RUSSIA: Are Stavropol regional authorities interfering in Muslim affairs?
The head of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Karachai-Cherkessia and Stavropol Region has claimed to Forum 18 News Service that the Stavropol regional authorities' are supporting the creation of a local muftiate separate from the Spritual Directorate. This is said to be due to the latter's insistence on the return of Stavropol city's historical mosque, which currently houses a museum. Apparent confirmation of the authorities' displeasure is their failure to invite the Spiritual Directorate to a major regional conference, addressed by Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov and other key officials, which was also attended by representatives of the muftiates of both Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. Stavropol regional religious affairs official Vasili Shnyukov declined to respond to Forum 18's questions by telephone.
In a 22 July 2004 interview with the state-founded "Stavropolskaya Pravda" newspaper, Mukhammat Rakhimov, "one of the most likely candidates" to head a Stavropol regional muftiate, stressed that dialogue with the region's authorities about the return of the city mosque must take place without resorting to the courts. It would be dangerous to turn the building - which currently houses a museum - back into a mosque, he maintained, "but it might well be used as a spiritual directorate or medressah (Islamic educational institute)."
Speaking to Forum 18 on 29 October, Stavropol regional religious affairs official Vasili Shnyukov declined to respond to questions by telephone.
Confirming what appeared to be a sign of the disfavour in the eyes of the Stavropol authorities of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Karachai-Cherkessia and Stavropol Region, Mufti Berdiyev's assistant Abubekir Kurdzhiyev told Forum 18 on 29 September that no representative of the organisation had been invited to a major regional conference the previous day: "Totalitarian Sects – the Path to the Destabilisation of the North Caucasus". Addressed by Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov and other key officials, this conference was attended by representatives of the muftiates of both Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria, however, as well as Asan Koibaliyev, the head of the Council of Imams of Stavropol region's eastern districts, who Mukhammat Rakhimov described as his proponent in the 22 July "Stavropolskaya Pravda" interview and who denied at the conference that those seeking an independent muftiate were "instigating a schism".
According to Mufti Berdiyev, a failed attempt to create an independent muftiate and elect its leader was made at a Stavropol regional Muslim congress in July 2004. Abubekir Kurdzhiyev told Forum 18 that irregularities at that congress meant that Berdiyev's supporters were deliberately underrepresented. While communities with over a thousand members were meant to have five delegates and those under a thousand, three, he explained, "our opponents had 15 for some mosques with under a thousand," while delegates from others were not admitted. "The organisers said their papers were submitted too late, but I sent them myself by fax a week in advance," he told Forum 18, "I told them that if they wanted to have a state department for Muslim affairs in Stavropol region then they should openly call it that."
In the 22 July "Stavropolskaya Pravda" interview, Mukhammat Rakhimov claimed that the creation of an independent muftiate and the election of its leader had been postponed at the congress due to a "disagreement". In explaining what happened, he maintained that his opponents' leader represented ideas "harmful to a true Muslim, the complete rejection of traditional Islam" and had practised "the open intimidation of delegates". As a result of this evident "negative influence of alien ideas," a separate Stavropol muftiate would be better off under the auspices of Talgat Tadzhuddin, he suggested. Tadzhuddin and other representatives of his Soviet-era successor Muslim body, the Central Spiritual Directorate of Muslims, have consistently maintained in recent years that Islamic extremism is rife in Russia outside their own organisation (see F18News 14 September 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=410).
For background information see Forum 18's Russia religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=116
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2 November 2004
Mufti Ismail Berdiyev, who belongs to the presidential Council for Co-operation with Religious Organisations, has told Forum 18 News Service that he supports "the general idea of attacking Wahhabism and terrorism," but cannot fully endorse every anti-terrorist measure. "Some state officials don't know the first thing about religion and go too far," he remarked, "we don't accept their mistakes." In the area he comes from, the authorities compile lists of suspected "Wahhabis". "I'm opposed to that," he told Forum 18, "if people are conducting terrorist activity then they should be prosecuted." Local imams state that there is an Islamic militant problem, but imam Magomed Erkenov told Forum 18 that the problem's scale did not warrant negative treatment of the entire Muslim community. Commenting on those fighting in Chechnya, he told Forum 18 that "They may have said that they were fighting against Russia, but if paid they would have fought against Muslims, or their own relatives. There is nothing holy about that war."
1 November 2004
Since the start of the second Chechen conflict, Islamic representatives maintain to Forum 18 News Service that a "negative policy towards all Muslims" in parts of the northern Caucasus has intensified. Imam Magomed Erkenov, who oversees 15 mosques in the southern Karachai-Cherkessia republic, told Forum 18 that since 1999 it has become "much harder" to register new Muslim communities. Officials visit mosques about twice a month to conduct interrogations of worshippers, Erkenov stated, on one occasion accusing a worshipper of being a Wahhabi and arresting him. An imam in a neighbouring mosque, speaking of visits by officials, told Forum 18 that "people are afraid to be seen to be Muslim now." Regional religious affairs official Yevgeni Kratov insisted to Forum 18 that mosque check-ups take place "entirely within the framework of the law" and entail neither searches nor abuses of any kind. "A police officer might drop by and take an interest, especially following a terrorist attack," he explained.
11 October 2004
China maintains few controls on religious life in the mountainous Altai [Altay] region in the far north of Xinjiang, Forum 18 News Service has noted, apparently because there are only low levels of Islamic, Buddhist, Pagan, Orthodox and Pentecostal Christian religious practice among the majority ethnic Kazakhs, as well as among Chinese and most other local minorities. In contrast, Forum 18 has observed strict controls in nearby mosques amongst the Muslim Dungan people, and the visit of a Russian Orthodox priest, Fr Vianor Ivanov, was met by the authorities arresting him, as well as questioning virtually all the several dozen elderly Orthodox believers in the city Fr Ivanov visited, before deporting him.