Integration Of Islamic Clergy Is Urged

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 13

Akhmad Kadyrov, who also continues to seek a role in shaping nationwide policies far beyond the borders of Chechnya, appealed on March 26 for the creation of a single, integrated administrative structure for all the Islamic clergy in the Russian Federation. Such a structure would be consistent with Soviet practice but profoundly contrary to the organic traditions of Islam, which is a highly decentralized religion–much more like western Protestantism in its internal governance than like Roman Catholicism or Orthodox Christianity.

According to a March 29 report by the Interfax news agency, Kadyrov explicitly invoked Soviet precedent at a March 26 “Forum of the Peoples of the Caucasus and Southern Russia.” He noted that during the Soviet years there were only four muftis for all fifteen Soviet republics combined, whereas now there are more than fifty. “There should be just one leader for all the Muslims in Russia,” he said, “uniting all the provinces of the Russian Federation.” The logical implication of his remarks was that this leader would be appointed by the state, just as such leaders were during the Soviet era. Kadyrov also proposed that the state should directly pay the salaries of religious clergy–which would also be a direct violation of the 1993 constitution’s provisions on religious freedom.

Russia currently has two nationwide Jewish leaders, each of whom claims to be the one true “chief rabbi” of Russia; the Putin administration has meddled in this internal faction fight by clearly supporting one of the two rivals. Similarly, government policy since 1997 has discriminated against independent, local Protestant congregations that refuse to join “centralized religious organizations”–and also against breakaway Orthodox Christian bodies that reject the Moscow Patriarchate’s claim to be the sole legitimate heir of the country’s Orthodox heritage. Independent religious freedom advocates have observed that the Kremlin’s preference for centralized religious bodies makes it easier for the state to manipulate religious life in the service of its own interests, even if that means trampling on a religious confession’s unique historical traditions.