A branch of Russia’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal by a group of Muslims from southern Russia’s Stavropol Region for the right of schoolgirls to wear the hijab in classrooms. Russia, like its European neighbours has long resorted to draconian measures against the Muslims in its own country in order to protect secularism. Russia has a long history of animosity with the Ummah which remains deeply entrenched today.
Islam came to Central Asia and the South Caucasus Mountains in the 8th century. Under the rule of Ibn Muslim, the governor of Khorasan, these areas were integrated with the Khilafah. Very quickly the whole of Central Asia (except for Northern parts of Kazakhstan and Caucasus) came under Islamic rule. Arabic replaced the dominant language of the various areas and it also became the administrative language of the region.
The Mongol invasion in the 12th century lead to the loss of rule in these regions, however many of the successors of Ghengis Khan accepted Islam and made the Turkish language their own language. The Tatars of Volga-Ural accepted Islam in the middle ages and are the ancestors of today’s Muslims in Russia.
In the 16th century Under Ivan IV (the terrible) Russia put an end to Mongol advances and the Russian Empire was born, bringing to an end the Grand Duchy of Muscovy. The Tsar’s expanded the Russia Empire bringing them into conflict with the Uthmani Khilafah. After countless battles and the Khilafah in severe decline the treaty of Kucuk Kaynarci was signed on 21 July 1774, where the Khilafah was forced to concede most of its territories in Eastern Europe and the Caucuses.
In the 20th century the Soviet Union was born and so was the Russian people’s greatest territorial power, they expanded well into Europe and Asia. Under Communist rule the Muslims were oppressed and their deen was supressed. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990 Islam has flourished in Russia and this continues to dominate Russia’s leaders. Russia’s Muslim population today comprises 16.7 million out of the country’s 142 million population.
In the 2013 annual Strategic Estimate report, Khilafah.com highlighted the historical cohesion problem Russia faced with its large, diverse population which consists of more than 185 different ethnic groups, 21 national republics and 85 regional subjects that span nine time zones. Indeed this is one of the most arduous challenges that Russia faces in its quest to raise its sphere of influence on the world arena. Every single Russia leader be they Czarist, Soviet or post-Soviet have struggled to consolidate the disparate population.
Current demographic trends in Russia show the Muslim population will make a larger proportion of the population as Russia’s population declines. The Muslim population of Russia is projected to number 18.3 million by 2020 which would be 13.3% of Russia’s population and by 2030, 15.6% of Russia’s population will be Muslim, making the number of Muslims residing in Russia 19.9 million. Islam is also the belief of the majority of the population in Central Asia in which there is a resounding expression that mirrors the inherent desire of every Muslim to live under a unified Islamic State which the Muslims of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan historically lived under.
When Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000 he was seen as a strong man who would deal with Russia’s Muslim ‘problem’ after a number of failed ventures into Muslim Chechnya in the 1990’s. This outwardly anti-Muslim attitude along with a number of “terrorist” attacks on Russian soil in the preceding years laid the seeds for a general distrust of Muslims amongst the Russian masses. All this despite Islam and Muslims having played a significant part in Russian History and society for many years.
This along with Muslim’s becoming a larger percentage of Russia’s population is leading to an increasing anti-Muslim sentiment. The opinion research centre released a poll in January 2013 which found that 55% of Russians reported feelings of enmity towards other ethnicities and 63% thought that Russians should have more rights than other ethnicities. There now exists a translucent disparity between Muslims and ethnic Russians which have led to the government adopting a xenophobic attitude towards Muslims.
The streets of Moscow are witnessing a rise in Muslims and a decline in ethnic Russians which has resulted in protests numbering over 100,000 expressing calls for immigration reforms and a cessation of government subsidization policies particularly in Muslim republics. By 2030, the population of Russia is expected to drop by 10%. The situation is only made worse by the rise in Far Right politics across Europe the thoughts of which are now starting to take hold within Russian society.
Whilst the Western world face a similar challenge to assimilate the millions of immigrants that enter their lands every year for economic purposes to conform to their secular values countries in the East such as China and Russia are going even further. Russia’s unique problem is that it is not dealing with immigrants alone but large Muslim populations who have been in Russia for decades. Increased immigration has merely heightened the existent uneasiness Russian society felt towards Islam and its Muslim population.
Today’s Russia like its Soviet past has failed to integrate its Muslim populace. The Kremlin is encountering deep internal instability and it is now attempting unite all Russian ethnicities under a single national identity through its historical method of using brutal force. After decades of living under communist rule the Muslims maintained their Islamic identity and continue to maintain their identity even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia’s iron first policy towards the Muslims living within its borders has only caused to solidify their Iman as they stand firm in the face a xenophobic population and brutal state apparatus.