Staunton, December 14 – Vyacheslav Nikonov, chairman of the Russian Duma education committee and head of the Russian World Foundation, told a Muslim forum in the Russian capital that “Moscow is not only the largest Islamic city in Russia but also the city with the largest Muslim population in Europe.”
Speaking to the 10th International Muslim Forum on “The Mission of Religion and the Responsibility of Its Followers in the Face of the Challenges of the Contemporary World,” Nikonov said that “in Moscow today live 1.5 million Muslims” and that “the majority” of them follow “genuine” and “traditional” Islam.
It is thus “no accident,” he continued, that “our Council of Muftis has frequently issued fatwas which condemn any manifestation of extremism.”
In related comments, the Russian parliamentarian noted that Islam is “a historical religion on the territory of Russia which from the beginning has been formed as a poly-confessional country in which a large number of the population follows Islam.”
Today, Nikonov continued, “57 nationalities associate themselves with Islam and in eight subjects of the Federation, they are the titular nationality. At the same time, the followers of Islam identify themselves as the umma, a community, and not as representatives of this or that territorial one.”
And he said that in Russia now, there are “two large Muslim areas: in the Caucasus and in the Volga,” but Muslims live in many other parts of the country including Moscow.
The facts Nikonov presents are no surprising: if anything, he understates the size of the Muslim community in the Russian capital. But what is surprising is that he, a Russian Duma deputy who is actively involved in promoting Vladimir Putin’s “Russian world,” is saying them so baldly.
On the one hand, this may reflect nothing more than Nikonov’s efforts to please his audience, although of course he did not need to accept its invitation to speak. But on the other, it may be part of a deeper debate about just what the “Russian world” should include, given the growing size of the Muslim community in Russia and even in “Russian” Moscow.