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Eye On Eurasia Russia As East-West Bridge

Ravil Gainutdin, the chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia. Photo courtesy of mfmk.ru
by Paul Goble
Tallinn, Estonia (UPI) Mar 22, 2006
The Russian Federation must become a bridge between East and West if the world is to avoid a disastrous clash of civilizations, two leaders of that country's Islamic community said this week -- and its 20-million-strong Muslim population can play a major role in making that happen.

Speaking in Moscow yesterday, Ravil Gainutdin, the chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR) said that "our country is simply obligated to become a bridge between the West and the East," a development that he suggested people on both sides of that divide were interested in.

Russia's observer status in the Organization of the Islamic Conference provides an opening for this, the mufti continued, as do Moscow's recent efforts to reach out to Muslim countries. Gainutdin added that the SMR is actively supporting this effort by developing "equal partner relations" with the government and developing "international ties directed at raising the image of our country in the eyes of the Islamic world."

Gainutdin pointed to the meetings Russian leaders, secular and religious, had with the Palestinian delegation last week, and he took the opportunity to point out that Russia needs to work hard to prepare mullahs and imams inside the country in order to contribute to a spirit of tolerance in Russia, "a multi-national and poly-confessional" country.

Umar-khazrat Idrisov, the outspoken and increasingly influential chairman of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) in Nizhniy Novgorod, not only added his voice to this idea but provided further arguments as to why Russia's Muslims are uniquely positioned to play that role.

Idrisov said that many of the problems that had arisen in the 20th century reflected the fact that the dominant majority of that time, a group he described as the "Judeo-Christian civilization," did not believe that it needed to take into consideration the views and needs of smaller and less powerful countries and peoples.

The dawn of the 21st century, he argued, has been marked by a series of "tragic events" which have demonstrated that this "traditional culture of the majority... has ceased to be the dominant system of values" and is not only "exhausted" as a source of constructive ideas but in fact is situated "at the edge of collapse."

That trend has in the short term led to even more clashes between peoples of different nations, religions and cultures, Idrisov continued, and "now all of us see that simple calls for respecting the rights of the minority, and demonstrative political correctness is already insufficient to achieve" a new balance in the world.

Many in the West now view Islam "as a global challenge to European values," a perspective that has given rise to new fears, Idrisov said. But at least some in the West are coming to recognize two important things. On the one hand, the most important divide in the world today is not between Christianity and Islam, but between people of faith and those having no religious beliefs.

And on the other, they are starting to recognize that "Russia's Muslims, unlike their foreign co-religionists, are Europeans, who have grown up with traditional all-Russian values, including Christianity" -- a reality they have a responsibility to bring to the attention of the world.

The MSD leader added that Nizhniy Novgorod itself was a symbol of this unity, that "this city was created where several civilizations came together -- the Jewish Khazar, the Russian-Orthodox, and the Turkic-Muslim," a conjunction and combination found almost nowhere else in the world.

As a result, he continued, "the Mother Volga for the Russian is also the Idel' for the Muslim Tatar, and the Itil' for the Khazar. And our city arose not by accident precisely on a buffer zone between (two leading principalities of that time and place), Volga-Bulgaria and Vladimir-Suzdal Rus."

The Middle Volga from that time forward has been "an Orthodox Christian-Muslim territory, a Slavic-Turkic land. One must not forget this," he said, as sometimes "unfortunately happens today." And because of this reality, that region must always feature both Orthodox crosses and the crescent moon of Islam.

What makes the arguments of these Muslim leaders important is not so much their skill in using this opportunity to advance the interests of Muslims there, but rather their obvious insistence that in this effort, Moscow must treat the Islamic community of the Russian Federation as a full partner and not just a junior one.

Source: United Press International

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