Russia and the Islamic World

14 September 2023

By Dr. Shehab Al-Makahleh

The interaction between Russia and the Islamic world is a fascinating thread that cuts across a complex landscape and ever-changing global challenges. The historical, cultural and geopolitical ties between these two entities have shaped their relationship, while recent developments point to the possibility of deepening interaction and cooperation. As the world is grappling with multifaceted challenges, the dynamics of relations between Russia and the Muslim world provide insight into the complexities of international relations.

The history of Russia’s relations with the Islamic world goes back several centuries and is often characterized by a combination of cooperation, conflict and coexistence. Russia’s vast territory includes regions with large Muslim population, such as the North Caucasus and Tatarstan. This diversity has fostered a multifaceted cultural exchange, resulting in a complex interplay of Russian identity and Islamic heritage. Kazan, for instance, has witnessed the harmony that can result from the coexistence of various religious and cultural traditions. In the realm of geopolitics, Russia’s involvement in the Middle East and Central Asia has brought it into close proximity to many Muslim-majority countries. Its role in conflicts such as the Syrian civil war affects regional stability, and Russia’s economic interests in the energy-rich Gulf region have cemented its position as an influential player.

Russia’s diplomatic and non-interference approach to conflicts and crises in the Muslim world often differs from that of Western powers, which resonates with some Muslim-majority countries that priorities sovereignty. The strategic partnership between Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran is a prime example of such a development. The two countries have found common ground in opposing Western hegemony; and their cooperation extends to the political, economic and security spheres. From joint military exercises to energy deals, Russia and Iran have forged a pragmatic alliance that reflects their common interests and regional ambitions.

However, the path to deepening interaction is not without difficulties. The rise of extremist groups, transnational terrorism and the possibility of inter-confessional tensions complicate Russia’s engagement with the Muslim world. Russia fights terrorism within the country and seeks to promote regional stability abroad. Its cooperation with Muslim countries in the fight against terrorism underscores the importance of a collective response to common threats. In light of these complexities, the importance of dialogue and mutual understanding cannot be overestimated. The diversity of Muslim communities, Russia’s geopolitical involvement in Muslim regions, and its historical ties with Islamic civilizations all require a cautious approach. This implies taking into account the interests of Muslims inside the country and respecting the cultural and religious peculiarities of foreign partners.

The dynamics of the development of relations between Russia and the Islamic world are also echoed on the world stage. In the context of the transformation of the international system, the coincidence of the interests of these two actors provides an alternative view of diplomacy and conflict resolution. Russia’s emphasis on multipolarity, non-interference and respect for sovereignty coincides with the aspirations of many Muslim-majority countries seeking to assert their independence and play a decisive role in shaping their destiny. The way forward for Russia and the Muslim world is through continued interaction based on respect, mutual benefit and shared values.

Overcoming the complex landscape of religious, cultural and geopolitical nuances requires an approach that takes into account the diversity of both structures. By strengthening dialogue, increasing cooperation and jointly addressing challenges, Russia and the Islamic world can contribute to a more stable, just and multipolar world order. As these two actors explore new horizons, they have the potential to reshape international discourse and create a legacy of cooperation for future generations.


Economic and Political Advisor – Jordan

Photo: Faruk Kaymak/Unsplash