President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you all on the start of the holy month of Ramadan.
One other thing I wanted to say at the beginning of this conversation is how pleased I am to welcome President of Ingushetia Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who has returned to his duties and is here now.
Turning now to the subject that has brought us together today, Russia’s Muslims, like the followers of its other traditional faiths, have always made an immense contribution to our country’s development, and have always done much for its protection and prosperity.
The North Caucasus today is a unique part of the country in terms of its cultural and ethnic diversity. The republics of the North Caucasus are home to 157 of the 182 different ethnic groups, which, according to the census, live in the Russian Federation. People who traditionally follow the Islamic faith make up two thirds of the region’s population. The muftis therefore have a very important part to play here. With the support of regional authorities, you help people to get through difficulties, help them with their day-to-day problems, have a direct influence, of course, on the public mood in the region, and most important, help to give young people a world outlook based on moral values, on the values of Islam.
I want to say how grateful I am to the regional leaders and spiritual authorities for your work together to maintain harmony between the different religions — perhaps the most important thing of all – and for your readiness to fight extremism, xenophobia and social injustice. We are all aware that you find yourselves working in often difficult conditions, sometimes at the risk of your lives.
The North Caucasus’ Muslim community has been active in its development over these last years, energetically building mosques and opening educational and cultural centres. Looking through the memo I received, I see that around 100 new mosques are being built every year in the North Caucasus republics alone. This is a considerable number.
Every year, more than 15,000 pilgrims from the North Caucasus make the hajj, and this is also a significant number.
A new Islamic university opened in Chechnya last week, the third such university in the Caucasus. We congratulate our colleagues on this event.
The state authorities have been making every effort — of course, within the legislation — to help build up Muslim religious organisations and education centres. You know that we have the Foundation for the Support of Islamic Culture, Science and Education, and we spoke during our meeting in Moscow about the contribution it is making. We will talk further about the activities underway today.
Young people’s spiritual and moral development is one of the greatest concerns for the federal authorities. This concern is shared by the Muslim spiritual authorities. Unfortunately, armed groups are still attracting young people into their criminal activities. This is a fact. In this respect, I think the right course of action for us to take would be to draft a comprehensive programme of youth policies in the North Caucasus. This is a proposal that I present to you now for discussion. This programme should include an educational component and also measures for helping young people find jobs, which is very important, and organising normal, modern, and at the same time morally healthy leisure activities for them. This would combine well with the recent decisions we took on teaching a course of basic religious instruction in schools.
The North Caucasus Muslims’ coordination centre has been actively developing our country’s relations with the Islamic world over recent times. This is a good thing. I have sensed the benefits of this work during my visits to countries where Islam is the main religion and during my talks with these countries’ leaders. The contacts with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on issues concerning the hajj – contacts coordinated with the federal and regional authorities – and also the joint educational projects underway with Libya, Syria and Egypt, are all helping to create greater cooperation and understanding between our peoples and countries.
The regional leaders and Muslim community’s spiritual leaders have also achieved something particularly important (and I want to specially stress this point), namely, they have obtained the support of practically all of the Islamic countries for our resolute and uncompromising fight against terrorism. This is something the leaders of the Islamic countries say directly to me during our meetings.
These were the few points I wanted to make at the start of our discussions today.