“Islam in Russia” yesterday and today

18 April


In the summer of 2012, the book “Islam in Russia” was published, written by Aji Surya, at that time, cultural adviser at the Indonesian embassy in Moscow. The publication expressed the interest shown in this Asian state in the events taking place in the Muslim community in Russia. Unfortunately, the book was never published in Russian, but its contents can be judged from the review of M.N. Gusev, candidate of historical sciences. Let's try to trace what changes have occurred in the Russian ummah, which 12 years ago was captured by a kind of “view from the outside”.

First of all, it should be noted that, while covering various sensitive issues, Aji Surya maintains his unfailing goodwill. The author points out that despite the huge distances separating the countries, Muslims in Russia and Indonesia have much in common. Despite the different sizes of Muslim communities in the two countries, it is the “Islamic factor” that remains an indispensable part of favorable relations between states. Russia and Indonesia are representatives of the so-called “peripheral Islam”, which is relatively young compared to traditional Islam in Arab countries.

According to Aji Surya, the Russian Muslim community is still in the process of formation after the collapse of the USSR and hasn’t developed a general concept for the further development of Islam in a huge multinational and multi-religious country. As a striking example is given the fact: in comparison with the tsarist period, the number of operating mosques in the Soviet Union decreased from approximately 10 thousand to 100. This couldn’t but lead to a lag in Islamic upbringing and education.

Based on this thesis, it’s possible to document the dynamic activity of the Russian Muslim community in the development of programs that reflect current issues in the relationship of the Ummah with the state and society as a whole. Back in 2001, the “Social Program of Russian Muslims” was presented. On its basis, an updated version was released in 2015 - “The Social Doctrine of Russian Muslims”, which demonstrates the continuous work of the community on self-organization in the new challenges.

“Strategy for the Development of Islam and Muslim Organizations in Russia until 2035” is intended to determine the positions of Russian Muslims in the future. Adopted in 2020, the project expresses, among other things, the conscious desire of fellow believers to understand their identity, and also forms patriotic feelings. All together aimed at strengthening Islamic solidarity and unity in the context of Russian society.

Doctrines and strategies try to cover as broadly as possible all present and future aspects relating to the life of Muslims in multi-religious and multi-ethnic Russia. Regarding the number of mosques, it is necessary to similarly resort to the language of facts. In 1991, there were only 120 religious buildings throughout the country, but today there are more than 7 thousand. Changes have also affected the sphere of Islamic education in Russia, but before revealing them, attention should be paid to one more thesis expressed by Aji Surya in his monograph.

The chapter of the book on the development of relations between Muslims in Russia and Indonesia expresses the need to build a new “bridge” between them. In the past, the regulation of religious activity in the USSR was strict, practically nullifying contacts along the Muslim line. In Indonesia, Islam, despite differences between adherents of different movements and views, is a powerful unifying force. In Russia, it hasn’t yet been possible to unite the adherents of Islam around a large-scale common idea. One of the ways to solve this problem, according to Aji Surya, is to expand the scope of the “classical” education of clergy.

Today, Muslim education in Russia is firmly entrenched in the state coordinate system. Educational institutions undergo an accreditation procedure by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation. Graduates receive state diplomas and have the intellectual potential to realize opportunities in many areas of society. Positive changes are evidenced by the opening of Russia's first Islamic Academy in the Bolgar, Republic of Tatarstan. The higher education institution, founded in 2017, prepares masters and doctors of Islamic sciences.

Education within the framework of traditional Islam can resist radical interpretations of a peaceful religion. Aji Surya didn’t fail to talk about the problem presented by extremist forces and perpetrators of terrorist acts who treacherously use Islam as an ideological cover. Russia and Indonesia have achieved some success in combating these negative manifestations. The methods of confrontation used are completely different, but their comparative analysis can enrich the practice of combating extremism on an international scale.

Without remaining silent about the problems and vulnerabilities in the Russian Muslim community, Aji Surya managed to highlight all the positive things happening in the life of the ummah of the largest state. The view of the Indonesian diplomat and publicist on the life of Russian Muslims 12 years ago allows us to emphasize the dynamic and constructive development of Islam in the Russian Federation. On the path of confident movement forward, it’s impossible to avoid new obstacles and difficulties. But the aspirations of both Muslims and representatives of other faiths are aimed at achieving a prosperous society in Russia and throughout the world as a whole.



GSV "Russia - Islamic World"

Photo: Nick Fewings/Unsplash