JRL-The rise of Russian Muslims worries Orthodox Church
- Johnson's Russia List
8 August 2005
A CDI Project/World Security Institute
The Times (UK)
August 5, 2005
The rise of Russian Muslims worries Orthodox Church
From Jeremy Page in Moscow
THE religious leader of Russia's Muslims has alarmed Russian Orthodox
Church leaders and ultra-nationalists by asserting that the country now has
23 million indigenous Muslims at least 3 million more than previously
According to the last census, three years ago, about 14.5 million of
Russia's 144 million population were ethnic Muslims. For several years
religious leaders have put the number at nearer 20 million.
But Ravil Gaynutdin, chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, said this
week that the number of ethnic Muslims in Russia was 23 million and was
growing fast. "They are indigenous residents of our country, not migrants
or immigrants, and have been living here from time immemorial," he told a
meeting of the European Union of Muslims. "The number of people professing
Islam in Russia is constantly growing."
Russia is also home to an estimated 3 million to 4 million Muslim migrants
from former Soviet states roughly 2 million Azeris, a million Kazakhs and
several hundred thousands Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz.
Some Russians are also converting to Islam, according to Sheikh Farid
Asadullin, of the Moscow Council of Muftis. "Ethnic Russians, Ukrainians
and Belarussians, mostly young and intelligent, see in Islam an answer to
their questions," he told The Times.
Islam was strictly controlled in the Soviet Union, which had only 500
mosques, but has enjoyed a renaissance since 1991, helped by funds from the
Middle East. Russia alone now has some 5,000 mosques.
The rise in the Muslim population has raised fears among Russian Orthodox
Church leaders and ultra-nationalists that Russia could one day become a
Muslim-majority nation. The Church claims to have 80 million followers, but
religious experts say the number is closer to 40 million and on the wane.
Russia's overall population is declining, due in part to the adverse
effects of high alcohol consumption, but numbers are rising in Muslim
regions, where large families are common and alcohol consumption is more
moderate. Russia's total population dropped by 401,200 in the first half of
this year, but the population rose in 15 regions, including the republics
of Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia.
Rosstat, the state statistics agency, said the average birth rate per woman
was 1.8 in Dagestan, compared with 1.3 for all of Russia, while male life
expectancy was 68 in Dagestan, against 58 for all Russia.
Aleksei Malashenko, an expert on Islam in Russia, said: "The real problem
is the crisis of the Russian population, not the increase of the Muslim
population. And, of course, the Church is not so powerful or so significant
for Russians as Islam is for Muslims. This doesn't mean that Russia will
become a Muslim society in several years, although maybe in half a century
we'll see something surprising."
In the short term, the trend was likely to affect only the North Caucasus,
where the proportion of ethnic Russians was already dropping rapidly, and
Moscow, where the proportion of Muslims was rising, he said.
Russian forces have been fighting Chechen rebels for more than a decade and
the bloodshed is now spilling into neighbouring republics and radicalising
many young Muslims.
Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's first Deputy Prime Minister, announced plans
this week to build Europe's largest mosque in the Chechen capital, Grozny,
to try to attract people to mainstream Islam.
Moscow, a regular target for Chechen rebel attacks in the past two years,
is home to an estimated 1.5 million Muslims, including about 100,000
Chechens, who are often harassed by police and skinheads.
Mr Malashenko said: "Islamophobia and xenophobia are on the rise. We can
already see the effects with several nationalist groups. Despite all the
conflicts, the situation is quite stable, but I don't believe it will stay
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