Quite a landmark event for Russian Muslims took place in Istanbul late August. It was General Assembly's session of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) which took place August 20-22, on the shores of the Bosphorus.
After IUMS General Assembly's session Russian media declared about a qualitatively new stage in the work of IUMS with Russian Muslim community of 20 million people.
So, at this session 24 participants from Russia - muftis of regional spiritual boards - joined IUMS as members of this organization. Russian muftis, which co-ordinate their international activity with Kremlin, most likely made such a decision following a hint from political authorities.
Thus for Russia not even the number of new IUMS's members is a real breakthrough. But in particular political decision to launch such an intensive cooperation with IUMS and open Russian Muslim community to wider Islamic world.
Nascence of the breakthrough
Russia came to this decision for a long time. It's worth to recall that it all started with International Theological Conference "Islamic doctrine against radicalism", the first event on such level in the history of post-Soviet Russia.
This conference was held on May, 2012 in Moscow with the participation of 50 foreign Islamic scholars led by such IUMS leaders as Shaikh Ali al-Qaradaghi and Shaikh Abdullah bin Bayyah.
That conference was for Russia rich in sensations. The reason behind that fact was that it was the first time since the collapse of the USSR when about 50 foreign Islamic scholars were invited to Russia.
As we have mentioned earlier, the fact is that, after two wars in Chechnya, Russian media, policy analysts and propagandists have formed very a hostile image for Arab and Turkish Muslim scholars, religious leaders and preachers.
They were accused of inciting of the military conflict in Chechnya, and also they were called the main culprits in the radicalization of Muslim youth in the region.
For this reason, Russia for many years was completely closed to foreign Muslim activists, scholars, and leaders. But this measure did not help the Russian authorities to stop the radicalization of Muslim youth.
But the Conference of May, 2012 in Moscow for the first time in the modern history of Russia hosted so big number Arab Muslim scholars. And it showed the whole country and Russian Muslim community in particular that foreign Muslim leaders - are not the enemies of Russia. And that work with them can and should be conducted.
Routine visits and revolutionary ideas
Further, a series of very important visits of IUMS leaders to Russia followed this conference. Russia several time after that conference invited IUMS Secretary-General Ali al-Qaradaghi. At these meetings very interesting for Russia ideas and suggestions were presented.
The brightest of these ideas was establishing in Russia Academy of Fiqh or Council on Fiqh, in which spiritual leaders of Russian Muslims and the most prominent scholars of the Islamic world could enter.
This idea was announced by Shaikh Ali al-Qaradaghi himself. According to the Shaikh, the Council on Fiqh could become a platform for discussion on emerging religious issues, for deliberation scientific recommendations which can help in resolving key problems of Russian Muslims.
This proposal for Russia was truly revolutionary. Because Fiqh in Russia from Soviet atheistic period stood at the level of 19 century.
But as we know Fiqh cannot and should not be a set of dead, frozen and outdated dogmas. Fiqh is a process. It is live field, which should constantly evolve following the development of the society.
Fiqh must constantly adapt to the needs and demands of our life, which varies from day to day. But Russian Muslims dropped out of the global development of Islamic practices because of the fact that the Fiqh in Russia for a century stood on the level before WWI.
Russian records of IUMS
Then, two years ago, Russian authorities, did not respond to the initiative of Shaikh al-Qaradaghi. Suddenly, the recent regular session of the IUMS General Assembly in Istanbul turned to unexpected surprises for Russian Muslims.
Co-ordinator of IUMS activity in Russia Louay Yusuf stressed the importance of this event in strengthening Russia's relations with the Islamic world.
He said: "It's the first time such a big Russian delegation took part in IUMS session. This indicates to the growing role of Russian Muslims in the Islamic world".
It is clear that this did not happen by accident. Russian authorities rather played its role in organizing visit of such a representative Russian delegation to IUMS General Assembly in Istanbul, and getting IUMS membership by two dozens of Russian region's Muftis.
IUMS leaders didn't leave this Russian initiative without proper response. So, at the end of the General Assembly IUMS Final Declaration was announced, in which a significant place was devoted to the problems of Russian Muslim community.
Reasons behind this breakthrough
Moreover, at this meeting the idea of establishing in Russia an Academy of Fiqh or the Council of Fiqh was raised again. And, according to Edward Khachukaev, the deputy head of the Fund for support of Islamic culture, engaged with Kremlin, this time the initiative on establishing Fiqh Council was announced not by IUMS but by Russian side itself.
This event was really must expected for a long time by Russian Islamic thinkers. Because Russian Muslim community really needs Fiqh to be moved off dead center after long stagnation during Soviet atheistic period.
For a long time Russian anti-Islamic experts tried to present advanced scientists of the Sunni world as the enemies of Russia.
IUMS and "Arab Spring" leaders for a long time were the targets of criticism from most conservative Russian Muftis. And suddenly all these Russian conservative Muftis found themselves in the company of the masterminds of the "Arab Spring" as Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Rashid al-Ghannouchi.
Is it a coincidence? There a lot of reasons why Russia so sharply turned toward the Islamic world and opened the Russian Muslim community to World Islamic Ummah.
However at this stage it is worth mentioning one key reason. Amid growing international isolation of Russia because of the Ukrainian crisis Moscow once again wants to expand its position in the Arab-Muslim world, to regain the former partners and acquire new ones. IUMS is one of those wide doors, through which Russia can return to Muslim East.
This willingness of Russian government to a more intensive work with Muslim world should be welcomed. However, we shouldn't forget about the key problem of Russia - inconsistency and randomness of authorities' initiatives on Islamic direction.
Dr. Ruslan Kurbanov, PhD in Political Science, is a senior research fellow of the Institute for Oriental Studies of Russian Academy of Sciences and the director of Al-Tair Foundation.
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