Moscow has been quite benevolent toward the International Union of Muslim Scholars, headed by its general secretary, Dr. Ali Muhiddin al-Qaradaghi. This international, non-governmental pan-Islamic organization was established in London in 2004. The leaders of the organization have become frequent visitors to Russia (iumsonline.org, accessed November 13). Moscow had no influence on any international Islamic organization, but surprisingly acquired Sheikh Ali al-Qaradaghi, who is from Qatar, as an influential ally against the armed Islamist underground resistance movement in the North Caucasus.
The leaders of the International Union of Muslim Scholars visit Russia several times per year. In the spring 2012, they issued a fatwa saying that the jihad in the North Caucasus contradicted Islamic norms (ansar.ru, May 30, 2012). At a conference in Makhachkala in the fall of 2012, they declared Dagestan the land of Dar al Islam (the Territory of Peace and Islam) (mahachkala.bezformata.ru, September 17, 2012). Following in Dagestan’s footsteps, the Stavropol region was also declared a Territory of Peace in 2013 (Kavkazsky Uzel, May 29, 2013). At the start of 2014, the delegation traveled again to Dagestan to support the local Muslim spiritual leaders (riadagestan.ru, March 7).
At the end of October, Muslim scholars led by Sheikh Ali Muhiddin al-Qaradaghi arrived in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria (islamnews.ru, November 4), which was hosting the International Conference of Muslim Religious Activists and Theologians of Russia and foreign countries, at which the issues of interdenominational cooperation and peace were discussed. The presence of Sheikh Ali al-Qaradaghi with his followers from the International Union of Muslim Scholars raised the status of the conference to the international level, which should have made it more important in the eyes of ordinary people, according to the organizers of the conference in the Kremlin (regnum.ru, October 30).
It was not hard to understand that the forum in Kabardino-Balkaria had the same objective as previous ones—to declare the republic a territory of Dar al Islam (islamnews.ru, October 30). According to the mufti of Kabardino-Balkaria, Khazretali Dzasezhev, “the recognition of Kabardino-Balkaria as a territory of peace will make it possible to shield the republic from fatwas (legal decisions) of some pseudo-scholars in the Islamic world on allowing jihad (military actions) in the Caucasus. The ban on the participation in jihad (military actions) on the territory of Syria and Iraq will have a great impact internationally and in the Islamic world” (kavpolit.com, October 31).
All conflicts would have been resolved by now if such issues were decided by declaring territories “territories of peace and Islam.” People who travel to Syria or fight in the ranks of the Islamic underground movement in the North Caucasus do not decide to fight based on the decisions of a Muslim leader or a fatwa by a Middle Eastern sheikh. At a time of universal access to the World Wide Web, young people look for and find answers to their questions themselves. They are not interested in fatwas issued by Muslim leaders with the help of government officials. They are much more interested in what their qadi or the leader of the Caucasus Emirate says about the war with the government (vdagestan.com, July 1). Moreover, these press conferences discredit local Muslim spiritual leaders because they implicate the official Muslim leadership in Russian-backed political games.
After the visit to Kabardino-Balkaria, the delegation headed by Sheikh Ali al-Qaradaghi traveled in Ingushetia, which will apparently host the next conference of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. Ingushetia’s governor, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, confirmed this, saying that, calling al-Qaradaghi’s participation in international conferences and various discussions is “very important,” and adding: “Listening to your sermons, people find answers to their questions and hear the truth about their religion” (ingushetia.ru, November 1).
Thus an international conference will probably be held in Ingushetia in the spring of 2015, with the republic hoping it will also be proclaimed a “territory of Islam and peace” (Dar al Islam). How this will affect the situation in the republic, however, is a question: the International Union of Muslim Scholars is not a highly reputable entity, to put it mildly, and people from the government who organize events with this organization in Russia make it even less reputable among Muslims in Russia. Therefore, it is not surprising that people are already comparing Sheikh Ali al-Qaradaghi to Mufti Talgat Tadzhutdin, the head of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Central Russia and Siberia, who has virtually no following or even respect among Russia’s Muslims (golosislama.ru, September 12).
Ironically, Chechnya has distanced itself from Sheikh Ali al-Qaradaghi as authorities there have not invited him to speak at their international Islamic conferences organized annually in the republic. This may be because a conference sponsored by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in Moscow in May 2012, in which al-Qaradaghi participated, did not live up to Kadyrov’s expectations (grozny-inform.ru, June 6, 2012).
Russian authorities do not simply want Sheikh Ali al-Qaradaghi to declare the jihad in the North Caucasus to be illegal. Moscow regards this international Islamic organization as a potential means to control part of Russia’s own Muslim population, which could issue fatwas on important questions of Islam and be recognized. Moscow, however, fails to see that only those Muslims who already recognize the official Muslim clergy will listen to al-Qaradaghi. That portion of the Muslim community in Russia which deems cooperation between the authorities and the Muslim clergy unacceptable will not be influenced by al-Qaradaghi.
In conclusion, Moscow is unlikely to gain anything by employing al-Qaradaghi in its fight against the armed resistance in the North Caucasus. To use such a strategy is a waste of time that does not help Moscow.