NEZAVISIMAIA GAZETA: Online edition, No.233 12/11/96

by Tatiana Varzanova

Nezavisimaia gazeta, 11 December 1996

Sociological investigations of Muscovites conducted every year by the Center for Sociological Research of Lomonosov Moscow State University have found a decline in ethnic intolerance (aimed mostly against "Caucasians") from 48% in 1993 to 31% in 1996 and at the same time they have identified religious intolerance against Islam. Thus, in 1996, to the question: "Are there religions and religious confessions that evoke a negative attitude from you?" 15.4% of surveyed Muscovites answered affirmatively. To the request to identify which these religions were, 10.1% named various sects and 5.3%, Islam. If hostility toward sects is an habitual matter which was earlier brought on by atheist propaganda and in our days intensified by Orthodox fighters with "totalitarian sects," the negative attitude toward a world religion that is traditional for Russia--Islam--is a disturbing symptom of social consciousness.

The diffusion of ethnic intolerance is double that of religious intolerance, but it is six times as great as the antimuslim attitude, and thus it is possible to affirm with assurance that ethnic tension is not rooted in religion but hostility toward Islam is an abstract matter. Prejudice against the Muslim religion can be explained as a lack of objective information about it.

But who could say that Muslims are not seen on television screens, as is the case for, say, Buddhists? In every documentary we see people with green headbands in reportage from the mountains: Chechnia, Tadzhikistan, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Palestine, and even apart from religious documentaries we learn what "jihad" and "shariat" are, who the Mujehadeen and Taliban are, thanks to the Saturday broadcasts of Leonid Mlechin on "De Facto" who provides a careful analysis of the Islamic factor in politics. But it is in connection with this that there is a need for a special academic broadcast about Islam for non-Muslims.

At present on TV there are dozens of Christians broadcasts but only one Islamic one, "Minaret," which comes out once a month and consists mainly of a broadcast of services from a mosque in Arabic with simultaneous Russian transation. But even earlier broadcsts about Islam which appeared in the peace time of perestroika (a permanent segment in the interconfessional program Now, the broadcast "Sarakal Civilizations" about the "Abrahamic religions") more often offended rather than attracted viewers who were interested in religion as their director Gaidar Jemal spoke with prophetic obsession about the mission of Islam in the contemporary world. Although perhaps there was in these programs more truth about the Islamic religion than in various travel shows in which we see not aggressive or politicized Islam but the Muslim east of the "Thousand and One Nights."

The disproportion in religious broadcasting (on radio there also is only one broadcast for Muslims, "Voice of Islam") may be explained by the relative proportions of Christians and Muslims in Moscow as in all of Russia. According to data of sociological surveys in June 1996, of 1000 permanent residents of the Moscow capital (87% of whom are Russian), 66% are Orthodox Christians (of which 36% consider themselves "convinced believers" and 30% "more believer than unbeliever"), only 1.8% are Muslim. We note that the growth rate of Moscow Muslims is significantly higher than of Christians. If the number of Christians in Moscow in four years grew 1.3 times, then the number of Muslims doubled (from 0.8% in 1993 to 1.8% in 1996). Statements of Muslim leaders that in Moscow and surrounding region there are more than a million ethnic Muslims are exaggerated, although correct from the point of view of religion because the Islamic religion is a comprehensive faith ("iman") and the fulfillment of religious obligations ("islam") and the one who does not perform the prayer five times a day is not a Muslim. And migrants from Muslim regions or their descendants living in Moscow, at least, are partly assimilated with the secularized urban population which has only recently returned to religion. As regards the expressions "ethnic Muslim" and "Muslim regions," they also are artificial concepts as notorious "persons of Caucasian nationality." Faith is not a registration nor a nationality and it is not inherited, so is not the artificial "automatic" recording among Muslims or Christians of whole regions or ethnic groups a kind of religious totalitarianism? It is nothing other than the gigantomania of the ideologues of an Islamic renaissance to speak of the number of "20 million Muslims of Russia" which appears in the press but is not confirmed by statistics. However the president of the Islamic Committee Gaidar Jemal even considers this number to be too low. In a discussion "Islam and the Rebirth of Russia" (NG, 25.07.96) he declared: "In reality it is around 30 percent of the population." It turns out that every third Russian declares: "Allah akbar." It sounds absurd, but it pleases. Unfortunately in the course of discussion of Islamic ideology they broke off in the very culminating moments of the analysis and thus it remained unclear just what the "Islamic project" is and how it will be realized not on a methphysical plane but concretely, on the territory of Russia. Perhaps 30% is an opening indicator of the islamization of Russia? But is it worth making fantastic premises into a global project? Of course, Gaidar Jemal, appealing to some independent experts, can deny the sociological data as a frivolous argument, but what is to be done if even Maxim Shevchenko in the conclusion of the discussion considers: "Even a more or less approximate picture of Russian Islam does not exist, much less full clarity."

According to data of our sociological surveys in 1993-1996, conducted on two samples consisting of 4 thousand and 35 thousand Russians from all regions of Russia, including "traditional Islamic regions," 2.9% to 3.8% of those questioned considered themselves Muslims (1993 and 1996 respectively). Although, naturally, among the surveyed residents of population areas in which representatives of indigenous nations live ("historically islamic"), the proportion of Muslims reaches 65 to 89%. However the specific gravity of the population of such regions (mainly rural) compared to the population of Russia is very small." (by way of comparison, Orthodox in these years were 31% and 43% of the number of Russians questioned.)

This is the kind of disconnect from reality to which good intentions to exaggerate the significance of Islam in Russia by any means lead, even if this is self-deception and disinformation (for the sake of justice I note that those who talk about a renaissance of Orthodoxy are similarly guilty). Wouldn't it be better for the Muslim strategists to foresee the reaction of opposition to the strengthening of the Islamic factor in the internal political life of Russia, the certainty of which is evidenced by the anti-Muslim moods even in the public atmosphere of multinational Moscow, two thirds of whose population have long considered themselves Orthodox.

Although on the other hand, what is the meaning of the antipathy of 5 percent of the surveyed Muscovites or of the averaged data about the number of Muslims in Russia when we see how quickly the residents of "hot spots" are transformed into Muslims and demonstrate their devotion to Allah not only in prayers and rituals.

(tr. by PDS)

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