The Muslim community in Russia continues to grow, having reached 25 million, according to the grand mufti of Russia, Sheikh Rawil Gaynetdin.
In a recent interview, Gaynetdin has told Anadolu news agency that the Muslim community in Russia is indigenous and continues to grow in acceptance with Russia’s other faiths.
Growth factors: Now 25 million people strong, Gaynetdin attributed the growth in Muslim population two main factors: the high birth rate among Muslim families, and through the arrival of people from Central Asia.
Origin: “Islam came to Russia in the seventh century. Followers of our Prophet Muhammad came to Russia 22 years after he left earthly life.”
“They came to a city that is currently known as Derbent, it is in Southern Dagestan. And the first Adhan, call to worship, in Russia, was made on the lands of Dagestan,” the mufti said.
More than 58 peoples, nationalities and ethnic groups have historically practised Islam, Gaynetdin said.
Regional concentration: Sheikh Gaynetdin said most Muslims in the country live in the Moscow region and other major metropolitan areas such as St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.
There is also a high concentration of followers of Islam in the regions where Islamic states were located before the formation of a single Russian state; today, these regions are Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, the republics of the North Caucasus, the mufti said.
Official recognition: He also noted that Islam was declared as the state religion in one of the states located in the territory of present-day Russia – in the Volga Bulgaria, in 922, which was 66 years earlier than the acceptance of Orthodox Christianity as the state religion of Kievan Rus.
He said the number of Muslims was also mentioned in the population census.
Composition: The majority of Russian Muslims are Sunnis of Hanafi school of thought but there are also some Sunnis of Shafi’i school and Shia, Gaynetdin said.
“Russian Shias are mainly Azeris and Tajiks from Pamir and they are small in number. Most Shias live in Derbent, southern Dagestan.
“In Moscow, only one community is registered as Shia,” he said.
“In Russia, there are three federal centres and we believe that this is the best option for the management of Muslim religious affairs in Russia,” the mufti said.
In Moscow, there is the Council of Muftis of Russia
The Muslim Spiritual Authority is in the city of Ufa.
The Muslim Spiritual Authority is in the Caucasus, which acts as the coordination centre of Muslims in the North Caucasus.
United Ummah: “We do not divide Muslims into Shias and Sunnis, for us they are all members of the United Muslim Ummah [community],” Gaynetdin said.
When guests from the Middle East visit Russia, they say ties within the Russian Ummah were exemplary, the Mufti explained.
No pope: “Islam is a very democratic religion, we do not have one hierarchy like in Christianity.”
“There is no pope or Ecumenical Patriarch for Islam. In Islam, each country has its own spiritual institutionalisation.”
In a 2007 interview, Damir Gizatullin, from the Council of Muftis, discounted the rise of hostile nationalist sentiment.
Russia for Russians: “Some irresponsible politicians want to achieve electoral success by creating nationalist waves.”
“When they say Russia is for Russians, it’s a mistaken path that could lead to the break-up of the Russian Federation.”
Also in 2007, Alexander Belov, from the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, said: “History is a fight between races and religions.”
“It’s the law of nature … people are used to being with people like themselves, speaking the language their mothers taught them.”
If the trend continues, the Muslim population could outnumber ethnic Russians within 30 years.