Staunton, November 18 – Islam in Crimea traces its history back to the time of the Prophet and for most of that time, its followers have been moderate, even progressive in their views. That was the situation of the Crimean Tatars prior to the Anschluss, but the harsh treatment they have received since then threatens to radicalize at least some of them.
According to Elmira Muratova, a scholar at the Tauride National University, “the overwhelming majority” of Muslims there (79.5 percent) view Islam as a part of their cultural tradition, with only a small share (7.5 percent) being sufficiently committed to say the namaz five times a day.
That does not mean that the Crimean Tatars are secular, she continues. Only one in 200 identifies as an atheist. But the members of that community do not see the need to engage in the rituals of the faith in order to share it. Muratova says that this reflects the fact that “in contrast to the Russian Federation, the Ukrainian authorities in fact didn’t interfere in Muslim affairs.”
Prior to the Russian occupation, she continues, there were only a few occasional efforts to influence the community “via parallel structures” but these efforts were not systematic or harsh. After the Russian annexation, however, the situation in this regard changed radically, and the Muslims may respond as a result.
Under the occupation, searches in mosques and in the homes of Crimean Tatars for religious literature that is illegal in Russia became the norm. Until September, such actions were done quietly without announcements, but since then, the occupation authorities have been quite open about what they are doing.
Moreover, the occupation authorities have been putting more pressure on the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Crimea and opened the way for the appearance of a rival muftiate “which immediately declared that it represented true Islam.” In addition, there have been kidnappings, disappearances, and even deaths.
These actions, especially given the extent to which the occupation authorities have restricted the activities of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis by exiling two of its leaders, raiding its building, and regularly attacking its meetings and statements, are changing the attitudes of many Muslims in Crimea, the scholar suggests.
Lest things get worse in the immediate future, the occupation authorities have declared that they will not engage in any checking or raids on Muslim facilities or households until January 1. But that date is not far away, and many doubt that the occupation authorities will in fact keep their promises.
Organizationally, Islam in Crimea has recovered much of the ground it lost under Russian and then Soviet occupation. There are now 323 mosques, of which 95 are new, eight medrassahs, and about 80 religious schools, as well as two MSDs and representatives of Salafi trends, Hiz ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood.
As the occupation authorities limit the secular organizations of the Crimean Tatars and continue to attack religious ones, there is a possibility that just as has been the case in parts of the Russian Federation, an increasing number of Crimean Tatars will turn to religion and to its more radical forms, a development the Russian occupiers will have only themselves to blame.