by Alexander Maistrovoy

Waves of Islamic fundamentalism have engulfed Russia; the Kremlin continues to woo the Islamists with Hamas among them.

Following the prayer in the Moscow Cathedral Mosque, during his visit in February 2010, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal admitted that in the Council of Muftis of Russia it felt like home. While it probably pleased the Russian leaders, in reality these words should have alerted them. Whether it was Mashaal's intention or not, this acknowledgment could be perceived as a prophecy: the dawn of Islamic fundamentalism which will illuminate the future of the northern superpower.

Islam is the second religious denomination in Russia after the Orthodox Church. According to the official census there are about 15 million Muslims (10%); the Spiritual Board of Muslims claims 20 millions. Most of the Muslims are concentrated in the North Caucasus (Chechens, Ingush people, etc.) and in the Volga region (Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvash people, etc.). The natural growth of Muslims is traditionally higher than that of the rest of the population. Mass migration from Central Asia and Azerbaijan has led to rapid growth of Muslim communities in large cities, especially in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The degree of religious self-consciousness of the Muslims is much greater than that of the Christian majority.

While Muslims immigrated into the European countries, Islam was a natural component in the religious and national mosaic of Russia. Nevertheless, the relationship between the government and the Muslims has always been controversial. On the one hand, Empress Catherine II patronized Islam by lifting restrictions on the construction of mosques; on the other, the ruthless conquest of the Caucasus by the Russian Empire in the mid XIX century led to virtual genocide of the natives. This ambivalence had continued under the Soviet regime.

Originally, the communists considered the Muslims natural allies against the Tsarist regime, in the same way multiculturalists see Islam as an ally in their fight against traditional and Christian values. Islamic places of worship were never subjected to large-scale destruction as were churches and synagogues, and muftis were never repressed. The Muslim Autonomous Republics of Bashkiria, Tataria and Turkestan were established under the Communist regime. In October 1926, the muftis of Russia were eager to unite Muslims around the world in behalf of the Communist revolution against "imperialism". However, the subsequent Stalinist repressions and especially the deportation of Chechens and Crimean Tatars have left a deep scar in the hearts of Muslims.

The Brezhnev regime in the 70s was more lenient to the Muslims than to Christians and Jews. They were allowed to publish the Quran, print lunar calendars and open mosques. A magazine, "Muslims of the Soviet East", was available for purchase by the general public.

The war in Afghanistan and the Islamic revolution in Iran were turning points. Wahhabism, sponsored by Saudi Arabia, began to penetrate the Soviet Union. Muslim youth were instigated by Islamic militancy, and KGB repressions only fueled the rage against the atheist regime. Yeltsin and his entourage attempted to flirt with Islam, but without the desired effect. In August 1996, the President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, introduced Sharia law, which administers cruel punishment for adultery and forbids the consumption of alcohol. Three years later, after the proclamation of the "Islamic Emirate" in Dagestan, the second Chechen war began.

The North Caucasus was subdued, and the Kadyrov clan, which had defected to the Russian side, was brought to power by the Kremlin. Nonetheless, it was clear that the quiet period was only temporary. The problem was not so much the terrorist attacks by separatists in Moscow and Dagestan as the popularity of a Sharia state, Jihad and a Caucasian Imamate among intellectuals and spiritual leaders in the North Caucasus. Bans and repression have only enhanced the influence of Wahhabism. Adherents of traditional Islam and the Sufis intimidate and bully the neighborhood.

Nowadays the waves of militant Islam have gushed far beyond the Caucasian Ridge, covering the entire European part of the country. Islamic extremism has taken deep root in the Muslim communities of two capitals: Moscow and St. Petersburg. In February, Russian security services arrested three hundred Islamic radicals from the Petersburg Jamaat. A cell of Hizb ut-Tahrir with immigrants from Central Asia and Azerbaijan is very active even in Siberia.

Militant Islam is rapidly infiltrating in the "soft underbelly" of Russia, the Volga region — the solar plexus of the country with such ancient Russian cities as Izhevsk, Cheboksary, Ufa, Penza — a major scientific and industrial center. Until recently Tatarstan (or Tataria) was an integral part of Russia. The separatist sentiments were historically weak in this region, where Islam had more of a cultural character. Islam has become the national religion of the Tatars in the XIV century, but the Tatars, like other nomadic tribes, never showed excessive religious zeal. Conquered by Ivan the Terrible in the XVI century, the Khanate of Kazan remained loyal to Russia.

The situation began to change dramatically in recent years. The pressure of nationalism combined with militant Islam has diminished the popularity of moderate Hanafi Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood "Ikhwan al-Muslimun", which includes Hamas, is gaining power. It was only after the Brotherhood broadcast Yusuf al-Qaradawi's blunt statements urging the killing of Russian soldiers in Chechnya did Russia's Supreme Court in February 2003 recognize the Muslim Brotherhood as an illegitimate terrorist organization. The decree has not however prevented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov from cuddling with Hamas leaders in Moscow.

In 2012 Wahhabi terrorists murdered a moderate and tolerant imam, the well-known theologian, Waliullah Yakupov, and tried to kill the Mufti of Tatarstan, Ildus Fayzov. Recently, the Tatar Youth Union Azatlyk (Freedom) announced the year 2013 in Tatarstan would be the "Year of Batu Khan."

Use Caption Text. Streamline text if necessary
This drawing by Fritz Vicari ( is called, "Batu Khan sets the Sun of Rus, 1240 AD." In the drawing, set in the last days of 1240, Batu Khan stares at the horizon, while Kiev burns behind him. He is holding a black flag, which, in the quite simple Mongol heraldry, was the War flag. He and his horse are fully covered by lamellar armour, which were made with leather or iron. Attached to his belt, "trademark" weapons of the Mongols: a scimitar, a composite Mongol bow and, on his right side, arrows.

The Azatlyk promises to hold protest rallies "in honor of burning down Russian cities: Moscow, Ryazan, Suzdal, Vladimir, Kozelsk"! Batu Khan was the grandson of Genghis Khan and the ruler of the Golden Horde, which collected tolls from the Russian cities in the XIII century. Batu Khan was a pagan who worshiped "the great blue sky." His only "religion" was embezzlement and toll collection from the conquered population. Suddenly "Batu Khan" becomes a "protector of Islam". We do not know what exactly was the flag of the Golden Horde but it wasn't of course a crescent on a green background. This is a blatant manipulation of history.

Azatlyk intends to distribute calendars, postcards and icons with the image of the founder of the Golden Horde, in order, according to its leader Nail Nabiullin, to make "Russia and Europe shiver from the sounds of horses' hooves and whistling arrows of Tatar warriors."

Protest rallies under the slogan "Tatarstan isn't Russia" and "Suitcase, Railway Station, Russia" have become common in Kazan. The Russian language has been ousted by Kazan Tatar. Abdullah — the self-proclaimed "Emir of Tatarstan" — issued a statement in which he claimed responsibility for the killing of two members of the FSB in Moscow and the detonation of the gas pipeline in a Moscow suburb. He threatens to eliminate Putin and carry out a series of terrorist attacks at strategic sites in Russia. The local Salafi leader Ramil Yunusov and activists of "Hizb ut-Tahrir" freely preach in Tatarstan.

Moreover, radical Islam is spreading in the Krasnodar and Stavropol regions between the North Caucasus and the Volga region. Last year Russia was shaken by a scandal over the demand of Muslim leaders in the Stavropol region to force Muslim schoolgirls to wear hijabs veils in schools.

Radical Islam has penetrated into the heart of Russia, its ancient and primordial territories.

What is the Kremlin doing about this? Nothing much.They are behaving like the British in the 1930s, who denied the danger of Nazism and tried to appease the aggressors. As Winston Churchill said then, "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last".

Alexander Maistrovoy is an Israeli journalist for the Russian-language Israeli newspaper, Novosty nedely. Contact him at This article was submitted March 6, 2013.

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