Before the meeting Dmitry Medvedev visited First Cathedral Mosque of Ufa.
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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon,
It’s as if we never even parted, seeing as it was only not so long ago that we last met. It is good that we have such opportunities to meet quite often on this kind of regular basis. I wish a warm welcome to all of the muftis here today.
Friends and colleagues, not so much time has passed by since we met in Nalchik in July. These meetings are useful for both sides, for you, and for me too, because they help us to set our society’s course, taking into account the complex nature of our large ethnically and religiously diverse country. These meetings help us to work out the most appropriate ways of addressing the Muslim community’s problems. We discussed these things in Nalchik, and we will talk today, too, about what has been accomplished so far and what we want for the future.
I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the active civic position you take and the part you play in the moral and spiritual education of our people, and especially our young people. The future is in their hands after all, and in the case of Muslim youth, it is you, your values and your words, that serve as their guide and example. You have undoubted authority in their eyes, and this is very important for the interests of our country as a whole.
The Muslim community is developing quite actively now, as, indeed, is our civil society in general. According to my information, at the start of the 1990s, there were only around 90 mosques in the whole of Russia (correct me if I’m wrong), but that seems plausible in the circumstances of the time. As for Muslim educational institutions, there were none at all. Today, there are around 7,000 mosques and prayer houses, and 96 Muslim educational institutions have been registered, including 7 universities. The difference is obvious and visible.
Over the last four years alone (according to information from religious organisations), 320 mosques were built around the country. This is taking place in every part of Russia, in the central regions and further afield. For obvious reasons, construction of mosques is proceeding actively in Bashkortostan, Chechnya, Daghestan, Tatarstan, and in the other Caucasus republics. Work on building large Islamic religious and educational centres is underway in Kabardino-Balkaria and Ingushetia.
You had some particular requests to make of me. I have specifically examined these matters. This year, we concluded a separate agreement with Saudi Arabia and can now send another 2,000 pilgrims to make the Hajj. In total, 22,500 people from Russia visited Mecca this year. This is a big figure, bigger even than the numbers from some countries where Muslims make up the majority of the population. I think this is a positive thing.
Let me say that I think the state authorities and the country’s leadership must have it clear in their heads that only clergy preaching the Islam traditional for our country can create the ideological barrage against radicalism and extremism. Ignorance of the basic foundations of religious culture leave young people exposed to all kinds of radical and extremist currents.
Ignorance is a dangerous thing in general, but religious ignorance is doubly dangerous because it often leads to problems not just in the mind, but later also to problems in people’s behaviour. We have consistently and unswervingly fought these dangers and will continue to do so. There are results, but there also big difficulties. Unfortunately, the criminal groups that use religious slogans to further their criminal aims are still active.
We see this reflected in events in the North Caucasus, where several influential religious figures who steadfastly opposed the spread of extremist ideology, have been killed over recent months. They died for their people and, we should recognise, for their faith. This yet again underscores the importance of your mission as spiritual leaders who can help to separate true faith from attempts to manipulate people’s religious feelings.
We will continue to support the development of our country’s diversity, and we see Islamic education as a part of this diversity. We are carrying out a programme in this area and have put in place the conditions for qualified training of specialists, which was not the case during the 1990s, or during the Soviet period, when such training was not possible at all. Ensuring a higher quality of training for specialists in Islamic history and culture, and fully integrating Islamic educational establishments into the Russian education system are certainly important tasks.
For the first time in our country’s history we have approved a national standard for higher professional education in Islamic theology. I think this is an important step. This makes it possible for state universities to have faculties training Islamic clerics. We have a programme for training such specialists and this work will continue.
We have earmarked money for this work. This year’s budget and the 2012–2013 budgets allocate substantial funds – almost one billion rubles – for these purposes. We need to decide now how to spend this money as rationally as possible. I hope you will have some good proposals to make on this matter today. Proposals so far include developing academic methodological support, training programmes carried out by distance learning, and a number of other areas that could be developed.
Our country is on the eve of big political events right now, which are a part of democracy, and at this time it is important to remember that we are a country of great ethnic and religious diversity, but we must also feel an identity as a unified nation and citizens of a great country. How to combine these things is probably the most difficult task. Obviously we cannot take the same road that was taken during the Soviet period, although I met recently with senior citizens from various republics, from Daghestan and a number of others, and we discussed the particular ethnicity-related problems.
It is essential today that we do not lose the traditions of living together that we formed over the centuries. Any attempts to sow ethnic and religious hatred must meet with a firm and appropriate response, no matter where in our country they manifest themselves, in the central regions, in the Caucasus, or in the Far East. There must be no regions exempt from our laws in this area. We realise that these kinds of problems exist on all sides, and we must respond to them in appropriate fashion.
On the subject of where we go from here, the foundations are laid during childhood, during the school years. I think that the school course we have introduced on the basics of religious culture and secular ethics, tied to the specific conditions of each particular part of the country, could produce good results. The course is already running in 21 regions now, and we plan in principle to extend it to the rest of the country, giving parents, and the students themselves, the chance to decide which course they wish to attend.