Islam in Russia

Islam in Russia
The greatest mosque in Russian empire in Saint-Petersburg.

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Islam is the second most widely professed religion in the Russian Federation. According to a poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 6% of respondents considered themselves Muslims.[1] According to Reuters, Muslim minorities make up a seventh (14%) of Russia's population.[2] Muslims constitute the nationalities in the North Caucasus residing between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea: Adyghe, Balkars, Chechens, Circassians, Ingush, Kabardin, Karachay, and numerous Dagestani peoples. Also, in the middle of the Volga Basin reside populations of Tatars and Bashkirs, the vast majority of whom are Muslims. Islam is considered as one of Russia’s traditional religions, legally a part of Russian historical heritage.[3] There are over 5,000[4] registered religious Muslim organizations (divided into Sunni, Shia and Sufi groups), which is only one sixth of the number of registered Russian Orthodox religious organizations of about 29,268 (As of December 2006).[5]


History of Islam in Russia

Mosque in Moscow.

The first Muslims within current Russian territory were the Dagestani people (region of Derbent) after the Arab conquests in the 8th century. The first Muslim state in Russia was Volga Bulgaria (922). The Tatars inherited the religion from that state. Later most of the European and Caucasian Turkic peoples also became followers of Islam.[6]

Islam in Russia has had a long presence, extending at least as far back as the conquest of the Khanate of Kazan in 1552, which brought the Tatars and Bashkirs on the Middle Volga into Russia. The period from the conquest of Kazan in 1552 to the ascension of Catherine the Great in 1762 was marked by systematic repression of Muslims through policies of exclusion and discrimination as well as the destruction of Muslim culture by elimination of outward manifestations of Islam such as mosques. The Russians initially demonstrated a willingness in allowing Islam to flourish as Muslim clerics were invited into the various region to preach to the Muslims, particularly the Kazakhs whom the Russians viewed as "savages" and "ignorant" of morals and ethics.[7][8] However, Russian policy shifted toward weakening Islam by introducing pre-Islamic elements of collective consciousness.[9] Such attempts included methods of eulogizing pre-Islamic historical figures and imposing a sense of inferiority by sending Kazakhs to highly elite Russian military institutions.[9] In response, Kazakh religious leaders attempted to bring religious fervor by espousing pan-Turkism, though many were persecuted as a result.[10]

While total expulsion as in other Christian nations such as Spain, Portugal and Sicily was not feasible to achieve a homogenous Russian Orthodox population, other policies such as land grants and the promotion of migration by other Russian and non-Muslim populations into Muslim lands displaced many Muslims, making them minorities in places such as some parts of the South Ural region to other parts such as the Ottoman Turkey, and almost annihilating the Circassians, Crimean Tatars, and various Muslims of the Caucasus. The Russian army rounded up people, driving Muslims from their villages to ports on the Black Sea, where they awaited ships provided by the neighboring Ottoman Empire. The explicit Russian goal was to expel the groups in question from their lands.[11] They were given a choice as to where to be resettled: in the Ottoman Empire or in Russia far from their old lands. Only a small percentage (the numbers are unknown) accepted resettlement within the Russian Empire. The trend of Russification has continued at different paces in the rest of Tsarist and Soviet periods, so that today there are more Tatars living outside the Republic of Tatarstan than inside it.[6]

Under Communist rule, Islam was oppressed and suppressed. Many mosques were closed at that time. For example, the Marcani mosque was the only acting mosque in Kazan at that time. During Stalin's reign, Crimean Tatar Muslims were victims of mass deportation. The deportation began on 17 May 1944 in all Crimean inhabited localities. More than 32,000 NKVD troops participated in this action. 193,865 Crimean Tatars were deported, 151,136 of them to Uzbek SSR, 8,597 to Mari ASSR, 4,286 to Kazakh SSR, the rest 29,846 to the various oblasts of RSFSR.

From May to November 10,105 Crimean Tatars died of starvation in Uzbekistan (7% of deported to Uzbek SSR). Nearly 30,000 (20%) died in exile during the year and a half by the NKVD data and nearly 46% by the data of the Crimean Tatar activists. According to Soviet dissident information, many Crimean Tatars were made to work in the large-scale projects conducted by the Soviet GULAG system.[12]


Areas in Russia with a Muslim majority.

There was much evidence of official conciliation toward Islam in Russia in the 1990s. The number of Muslims allowed to make pilgrimages to Mecca increased sharply after the embargo of the Soviet era ended in 1991. In 1995 the newly established Union of Muslims of Russia, led by Imam Khatyb Mukaddas of Tatarstan, began organizing a movement aimed at improving inter-ethnic understanding and ending Russians' lingering misconception of Islam. The Union of Muslims of Russia is the direct successor to the pre-World War I Union of Muslims, which had its own faction in the Russian Duma. The post-Communist union formed a political party, the Nur All-Russia Muslim Public Movement, which acts in close coordination with Muslim imams to defend the political, economic, and cultural rights of Muslims and other minorities. The Islamic Cultural Center of Russia, which includes a madrassa (religious school), opened in Moscow in 1991. In the 1990s, the number of Islamic publications has increased. Among them are few magazines in Russian, namely: "Ислам" (transliteration: Islam), "Эхо Кавказа" (Ekho Kavkaza) and "Исламский вестник" (Islamsky Vestnik), and the Russian-language newspaper "Ассалам" (Assalam), and "Нуруль Ислам" (Nurul Islam), which are published in Makhachkala, Dagestan.

Kazan has a large Muslim population (probably the second after Moscow urban group of the Muslims and the biggest indigenous group in Russia) and is home to the Russian Islamic University in Kazan, Tatarstan. Education is in Russian and Tatar. Copies of the Qur'an are readily available, and many mosques are being built in regions with large Muslim populations.

In Dagestan there are number of Islamic Universities and madrassas, notable among them are: Dagestan Islamic University, Institute of Theology and International Relations, whose rector Maksud Sadikov was assassinated on 08 June 2011.[13]

Talgat Tadzhuddin was the Chief Mufti of Russia. Since Soviet times, the Russian government has divided Russia into a number of Muslim Spiritual Directorates. In 1980 Talgat Tazhuddin was made Mufti of the European USSR and Siberia Division. Since 1992 he has headed the central or combined Muslim Spiritual Directorate of all of Russia.


The majority of Muslims in Russia adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam. About 10% are Shi'a Muslims. In a few areas, notably Dagestan and Chechnya, there is a tradition of Sunni Sufism which is represented by Naqshbandi and Shadhili schools whose spiritual master Shaykh Said Afandi al-Chirkawi receive hundreds of visitor everyday [14]. The Azeris have also historically and still currently been nominally followers of Shi'a Islam, as their republic split off from the Soviet Union, significant number of Azeris immigrated to Russia in search of work.

The Orthodox Church of Russia is said to be concerned with the growing estimates that Islam is poised to become a rapidly growing minority and potentially a majority by the year 2050.[15][16] While various Muslim sources claim that Islam is the fastest growing religion in Russia and that ethnic Russians are converting to Islam in large numbers.[17] Notable Russian converts to Islam include Vyacheslav Polosin [18], Vladimir Khodov and Alexander Litvinenko, a defector from Russian intelligence, who converted on his deathbed.[19][20]

Hajj - Pilgrimage

A record 18,000 Russian Muslim pilgrims from all over the country attended the Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 2006.[21] In 2010, at least 20,000 Russian Muslim pilgrims attended the Hajj, as Russian Muslim leaders sent letters to the King of Saudi Arabia requesting that the Saudi visa quota be raised to at least 25,000-28,000 visas for Muslims.[22] Due to overwhelming demand from Russian Muslims, on 05 July 2011 Muftis requested President Dmitry Medvedev's assistance in increasing the allocated by Saudi Arabia pilgrimage quota in Vladikavkaz.[23] III International Conference on Hajj Management attended by some 170 delegates from 12 counties was held in Kazan from 7 – 9 July 2011.[24]

Language controversies

For centuries, the Tatars constituted the only Muslim ethnic group in European Russia, with Tatar language being the only language used in their mosques, a situation which saw rapid change over the course of the 20th century as a large number of Caucasian and central Asian Muslims migrated to central Russian cities and began attending Tatar-speaking mosques, generating pressure on the imams of such mosques to begin using Russian.[25][26] This problem is evident even within in Tatarstan itself, where Tatars constitute an overwhelming majority.[27]

See also


  1. ^ "(Russian)Опубликована подробная сравнительная статистика религиозности в России и Польше". 6 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-27. 
  2. ^ "Analysis: Airport bomb may aggravate Russian ethnic tensions". Reuters. 2011-01-26. 
  3. ^ Bell, I (2002). Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia. ISBN 9781857431377. Retrieved 27 Dec. 2007. 
  4. ^ Page, Jeremy (2005-08-05). "The rise of Russian Muslims worries Orthodox Church". The Times (London). Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  5. ^ Сведения о религиозных организациях, зарегистрированных в Российской ФедерацииПо данным Федеральной регистрационной службы, декабрь 2006 (Russian)
  6. ^ a b Shireen Tahmasseb Hunter, Jeffrey L. Thomas, Alexander Melikishvili, "Islam in Russia", M.E. Sharpe, Apr 1, 2004, ISBN 0-7656-1282-8
  7. ^ Khodarkovsky, Michael. Russia's Steppe Frontier: The Making of a Colonial Empire, 1500-1800, pg. 39.
  8. ^ Ember, Carol R. and Melvin Ember. Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Men and Women in the World's Cultures, pg. 572
  9. ^ a b Hunter, Shireen. "Islam in Russia: The Politics of Identity and Security", pg. 14
  10. ^ Farah, Caesar E. Islam: Beliefs and Observances, pg. 304
  11. ^ Kazemzadeh 1974
  12. ^ The Muzhik & the Commissar, TIME Magazine, November 30, 1953
  13. ^ Muslim teacher killed in Russia's North Caucasus
  14. ^ Biography of Shaykh Said Afandi al-Chirkawi ad-Daghestani
  15. ^ Russian Muslims allege persecution
  16. ^ Islam to become Russia’s predominant religion by 2050?
  17. ^ Russia in search of itself By James H. Billington, pg. 182
  18. ^ Polosin Ali Vyacheslav - My journey to Islam
  19. ^ "Litvinenko converted to Islam father says". The Times (London). 2006-12-08. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  20. ^ Litvinenko's Father Says Son Requested Muslim Burial - RADIO FREE EUROPE / RADIO LIBERTY
  21. ^ Russian Pilgrims Number Exceeds 18,000, Ministry of Hajj, Saudi Arabia.
  22. ^ Russian Muslims on Hajj to Saudi Arabia
  23. ^ Muslims in Russia ask for increased Haj quota
  24. ^ Muslims in Russia prepare for Hajj
  25. ^ The Rebirth of Islam in Russia
  26. ^ (Russian) [1]
  27. ^ (Russian) [2]

External links

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