Staunton, November 19 – The extremely low level of knowledge about traditional Islam among immigrants to Russia from Central Asia is leading to the growth of radicalism in Russia, Moscow experts say, a finding that applies not only to gastarbeiters (labor migrants) but also to indigenous Muslims in the Russian Federation.
Both Russian researchers and Western observers have been reluctant to point out one of the major reasons for the rise of radicalism among Muslims in the post-Soviet space: Soviet policies eliminated most of the transmission mechanisms for Islam, along with those for other religions, and left many with the status of “ethnic Muslim.”
Such people identify as Muslims because they are members of nationalities which historically were Muslim, but they know little or nothing about the faith, something that opens them to radicalization by missionaries or others who claim to provide them with the way to become “true” Muslims once again.
On the one hand, students of these groups have been unwilling to focus on how destructive religious life was among the Muslim Soviet power. They haven’t been willing to do so because that would appear to mean that the best way to fight radicalism is with the promotion of genuine Islamic training.
Given the preference in Russia and the West to blame Islam as such, rather than to consider the specific circumstances in which this or that group of Muslims find themselves, few except for Islamic leaders themselves have been willing to focus on such linkages and possibilities.
But now an issue has arisen that has opened the way for Russian specialists to talk more directly about both: the increasing radicalization of Central Asian gastarbeiters living in Moscow and other major Russian cities. Discussion of their situation opens the way for discussion of the larger problem as well.
In the current issue of NG-Religii which was released today, Vladislav Kondratyev calls attention to the radicalization of an increasing number of migrant workers and explicitly links that to the absence of religious education in the Central Asian countries from which they come.
The Russian journalist surveys the sad state of religious knowledge among imams, mullahs and even muftis in Central Asia and suggests that the governments in that region have done little or nothing to facilitate an improvement of the situation, something that together with violence in neighboring Afghanistan and other problems is leading to radicalization.
The NG-Religii journalist could easily have said the same thing about Muslims in Russia, where the quality of theological education is low and where many Muslims, who because of Soviet policies, have no idea what that identity means, and have been all too willing to listen to radicals who provide simple, if dangerous, answers to their questions.