Saturday, Nov. 10, 2001.
Muslims Enroll at Kazan Madrassa
By Amy Waldman
NEW YORK TIMES SERVICE KAZAN, Central Russia -- Summoned by a
familiar, plaintive call, young men dazed from studying stumble from
their dorm rooms with slippers on their feet and prayer on their
From 20 Russian regions and bordering nations, they have made their
way to an institution whose very name was unthinkable a decade ago:
the Russian Islamic University. Founded in 1998, the university
already has 148 students in its newly refurbished building.
Though most of the country's 13 million to 20 million Muslims are
secularized, young people are becoming ever more observant.
And now there are ever more places to observe: In Tatarstan, where
there were about 18 mosques under Soviet rule, there are now more than
1,000, including one rising, on a grand scale, inside the walls of
this city's kremlin.
But the state reaction to Islam seems to depend very much on what form
of Islam it is.
Less than 300 kilometers from the Russian Islamic University, another
Islamic religious institution, the Yoldyz madrassa, feels itself to be
under state siege. Set in the bleak Soviet industrial city of
Naberezhniye Chelny, surrounded by drab, gray apartment blocks, the
school's run-down building has a front door that doesn't latch and
peeling paint inside.
After reports emerged of graduates going to fight against federal
troops in Chechnya, the Tatarstan government sent the school's Arab
teachers back to their home countries and revoked its license to
provide religious education. To seem less threatening, Yoldyz
transformed itself into a girls' madrassa. Still no license. The state
wants the school closed.
The madrassa reflects a younger generation's view that Russian Islam,
shaped by accommodation to tsarist rule and Soviet repression, is not
worth preserving. The school's director, Malik Ibragimov, 36, who
studied in Saudi Arabia for four years, says fundamentalist Islam is
the only Islam. He calls the notion of a Russian Islam "rubbish.''
The university, by contrast, reflects an effort to contain radical
Islam by promoting Russian Islam -- defined as a centuries-old
tradition of coexistence with other faiths and deference to the state.
Islamic revivalism may pose no immediate threat to the Russian
federation, but it does present a challenge to President Vladimir
Putin and his successors. In seven republics of Russia, including
Chechnya and, just barely, Tatarstan, Muslims are already a majority.
They are not immigrants whose visas can be revoked. Their history here
extends back more than a millennium.
Young Muslims are picking up where their grandparents left off when
communists executed thousands of Islamic teachers and closed most of
the country's mosques and religious schools. Unable to look to parents
raised under Soviet rule for instruction on anything but the most
basic rituals, some of today's young people are being influenced by
young preachers and teachers who went to Arab countries to study
starting in the 1980s.
Their education abroad, coupled with an influx of Arab emissaries
offering spiritual guidance and financial support after the Soviet
collapse, helped forge a generation of ardent believers.
"They began to feel 10 years ago that they are a minority among
Russians, but they belong to the Islamic civilization and feel that
Osama bin Laden and others are their brothers,'' said Alexei
Malashenko, a scholar of Islam at the Moscow Carnegie Center.
Fearful that young radicals could help fill the rapidly growing need
for Islamic teachers, conservative Muslim leaders have encouraged
Putin to pay more attention to Islamic education in Russia. So has
Tatarstan's president, Mintimer Shaimiyev.
Ever attentive to his Muslim constituents, he has formed strong
economic relations with Arab and Muslim countries. But when it comes
to religious education, and even his prized Islamic university,
Shaimiyev no longer wants Islamic countries' help.
"We think it's better to render that support ourselves,'' he said in
A few years ago, concerned that Arab teachers were spreading
Wahhabism, Shaimiyev engineered the election of a moderate, Gusman
Iskhakov, to head Tatarstan's Muslim Spiritual Board. Iskhakov, who is
also rector of the Islamic university, quickly took religious schools
Those who advocate an Islamic state in Russia, or preach intolerance
for other faiths, he said, threaten to disrupt the harmony between
Muslims and Christians that has held for centuries in Tatarstan.
"The ideas proclaimed in Saudi Arabia don't fit here,'' he said.
But Ibragimov of the Yoldyz madrassa hardly seems hopeful that his
fellow Tatars, who he said prefer drinking to scripture, are ready for
Islamic rule. Rather, he believes that the state fears that observant
Muslims will start applying Islamic notions of justice to the
corruption they see around them.
A drawing on a wall shows an unhealthy heart infected by the trappings
of Western success -- a car, a cellphone, a bag of money.
drug addicts, no theft, no alcoholism, no killings like in Russia, and
if they call that Wahhabism, then I am for Wahhabism like that.''
(8 years ago)