Arab World and South Asia; these are seen as radicalizing influences on Russia’s Muslims, many of whom engage in Sufi practices, drink alcohol, do not fast during Ramadan, and embrace elements of Russian mainstream culture. Finding common cause between Orthodox Slavs and Finno-Ugrics, Turkic and Caucasian Muslims, and Mongolic Buddhists remains a central tenet of neo-Eurasianism, thus making Russia’s Muslims a key constituency for many political projects in post-Soviet Russia. Reflective of this, Vladimir Putin oversaw Russia’s admission to the Organization of the Islamic Conference as a permanent observer in 2005. Under the competitive leadership of Ravil Gaynutdin, Chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, and Russia’s supreme mufti, Sheikh ul-Islam Talgat Tajuddin, Russia’s Muslim committee is seeking to create a place for itself within the larger society. However, anti-Muslim prejudices, particularly against Chechens, remain a major problem in the country. Generational and ideological differences also continue to internally afflict the community.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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