in person

Islam in new realities

30.05.2014 | By Rustem Khalilov

After Crimeas annexation, there have been some changes to the religious map of Ukraine. Part of conservative Crimean Muslims left the peninsula obtaining temporary shelter in the capital and in the west of the country. Among supporters of conservative Islam that remained in Crimea, there are members of Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, which in Russia is on the list of terrorist organizations. KW spoke with Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine Oleksandr Bohomolov about the possible consequences of migration of Muslims in Ukraine and how the attempt of Russian suppression of Crimea could lead to appearance of radical religious movements

KW: Who are the main Crimean migrants among Muslims?

O.B.: There is the impression that people, who treat Islam more reverently than on average in the Crimean Tatar community, were the first to sound the alarm. Migrants are not limited to the conditional group of Salaphites and members of Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, but the people of increased religiousness are the majority. They are experiencing predictable fear, because there are many strangers in Crimea now (including representatives of law enforcement bodies of Russia), who have unaccustomed for the Ukrainian Muslims view on the things.

KW: Which reaction is most expected of local communities?

O.B.: Ive got an impression that more religious Crimean Tatars went to Western Ukraine with one of the reasons being that the level of religiousness there is higher than average in the country and it is tolerant to representatives of other confessions. The very fact of religiousness is respected there. Muslims there, however, will be a very narrow minority group and are unlikely to be very significant.

KW: Some efforts of conservative Muslims in Crimea were aimed at distribution of their convictions among Crimea Tatars. They will not have that opportunity in places where they moved. Where will they put these efforts?

O.B.: They are likely to continue this activity. There is a certain percent of people among majority Slavic groups who are interested in religion and seek new forms of self-realization. There is, for instance, the phenomenon of Ukrainian Muslims. However, if they continue to promote Islam in Western Ukraine, it is not for a fact that the tolerant attitude towards them continues.

KW: Will this migration change the policy of Saudi Arabia or Turkey towards Ukrainian Muslims? Could it increase attention to communities that form in Ukraine?

O.B.: To say that Saudi Arabia has a special policy in respect to Ukrainian Muslims would be an exaggeration. There are, however Islamic organizations there that are part of the official establishment, but they are interested in Muslims all around the world. Salaphites appeared in Crimea in this very context. Similar activity traditionally continues. It is also clear that Turkey is attracted to Crimean Tatar, although we have not observed any special interest towards supporters of conservative Islam. However, if it appears that there is discrimination against Crimean Muslims it could cause a reaction.

KW: What could be the results of such migration for Kyivs muftiate?

O.B.: There are several different institutions claiming the status of muftiate: there is the Spiritual Council of Muslims of Ukraine and on the other hand there is Kyivs Muftiate, spiritual roots of which are largely in the area of the Society of the Muslim Brothers. Competition of the spiritual centers is competition for the congregation.

KW: How many Muslims are there in Ukraine?

O.B.: As of the last census, which has long become outdated, there were around 460,000. Clearly over 60% of Muslims in Ukraine are Crimean Tatars.

KW: Hizb-Ut-Tahrir is prohibited in Russia. Which actions Crimean followers of the organization could take?

O.B.: For now, they will just leave. In truth, there are not many of them, though Hizb-Ut-Tahrir was visually visible. It consciously gave newsworthy information: it held conferences, made statements, took to protecting the rights of the Muslims in the context of human rights. Such activity is impossible in conditions of control. Despite that Hizb-Ut-Tahrir is placed on the list of terrorist organizations, it is mostly done by authoritarian regimes. There is no clear evidence of its involvement in such activity.

KW: Is radicalization possible?

O.B.: There have been cases, when, including in Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, certain members took the path of radicalization. You should understand that any organization consists of people and opportunities for radicalization are wide when people experience continuous psychological pressure.

KW: In that case, the authorities will openly fight against them?

O.B.: Russia displays no flexibility in relations with different ethnic cultural minorities. The maximum flexibility Russian regime is capable of is bribing the elites. This was how Chechnya issue was resolved. This path, however, does not give any permanent guarantees. In Crimea, they clearly will take the path of intimidation on the one side and bribing on the other. In terms of this, their policy does not differ from what Mogilev (former premier of Crimea KW) tried to do; only they have more resources. Accordingly, the threats may be much stronger.

KW: If you put bribing of Muslim elites on the top of the pyramid, can you say that persecution of members of Hizb-Ut-Tahrir at the foot of the pyramid?

O.B.: It is totally possible. The government may get into the same trap that manipulative authoritarian regimes are caught into as they try to tame obstinate minorities. If they try to destroy Mejlis, and this issue is being discussed, the Islamic structures will strengthen. Crimean Tatars are between two ideological formats: there is national liberation spirit on the one hand and on the other they are a part of Islamic Ummah. Nationalism or Islam as a solution. In the first format, it came out good and it dominated. However, if one decreases, the other will increase.

KW: In other words, if you pressure Mejlis, religiousness of Crimean Tatars will increase?

O.B.: The same happened in the Russian North Caucasus. Some Russian experts say they dont have separatism in Caucasus, but Islamism. Very funny. In truth, it is always the same: the desire of emancipation from the central power, achievement of some freedom and, possibly, independence. And when this cannot be achieved legally (elections are prohibited, democracy is folded as it happened in Ingushetia), Islamic movements begin to grow. It turns out that there is demand for structure, mechanisms and ideology of mobilization. Islam gives a person all options in terms of this: motivation, mobilization, a feeling of self-sustainability and independence from an alien culture.

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