President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Respected muftis,
It gives me great pleasure to meet with you, especially since we are meeting in a special place, the Moscow Cathedral Mosque complex, which was opened 105 years ago. The fact that major reconstruction is underway here today is indicative of both our overall interest in our spiritual heritage and the fact that we are a nation of many ethnicities and faiths, and the Muslims of our nation have due respect and influence in our country.
Muslim religious organisations make important contributions to supporting civil order, to providing spiritual and moral guidance to an enormous number of people, and to fighting extremism and xenophobia. After all, about 182 different ethnicities live in Russia (the exact figure depends on how one counts, since this is a complicated process, especially when counting ethnicities in the Caucasus), of which 57 identify themselves with the Muslim faith; this, in and of itself, is an important indicator of the importance of Islam in our country.
In the last few years, we’ve built up some good experience in communication and cooperation between Muslim communities and the Government, including through the Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations, chaired by the President of the Russian Federation, and through many other commissions, established under the Government or by individual regional governors, that address issues related to religious organisations.
With your participation, Russia interacts quite actively with the Muslim world. It has observer status in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and is a member of the Russia-Islamic World Strategic Vision Group. The activity of the Inter-Religious Council of the Commonwealth of Independent States is becoming increasingly noticeable, and in general, respect for Russia’s Muslims can be felt when visiting many countries and when communicating with leaders of Muslim nations. Of course, they have special attitudes toward us. Recently, I visited several countries in Africa, and I travelled to the Arab Republic of Egypt, where I met with the League of Arab States’ leaders. Overall, Russia’s Muslim community is an authoritative force. This is very important for our country.
Recently, a conference was held in Moscow called Muslims of the Commonwealth of Independent States for Inter-Religious and Interethnic Concord, where a corresponding advisory committee was formed. Hopefully, this work will be meaningful for our country and for maintaining strong ties with the CIS member-states, a significant number of which are Muslim nations.
Our world is still complicated, and there are various ethnic and religious conflicts. Unfortunately, we are also seeing an increase in extremism in many parts of the world, and sadly, extremist organisations are quite active in Russia. Clearly, extremists rely on many slogans: some religious ones, some related to Islam, some unrelated to Islam, and some that have nothing to do with religion. Nevertheless, this is a complicating factor that destabilises the situation in our country. We need to be aware of this and take all possible measures to mitigate it.
In this context, our most important common challenge is to spread ideas of tolerance, religious and otherwise, and promote caring attitudes toward the religious values and traditions of different peoples in our multi-ethnic, culturally diverse nation. Here, the Muslim clergy plays an important role.
Another important matter is Muslim education. We are aware of how important it is for our Muslim religious organizations to have their own system for training imams and educators. The Government will continue to help you in this work.
Some time ago, during one of my visits to Kazan, I visited a Muslim university. Naturally, Muslim education should be addressed separately. Creating the necessary conditions is an important task for both the Muslim community and the Government. This is another topic that we will probably discuss.
The Fund for Supporting Islamic Culture, Science, and Education also has an important mission in education. Let us hope that it will continue its work. It helps communities, creates a significant number of education programmes, educational projects, and also, very importantly, supports the families of imams who were killed by terrorists.
I think that this is a sufficient introduction. First and foremost, I would like to listen to you; this is my main goal for today’s meeting. I would like to thank you all again for helping to strengthen mutual understanding between the peoples of our large, complicated, multi-ethnic nation, and for the Russian Muslim community’s contribution to improving our nation’s standing in the world. I mentioned this already, and I want to conclude by saying it again.
Thank you. I would now like to ask the respected muftis to share what they have to say. Please, go ahead.