Staunton, June 17 – Just as Ukrainians as a nation are already more European than are the Russians, so too Ukraine’s Muslims today are more like their fellow Muslims in Europe than they are like the faithful in Russia and other post-Soviet states, according to Abdulla Rinat Mukhametov, a Russian Muslim analyst.
“The very development of Islam in Ukraine now does not have a post-Soviet character as it does [among Russian believers.] It is already closer to Europe, to that model of Islam to which Muslims in the West live and work,” he says. Ukraine’s Muslims have far to go, “but the trend is obvious”.
“In Ukraine,” Mukhametov says, “we see aspects of that Islam which is present today in Europe – social, civic, open, intellectual, contemporary, and with elements of advanced western culture, models and technologies.” In short, an Islam which is “western in the very best sense of that word.”
Ukraine’s Muslim community is now far ahead of the Russian one and is showing the way forward, he continues, even though it began “from a worse starting point,” given the size of the community – fewer than a million (a third of whom live in Russian-occupied Crimea, the deportation of many of its members, and a lack of recognition and cohesion.
The hierarchies of Muslim communities in Ukraine support the current Ukrainian leadership and the goals of the Maidan, analysts in Kyiv and Moscow say. Ukrainian Muslims “sincerely believe in the European choice of Ukraine and connect their future precisely with it” rather than with a Moscow-dominated Eurasia.
That support reflects the fact that Kyiv has treated its Muslims more fairly than Moscow has its, they sy.. The Ukrainian authorities have always included Muslim leaders in discussions on religious policy, there has been no persecution of Muslims for wearing the hijab, and there have been no bans on Muslim literature.
The pro-Western policy of the Crimean Tatars is “easily explicable,” these experts say, given the deportation of 1944, the support they have received from Kyiv since 1991, the fact that young Crimean Tatars can’t imagine being citizens of any country except Ukraine, and that “the leaders of the Crimean Tatars were and remain major political figures in Ukraine.”
The Russian occupation authorities have tried to split the Crimean Tatars by a “carrots and sticks” policy, and they have had some limited success. A few Crimean Tatars have been willing to cooperate with Moscow but most continue to reject that out of hand.
Like Ukrainians, they are certain that “Crimea was, is and will remain Ukrainian.” Indeed, Mustafa Cemilev, the longtime leader of the Crimean Tatars who has been banned from entering Russia and thus his Russian-occupied homeland, has said that he does not think that “the occupation of Crimea will last more than two or three years.”
In an effort to hide the support Ukraine’s Muslims are giving to Kyiv, Moscow has tried with limited success to involve the Kazan Tatars and it has very publicly used Ramzan Kadyrov as its spokesman there. Indeed, the Chechen leader is “the most active opponent of Ukraine from among the Muslims.”
Kadyrov has had little success among Ukraine’s Muslims, almost all of whom see him as an unwanted interloper in their country’s affairs, but the Chechen leader’s statements have been given extensive coverage in Muslim countries. That reflects the lack of attention to Ukraine by Muslim states in “the far abroad” and the calculations of leaders of those “in the near abroad.”
But in neither place has Moscow or its Chechen agent succeeded in gaining much beyond neutrality on Ukrainian developments, commentators say. Kyiv should recognize this, they argue, and seek support from the Muslim world against Russian aggression. In that effort, Ukraine’s Muslims are ready and able to play a key role.