Mufti Farid Salman, a well-known Muslim theologian from Kazan, the President of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah Research Centre, answers Eurasia Daily’s questions concerning the «Islamic factor” in the global policy.
EAD: The problems in the Islamic community observers were talking about yet a year ago have faded into insignificance compared with the developments in Ukraine. For how long? What is the general trend in the world Ummah and what is the balance the Islamists — to — «traditional Islam' ratio?
The developments in Ukraine cannot push the «Islamic factor” to the sidelines, anyway. We can see certain efforts towards settlement and finding a way out of the situation in Ukraine now. In the case of the «Islamic factor,” this is impossible and unachievable. Unfortunately, the number of Islamic groups is growing day-by-day. At the given stage, it is impossible to say how many groupings there are and how diverse they are. The situation in the north of Iraq and in the northeast of Syria (now also in the southeast of Turkey) means that the trends will continue. No reconciliation can be expected. I think, the United States' attack on Syria is just a matter of time now. By interfering in developments in Syria, Turkey has opened Pandora’s Box… Lybia, Yemen are in fire, Tunisia, Lebanon are on a tinderbox ready to blow at any moment. Calling the recent riots in Palestine territories «Al-Aqsa Intifada” demonstrates that everything will lead to more violence and Ummah splitting. Confusion and chaos in Islam (not in the religion, but in civilization) are growing. Nothing good can be expected in the near future.
EAD: Many observers say the next stage of activity of the «Islamic State” will be invasion into Russia via the Caucasus. What do you think of these assumptions?
Not only via the Caucasus, but also via Central Asia. I have travelled through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan lately. There is a semblance of control over the situation there, but the government cannot see or influence what is happening «at the grassroots level.” Meanwhile, there are radical sentiments there. Active Islamists leave Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan for Syria via Turkey. Less active ones remain in Russia or in the Turkish regions that are not involved in the Syrian conflict. Therefore, invasion will be via not only the Caucasus or Transcaucasia.
There is an idea of Islamic globalization and our country has nothing to counter with it. With every blocked website of Islamists, hundreds of new ones emerge. A huge work has been carried out to match the traditional Islam against the Islam interpreted by Islamists. Traditional Islam is losing this battle completely.
The traditional Muslim clergy has no longer influence with a significant part of the youth. At large-scale meetings of theologists, specialists in Islam, one can see the same persons all the time, as religious elite undergoes practically no changes and we tell each other the things all of us already know. The situation is deteriorating. That is why, when the «Islamic State” leaders say that Russia is their next foothold, it is not mere words. In this light, I rely on vigilance of our security services. They have already proved that they are capable of settling such issues. Nevertheless, it will leave its mark.
EAD: As for the instruments of the Islamic globalization, all of us can see them. When it comes to reasons, our analysts usually begin to reason about plots and machinations of the CIA and security services from the West, about plots of Arab sheikhs etc. Do you think the same way?
There is something in these statements. Any anti-governmental, terrorist groups (for instance in Ireland, Spain, India) have always had ties with CIA and Western security services. The latest spy scandal between the United States and Germany demonstrated that for the U.S. even the closest and most devoted allies are surveillance objects. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to blame CIA or the Mossad for everything, as the theory of controlled chaos always fails. Genie gets out of the lamp and stops obeying its master. Although CIA and special services had their part in that, Islamists know how to self-organize. Al-Qaida is still alive amid the statements that bin Laden is dead. Ayman al-Zawahiri is Al-Qaida leader now. Like the Many-Headed-Hydra, the Islamic organizations are easily self-replicating.
EAD: Do you mean that besides a western scenario for the «Islamic State,” there were also some objective preconditions for its emergence?
The U.S. policy of «double” and even «triple” standards has led to a situation when part of the population in Muslim countries started seeing American and other western spies, regime’s mercenaries and traitors in their leaders and governments. Actually, some Arab leaders have been acting illogically in their foreign and domestic policies. The knowledge-based Arab states (Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Sudan) are low-income, while the high-income states of the Persian Gulf (except the UAE and Oman) are funding political lumpen groups and promoting Salafi ideology all around the world, and inside the Ummah, first of all. Interestingly, the activists that «trouble waters” often found themselves in the American system of governance. Particularly, Saudi Arabia, where part of the population is anti-American, another part supports Sufism, while others hate the Saudi king etc. Simply, at a certain stage, the U.S. plan to reformate the Middle East failed. «Islamic State” has launched its own game. Nevertheless, this game is so far within the frames drawn by American analysts.
EAD: Is the current «global jihad” a particular development stage in Islam or it is the work of special services?
I think, these are apocalyptic sentiments that have flooded the entire East. As the Israeli rabbinate is talking about the end of the age, the Roman Pope is reasoning about the Apocalypse. In Islam, all this began much earlier: the February revolution in Iran, anticipation of the Messiah, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The Muslims are waiting for the end of the age and make sacrifices, and do it fanatically with abandon. Nevertheless, all this runs contrary to the religious spirit and requirements of Islam, as people have no right to anticipate the Judgment Day. Unfortunately, what is happening now is a universal psychosis. It is very difficult to say where is Islam and where is heresy — things have got terribly confused in the public mind. All these anticipations of the Apocalypse are intensively fueled also by means of the web. Look at «the black flags': religious texts state they are to appear before the end of the age. More and more experts say that once artificially created, the Saudi state is plunging into the period of chaos. If they are right, the holy cities of Mecca and Medina will be in ruins one day. In June 2014, the satanic warriors of ISIL officially promised to destroy Kaaba…
While part of the Israeli elite strives to build a new Temple, the rabbinate — teachers of Torah ban climbing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, people are witnessing terrorist acts, skirmishes, counter-terrorist operations, failure of the peace talks that were very close to a peaceful resolution of the situation in the Middle East. All this puts pressure on the minds of people making them seek an end-all.
EAD: Eventually, Muslims start to implement «the divine scenario” that has nothing to do with Allah’s will, don’t they?
Exactly. The «Jerusalem Syndrome” at the global level. People rush things; a universal fear-mongering is taking place. Meanwhile, haste is one of Satan’s tools. I don’t rule out that we are approaching the end, but none of the Abrahamic religions enables people to predict it. Only God knows when the Judgment Day will come, and that Day will not bring universal salvation. Nevertheless, the entire Muslim East with their actions is anticipating the Judgment Day. I am sure that there are forces that direct and fuel this process. However, I would not blame CIA and the United States for everything, because they will also suffer from all that. There will be no Noah’s Arc either for Americans or for others. In addition, these forces will certainly try to involve Russia in these processes, too.
EAD: What are these forces? Who in Russia can meet that challenge?
The chief conductors remain behind the scenes, indeed. I am far from making conspiracy discourses, but life teaches us that things are not that simple. Everything is easy only for the supporters of Darwinism. Anyway, when it comes to threats, I think the Muslim Brotherhood is the major threat to our country. In this light, I would recommend those who make decisions in our country to learn the experience of the UAE where that movement and all the affiliated organizations have been banned quite recently. That movement does not keep with the spirit of traditional Islam, confusing and mixing everything. Besides that, they issue fatwas on various, even the most senseless occasions, thus subjecting Islam to ridicule. Nevertheless, that organization and its affiliates have strong positions in Western Europe (it is noteworthy that the so-called «Muslim organizations” there are either Salafi or Wahhabi or those of the Muslim Brotherhood). Why is this movement so dangerous for Russia? The point is that in our country they do not pay appropriate attention to «the Brotherhood…” Meanwhile, they are very skillful when it comes to social work. They help the poorest groups of the population and students, and this increases their authority and influence.
The second most dangerous organization for Russia are Salafi/Wahhabi. The situation is curious here, too. They have paled into insignificance recently, as Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami has occurred in the focus of attention of the law-enforcement and in the forefront of the fight against the state with its efforts to create the mythical «caliphate”. As the government is fighting against HTI, the Salafi/Wahhabi and the Muslim Brotherhood are acting at the grass-root level.
What can we set against them? It is the most complicated question. I have no answer to it. Nevertheless, I can state for sure that the system of SDM (Spiritual Department of Muslims) is behind the times. The model of governing Muslim society was suggested by Empress Catherine II, and it is no longer effective in the 21st century. It may be sufficient for certain groups of the population, such as elderly people, students of a particular educational establishment or orphanages, but not the entire population.
Although, we do not speak of this, I should say that the idea of national origin is very strong in Islam. In the case of Russia (where Tatars are the second largest ethnos in the country and the first among Muslims), ignorance of these peculiarities leads to grave consequences. The clergy should preach in the national languages. The young generation of clergymen overwhelmingly works with the public in Russian. In fact, the youth gradually forget their roots and traditions. We know that in Russia there are people who «came to Islam' (actually, they yielded to propaganda and fell in hands of the radicals). Suffice it to mention Said Buryatsky. In these groups, they stir up hatred towards both the Orthodox Church and Russia. This is a very big problem.
Therefore, it is impossible to say who can really counteract the Islamic threat to Russia. Murder, frightening, discrediting of clergymen have also served its purpose. Denying this means entrenching upon the truth.
I’d also like to mention Muslim educational centers. They have been teaching and preparing future clergy for long years. However, while travelling through Russia, one can see many abandoned mosques. Why? People are granted state-funded education and then engage in commerce and trade in halal products or tasbeehs and taqiyah caps in the market. It is necessary to stop this system when young Muslims get education on the budget funds and avoid army service, but soon forget about their commitments to the public and Ummah. Meanwhile, the Muslim clergy is replenished «from inside” - our imams are replaced by those who received education in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Now that religion as a value system is actively used in the world to achieve geopolitical goals, we in Russia must revise the principle of dividing the religion and the state. This principle no longer meets the present day challenges and the spirit of times. It has become harmful to the state and public. In Turkey, for instance, the model of the state-religion relations operates successfully despite all costs. I think, the model where the clergy is connected to the state and is responsible for patriotic education and everything is done for the good of the country, can be exemplary for Russia. State flags can be seen everywhere in Turkey. Every imam who receives salary from the Ministry of Religious Affairs constantly teaches patriotism in his preaches and consolidates the Turkish public. It is an example to follow, isn’t it? It is clearly stated in Islam that patriotism, love for the Fatherland is part of the religion. Meanwhile, in Russia imams rarely remember this when working with the people.
In Russia, they have finally understood that playing with radicals and Islamists is senseless. Maybe, the next step will be official refusal from the outdated thesis of non-interference of the government with the religion. I don’t mean that any new ceremonies or canons should be created or revised. What I mean is consolidation of the public, its sustainability and the public order. We should not skirt the problems in the religious governance or let matters drift. Otherwise, the security of the state and its citizens will be endangered.
EAD: Have they already started working on the problem in Tatarstan?
In Tatarstan, they have chosen the right vector of developing the SDM. It is for the first time that the SDM chooses an appropriate and correct course of action and cooperates with the spiritual directorates of the whole Russian Federation. Kazan is the historical, spiritual and cultural capital of the Tatar world. Mufti of Tatarstan is a person who expresses the collective opinion, which is based on the personal opinion of the mufti and his team. The team must be united. Discrepancies are inadmissible inside the team, even more so nowadays.
Mufti Kamil Samigullin works actively with the graduates of foreign educational centers, too, and teaches himself. Most important, he is engaged in theology. Here in Tatarstan, the work is underway and it has already had a positive effect, which, however, will hardly have any impact on our neighbors… They have just began studying the problem and the experience. In such a situation, radicals resort to all possible means to fuel the situation. For instance, they use low awareness of religions issues among judges who announce guilty verdicts on «Muslim cases” and ban religious literature. Islamists interpret any failure of the judiciary as «a regular punitive action of the Russian authorities against Muslims” and present it as an evidence of «the state fight against Islam.” In fact, more and more people join the «Fifth Column.” It is a favorite tactics of Islamists to put up Muslims against the country they live in.
EAD: Let’s imagine that you have necessary instruments and levers to give a global solution to the problem with Islamism. What will be your first step?
I cannot speak of a global solution. In Russia, we should first learn who is who. Over the last 25 years, many thousand Muslims have received education abroad. There are people among them who love their Motherland, care for it and its future. However, these people are not in power, they are not even let close to the Ummah governance. Meanwhile, the clergy of the past century cannot settle problems of the new century. Anyway, there is an exception — Tatarstan. Over the last two years, the Muslims in Tatarstan have seen new imams, new and truly talented preachers of the traditional Islam. However, this process is needed throughout whole Russia. Therefore, it is necessary to find out how many such people we have in Russia and how many people preach foreign Islam so strange to our country. As Vladimir Lenin has it: «Before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation.” After all, even if an imam graduated from a Wahhabi foreign center gives the spiritual directorate a written undertaking not to propagate Islamism, he does it anyway. Such oaths mean nothing to them.
Second, new models of interaction with the Muslim community are needed. The system of the SDMs has run its course. We have over 90 muftis throughout Russia. In some regions, the heads of the SDMs are rotated so often that people have no time to learn their names.
The third thing we should do is to work in the web, in social media. It is necessary to remove the content of extremist nature. 95% of the «Muslim publications” ridicules the traditional Islam, demonstrates negative attitude towards the clergy, Russia and the Russian leadership. Highly qualified specialists should be involved in this process. Unfortunately, there are very few specialists, but they can hire the students who show good results in social work.
Finally, the most important is education. The process of Muslim education needs serious reform. There are two approaches to it: Kadimist and Jadidist, which is applied here. Students attend lessons in large groups, and teachers deliver lectures one after another… Such large-scale involvement is characteristic to secular education, but such method is not good for spiritual education. The Kadimist approach, if we try to describe it in a simple way, implies individual lessons of the pastor with small groups. This model is practiced today by the Islamists, including the Hizb ut-Tahrir, as it is the most effective one. Did you know that the Wahhabites have 50 favorite questions they often ask the traditional Muslims. However, even our imams often fail to answer all those questions, unlike the Wahhabites that have ready answers. An average graduated student of a Muslim higher educational establishment in Saudi Arabia will get the upper hand in a theological debate against our graduated student, as our students do not have so solid knowledge of theology. They did not undergo individual courses with the sheikh. Even if the sheikh teaches a student only one book within three years, the student will get comprehensive knowledge of, let’s say, rhetoric, Hadith. That is why our system of Muslim educations must be reformed. Otherwise, we will lose our youth. Nothing matters more than our youth. Besides, I think, there is no need to teach students at Muslim higher educational establishments for five years. An extraordinary educational program must be developed. For instance, in Tatarastan, they already have qualification upgrade courses for imams, but it is not the entire Russia…
EAD: As for Tatarstan, what about the situation in your region now? Just about a year ago, there were reports from Tatarstan that Islamists burnt churches and launched homemade Qassam rockets at the Nizhnekamsk oil refining plant. What future developments do you anticipate?
I’d like to recall that quite recently there were reports on detention of Hizb ut-Tahrir members again. As for the verdicts on last year’s cases on extremism, they are so far unknown. I think such incidents (terrorist acts and special operations) may happen from time to time. Unfortunately, the virus of Islamism has not been exterminated. There is no need to divide religious zealots into representatives of certain religious flows or movements, as they are all radicals. What we can do so far is to rely on vigilance of our special services.
EAD: Turning to global challenges, when do you anticipate aggravation of the problem of «Islamic factor” relating to Russia?
We are on the verge of new tragic events. The developments in Ukraine were well-thought attempts to make our country as weak as possible. Therefore, new fronts may open shortly. It may be in Kazakhstan, Caucasus, Azerbaijan, wherefrom alarming messages concerning the growing influence of the «Islamic State” agents have been received. Yet, Crimea remains the hottest point in the context of ideology. Thousands of radicals that have been multiplying there for the last twenty years could not disappear. These are the Crimean Wahhabites, ARRAID with the ideology of Muslim Brotherhood, and Hizb ut-Tahrir. I don’t think that all they have left for Ukraine. We live in anticipation of global changes and the «Islamic factor” is one of the key instruments of those changes. To fend off the challenge from Russia, to caution it — is one of the most complicated, but most crucial tasks for today.