President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,
I think it’s important that we meet regularly and discuss issues that interest Russian Muslims, holders of other faiths, and all the citizens of our country in general.
Today in Ufa we are celebrating the 225th anniversary of the foundation of the Muslim Spiritual Assembly established by imperial decree. At that time, at the end of the 18th century, Islam was officially recognised as a traditional Russian religion. Naturally, this helped Muslims become true Russian patriots.
Islam has become a significant factor in our social and political life, and made an invaluable contribution to our society’s spiritual and cultural development. Once again I congratulate you on this historic date.
I would like to thank you for your work and talk to you about current global trends, including in religious life. Today an active, and not always positive, process of politicising religion is underway at the global level. This occurs in different directions and in different religions, including Islam. In these circumstances, government authorities and the Russian Muslim community are faced with new problems and challenges. Of course, we can only resolve them together; we’ve talked about this together many times now.
Some political parties are using Islam, or rather its radical tendencies (which, incidentally, are historically foreign to Russian Muslims), in order to weaken our state, to create zones of so-called externally driven conflicts in Russian territory, to encourage dissent between different ethnic groups and within the Muslim community, and to fan separatist sympathies in the regions.
I am convinced that we must counter such attempts to create divisions using Russian Muslims’ faith in their historical traditions and partnerships with other religions, particularly the Russian Orthodox Church.
Of course, hierarchical command structures are alien to Islam (as – to be frank – they are to many other world religions), which is characterised by a variety of different schools and movements. However, Russian Muslims have always been united in their service to society and the state, and against external enemies and all forms of extremism. I am sure that this unity can be maintained and strengthened, even today.
Islam’s new “socialisation” should be seen as developing traditional Muslim lifestyles, thinking and views in accordance with current social realities, as opposed to the ideology of radicals, bringing believers back to the Middle Ages. New forms of work – through Muslim cultural centres, Islamic science and education centres, and youth and women’s clubs – are important here.
I believe that you can make an important contribution to the social adaptation of people who come to live and work in Russia. Many of them share your religion. They need to hear your voice and feel your presence, otherwise they become the victims of the propaganda of various fundamentalist organisations.
I also believe that the voice of Russian Muslim leaders should resonate louder in the international arena, among the global Islamic community. Today tensions between the West and the Islamic world are on the rise. Some people try to play with this issue and throw fuel on the fire. I want to tell you straight away: we are not interested in this.
But at the same time, today Russia’s presence is in increased demand in the Middle East and the Islamic world as a whole. And we need to be more proactive, debunking harmful for humanity attempts to manipulate and peoples, information and public consciousness.
Russia is not interested in splitting up or redrawing the Islamic world; on the contrary, it maintains a consistent, steady position in favour of strengthening its unity.
In order to successfully meet the challenges of our time it is necessary, first of all, to ensure the high credibility of Russia’s Muslim clergy and its Islamic theological school.
Dear friends, I would like to talk about these issues separately.
Today in Russia there are 82 centralised, registered Islamic religious organisations. Muslims are well aware of the first sura [chapter] of the Quran, according to which there is no other prophet except Muhammad. But at the same time we all understand that we must not forget the spiritual leaders themselves: they are first and foremost people with moral authority that must be used for beneficial purposes. The clergy should be composed of educated and enlightened people who can give a clear and impeccable canonical assessment of the most painful challenges and threats we face today.
This initiative should be yours; we cannot pass it on to informal leaders who are actively involved with the faithful. These individuals, who tend to be representatives of theological schools and supporters of extremist ideas alien to our country, seek to undermine traditional Islam’s position here, the unity of Russian society, and ultimately desire our country’s collapse.
Based on centuries of national experience in religious education and its rich theological heritage, Russian Islam has everything necessary to have its say in development. Therefore, one of our most important tasks is to reconstruct our own Islamic theological school, which will ensure the sovereignty of Russia’s spiritual space. And most importantly, it will be recognised by the majority of international Muslim scholars. Such a school must respond to the most recent developments in Russia and the world, and evaluate them in ways that are both understandable and credible for believers. I am sure that if we can achieve this, it will help you to provide a clear moral assessment of both good and criminal acts.
All this will allow us to resolve problems with translating theological and popular publications by foreign authors into Russian, ensuring the academic translation of key Muslim religious texts into Russian.
It is also imperative to create religious law institutions capable of providing a qualified assessment of a particular text. These institutions should be open to Islamic spiritual leaders as well as experts in law and linguistics. I feel we certainly can and should get international experts in that domain involved in this work. That way, the Russian Islamic community will be able to independently prevent the spread of publications of destructive, extremist nature.
Today, as you also know, it is mainly the government, which is forced to take prohibitive measures with regard to such literature; but as you know, this is not always successful, and indeed, often has the opposite effect. Prohibitions do not work well, or have the opposite effect from the one desired. We need to convince people and explain to them what is right and good, and what constitutes lies and hatred.
I also feel that the Muslim organisations themselves should not prioritise internal discussions and debates about supremacy, which sometimes happens, but instead, what’s really important – developing a positive image of traditional Islam as an important spiritual component of Russia’s identity.
This has enormous significance in educating young people, which is critical for both Muslims and the entire nation, and it is extremely important for Muslim youth which, unfortunately, has long been the target audience for those who wish us ill.
Russian Muslim religious organisations have every opportunity to position themselves broadly through modern media. And friends, I am asking you to take advantage of these opportunities to work on resolving many of the challenges I just listed, of which you are well aware and which we have raised many times and discussed at meetings like this one and even broader gatherings.