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Challenge of Muslim unity

New Islamic organization more likely to split than to unite Muslims
by Andrei Melnikov, Lidiia Orlova
Nezavisimmaia gazeta, 9 December 2010

A new association of Islamic societies has appeared in Russia with claims to leadership in the umma. Yesterday in Moscow there was the founding conference of the Russian Association of Islamic Accord (RAIS); another name is the All-Russia Muftiate. The president elected for the new religious organization is the head of the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of Stavropol, Mukhammad Rakhimov. Among the founders of RAIS is the mufti of Perm territory, Mukhammedgali Khuzin, who is notorious for his irreconcilable position with regard to the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR).

RAIS is the fourth centralized muftiate of the country, after the Central Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims (TsDUM), the SMR, and the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the Northern Caucasus (KTsMSK). As Islamic scholar Roman Silantiev told "NG," "the number of Muslim centers in Russia is constantly growing, and at the time that the number of societies that are not members of one of the three Russian Muslim organizations achieved such a quantity, they decided to unify." According to the founders of the All-Russia Muftiate, it has 150 member societies.

"I hope that the appearance of this organization will not lead to a new internecine war of Russian Muslims, although of course I cannot rule that out. Many consider this is actually an attack on their interests," Roman Silantiev said. It seems that the new organization is more likely to set itself up in opposition to existing Islamic associations of the country rather than to consolidate Muslims.

The president of RAIS, Mufti Mukhammad Rakhimov, just last spring headed the DUM of Stavropol, which broke away from the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of Karachaevo-Cherkesiia. This event struck a blow against KTsMSK. Now that Stavropol muftiate is completely outside the sphere of influence of KTsMSK, and has become an important link of the new center of power. Perm Mufti Mukhammedgali Khuzin first defended in the Volga area the interests of TsDUM and its head, Supreme Mufti Talgat Tadjuddin. Now by his active participation in the creation of the new organization Khuzin, it seems, has thrown down a challenge not only to SMR but also to Tajuddin. We recall that it was from Tajuddin that the iniative arose to unify Muslims under the aegis of TsDUM last fall. That initiative, as is known, ended in scandal and a new correlation of relations among muftiates. As the authorized representative of the Central Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims, Rastam Valeev, noted for "NG", if RAIS decides to act with such methods as the Council of Muftis of Russia acts, the relationship to this organization will be negative.

In its statement adopted yesterday at the founding congress, the All-Russia Muftiate declared an intensification of the dialogue with representatives of traditional religions of Russia, "first of all with the fraternal Russian Orthodox church," and also the development of a dialogue with Muslims of countries of the post-soviet space. The latter signifies cooperation with the Consultative Council of Muslims of the Commonwealth of Independent States, under the leadership of the Shiite Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukiur Pasha-zade, whose activity the Council of Muftis of Russia follows attentively and jealously. The especially acute opposition between Sunni and Shiite muftiates has been expressed in discussion of the so-called question of the Lezgin people. (tr. by PDS, posted 10 December 2010)

Russian original posted on site, 9 December 2010

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Jehovah's Witnesses seek legal protection of literature

ReligioPolis, 10 December 2010

Three complaints against actions of Russian authorities have been filed in the European Court for Human Rights. All three are connected with unjustified intrusion into residences and also confiscation of personal belongings. The applicants, Elena Novakovskaia, Elena Chavychalova, and Mikhail and Larisa Cheprunov, residents of Riazan and Tambov provinces, maintain that the reason for the intrusion was exclusively their religious convictions. In their opinion, state agencies acted in violation of norms of national and international law.

Thus, in March 2010, plaintiff Elena Novokovskaia, a single mother of three children ages 3, 11 and 18, learned that a criminal investigation was being conducted regarding her because her children "preach" their religion in school. Thanks to the high regard for this family on the part of neighbors and teachers, a criminal case was rejected. Nevertheless, the Center for Combating Extremism of the Department of Internal Affairs for Riazan province obtained from the vice-president of the provincial court a warrant to conduct a search operation in her apartment and to confiscate unspecified evidence. At the same time, the woman was not granted the opportunity to read the text of the warrant, as required by law, and later Russian courts refused to review her complaint against this warrant. Having exhausted all means of legal defense within Russia, Elena Novakovskaia filed a complaint in the European Court for Human Rights.

In the course of 2010, surveillance and searches have been conducted in homes of Jehovah's Witnesses in many regions of Russia, during which believers have been subjected to substantial moral and physical harm. Courts have issued warrants for conducting such searches in order to give them the appearance of legality. These complaints to the European court, in particular, raise the question of the nature of such legality.

An attorney for the plaintiffs said:  "It is amazing that in such a progressive country as Russia, believers are denied the right to read and study the Bible and to peacefully share their faith with neighbors and other people. Law enforcement agencies subject law-abiding citizens to arrests, confiscate their books and magazines, and subject believers to fines."

The three complaints filed on 7 December 2010 in the European court contain a request to confirm that the right to own such literature and to read it is confirmed by international legal norms that Russia has obligated itself to observe. (tr. by PDS, posted 10 December 2010)

Source:  Press Service of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia

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November attacks on Jehovah's Witnesses' property

ReligioPolis, 10 December 2010

The campaign being conducted in Russia discriminating against believers and discrediting the Jehovah's Witnesses' religion led in November 2010 directly to several acts of vandalism. Arson of Kingdom Halls (Jehovah's Witnesses' houses of worship) was committed in Irkutsk province and Krasnodar territory. The house of worship in the city of Lipetsk also suffered at the hands of vandals. Total damages exceeded 160,000 rubles.

Believer Igor Oshkin, the watchman on the night of 15 November 2010 in a Jehovah's Witnesses' building in the village of Chunskii, Irkutsk province, said that when the fire alarm went off, flames had already engulfed the porch of the building and part of the roof. Thanks to the efforts of the fire brigade, the fire was extinguished. An expert investigation confirmed arson. According to preliminary estimates, the damage from the fire was approximately 90,000 rubles. Believers had earlier received threats. "We have not been frightened and have not panicked," Igor Oshkin said, "But we are forced to act 'under siege;' we keep a bucket of water ready in case there will be another arson."

In the night of 24-25 November, in the city of Labinsk, Krasnodar territory, an explosion occurred in a house of worship. The blast blew out an interior door and several window frames. Jehovah's Witness Sergei Vinokurov went to the site and along with the husband of one of the believers was able to remove the source of the fire. Arriving police officers discovered remains of four bottles with a flammable liquid. Damage exceeded 69,000 rubles. Sergei Vinokurov expressed the feelings of his fellow believers in the following way: "We have not hurt anyone nor caused anybody any harm. It is a shame that people express their negative feelings in this way."

In the city of Lipetsk, unidentified persons destroyed the post box of the Jehovah's Witnesses' house of worship and broke up a metal gate and overturned two street columns. (tr. by PDS, posted 10 December 2010)

Source: Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia

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Kaliningrad stand-off

Interfax-Religiia, 10 December 2010

The administration of Kaliningrad has denied permission to the "For the preservation of the cultural environment and observance of the constitution" movement for conducting a protest demonstration against the transfer of German houses of worship to Russian Orthodox church ownership.

As the press service of the movement reported on Friday, the acting head of the city, Svetlana Mukhomor, denied the conducting of the next, fifth, such action on the Day of the Constitution, 12 December, in the square next to the "Mother Russia" monument, since on that day preparation for the new year holidays will be going on there.

In connection with this, the movement decided to cancel the demonstration but it called supporters to a "flash mob" with toys, gingerbread cakes, and "pastries in the form of a toadstool."

The appeal says:  "We welcome masqueraded toadstools. We invite musicians and satirical singers to take part in a contest for the best rhyme with the words 'toadstool' and 'constitution'."

During the festivities the collection of signatures for rescinding laws regarding the transfer of objects of worship significance to Russian church ownership will continue.

In his turn, the chief of the Organizational Department of the administration of Kaliningrad, Valerii Pegin, confirmed for Interfax that the demonstration was not permitted because work on preparing the city for new year holiday events will be going on in the square.

As has been reported, on 28 October a law was adopted in Kaliningrad province regarding the transfer to Russian church ownership of 15 regional objects of cultural heritage, including Catholic and Lutheran churches and Teutonic order castles.

At the end of November was held the signing of documents regarding the transfer to Moscow patriarchate ownership of a number of objects of religious significance that were owned by the province. After this, Kaliningrad diocese immediately transferred these objects to free use by cultural and education institutions located in the particular objects for the entire period of the existence of these institution or their successors. (tr. by PDS, posted 10 December 2010)

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Court rules against dissident Orthodox


On 3 December, an appeal instance of the Vologda city court confirmed a decision of a court of the first instance of 9 August 2010 requiring Tatiana Kolmakova not to take her minor son to "religious organizations under the leadership of ROCOR priest Alexander Lipin, and also not to conduct religious rituals in the child's place of residence."

According to a report on the official site of the Bishop's Council of ROCOR(A) [Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (Agafangel)], the court, in its decision, cited the position of the representative of the Vologda diocese of RPTsMP that called the church of St. Serafim of Sarov in Vologda and other parishes headed by priest Alexander Lipin "a totalitarian sect," in the judicial session. The indicated parishes have been for several years now within the jurisdiction of ROCOR(A), whose first hierarch is Metropolitan Agafangel Pashkovskii.

The court refused to admit into the case materials confirming that the church headed by Fr Alexander belongs to ROCOR.

In the opinion of the Vologda diocese of RPTsMP unidentified authors also cite an article, "Schismatics," that was published in the "Krasnyi sever" newspaper. According to the newspaper, priest Alexander Lipin "often initiated the public burning of his 'parishioners' Russian passports," engaged in "the organization of flame shows," and "often urged his parishioners to refuse to use the Internet."

The Vologda city court reviewed Fr Alexander's suit against the newspaper, which emphasized that the parishioners of St. Serafim are "officially employed people who have all documents necessary for living and who use medical services, cell phones, and the Internet." (tr. by PDS, posted 10 December 2010)

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Orthodox to restore former Lutheran church

Interfax-Religiia, 9 December 2010

The Kaliningrad diocese of the Russian Orthodox church signed a cooperation agreement with the Kaliningrad provincial museum of history and art for use of the former Arnau Kirche as a place of worship and a museum.

As the director of the Department of Communications of the diocese, Priest Mikhail Seleznev, told "Interfax," what is now the Orthodox church of St. Catherine, famous as the unique Arnau Kirche [of St. Elizabeth—tr.], will officially be not only a religious object but also a museum in which, as formerly, excursions and cultural activity will be vigorously conducted.

The agreement for this mutually beneficial partnership was signed by Bishop of the Baltics Serafim and the director of the Kaliningrad provincial museum of history and art, Sergei Yakimov.

Within the framework of cooperation, the church will devote maximum efforts to preserve the frescoes existing in the church and to restore it to its original appearance. In its turn the provincial museum will do everything possible so that the unique historical and artistic object will be on the itineraries of all tourists arranged within Kaliningrad province, the priest noted.

The church of St. Catherine was turned over for use by the Kaliningrad diocese on 11 May of this year. On 3 October, the church was visited by Patriarch Kirill when he was in Kaliningrad. On 23 November the church was transferred to diocesan ownership by a decision of the provincial duma.

As has been reported, the German "Arnau Curatorship" foundation, which had been engaged in restoration of the kirche and had spent more than 320,000 euros for this purpose, has proposed that the object be returned to state ownership. The foundation's charter does not permit it to cooperate with religious organizations.

The Arnau Kirche, founded in 1364, is one of the most ancient church buildings on the territory of Kaliningrad province. The uniqueness of the kirche is that in it are preserved many genuine medieval frescoes from the 14th century. (tr. by PDS, posted 9 December 2010)

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Believer's parental rights restricted for abuse

Interfax-Religiia, 9 December 2010

In the city of Zlatoust, Cheliabinsk province, a mother who is a member of one of the well known sects severely punished her teen-aged daughter for misbehavior; at present the girl is in a rehabilitation center.

"Mama beat me with everything that came to hand—with a rope, with a stick. She beat me indiscriminately about the head and entire body. She locked me naked in a cellar for several hours. She forbade me to associate with classmates and friends," the thirteen-year-old school child said; her words were published Thursday in the "Komsomolskaia Pravda" newspaper.

As the press service of the Zlatoust city court reported, the woman punished the girl by forcing her to memorize enormous texts of so-called "rhythms" (collections of words whose repetition, in the sect's opinion, will bring a person eternal happiness—"I.-R.") and she forbade her to eat meat.

A criminal case has been brought against the woman and the daughter has been placed in a rehabilitation center, but even there the mother has not given her peace. While the investigation was continuing, she has come to the shelter, waited for her daughter at school, demanded she return home, refused to give evidence, made scenes, and driven the child to tears.

According to information of the court, the mother justified herself be saying she simply wanted to train a disobedient daughter and she sometimes went over the line. The daughter did not manifest exemplary behavior; she stole money and broke things in the house. However the mother did not deny her guilt and promised to get psychological help if her daughter were returned.

The court restricted the woman's parental rights and the girl will spend six months in the rehabilitation center. If in that time the harsh mother does not reform and win her daughter's trust, she will not be permitted to be near the child. The court's decision has not taken legal effect yet and may be appealed.

"For the sect this woman is a member of, such aggressive behavior of members is typical. It is an organization with elements of fanaticism and it induces people to manifest such psychological disorders," the assistant director of the evangelism department of Cheliabinsk diocese, Konstantin Putnik, said commenting on the woman's behavior.  He pities the girl: "She is now of such an age when the psyche is very easily broken by violence," and people who join this sect are "overwhelmed by a system of moral coordinates," he said. (tr. by PDS, posted 9 December 2010)

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