Russian Muslims Have Many Stories to Tell

Muslim Large Minorities (Series)
Part 1
By Tariq Zubair
Freelance writer, Russia

The number of Muslims in Russia continues to grow, due to natural increases, especially among the peoples of the Northern Caucasus.

In Russia, there are regions where the population is traditionally composed of Muslims. These are the republics of the North Caucasus (Ingushetia, Chechnya, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia), as well as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.

However, at the last census in 2002, the number of “traditional Muslim peoples” in Russia amounted to about 14.5 million, which represents 10 percent of the Russian population. According to the estimates of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims in the European part of Russia, the adherents of Islam in Russia, at that time, numbered about 20 million.

However, according to the results of Levada Center survey, conducted in November 2013, Muslims constitute 7 percent of Russia’s population.

Not all the people who call themselves Muslims follow religious rituals. According to a survey, carried out by the Sreda Research Center, only 42 percent of Russian Muslims said that religion plays an important role in their lives and that they follow all the religious orders.

The number of Muslims in Russia continues to grow, due to natural increases, especially among the peoples of the Northern Caucasus. Moreover, the number of Muslims is also increasing due to immigration, mainly from Central Asia and Azerbaijan.

Tamila was born and lived all her life in Moscow. She has always been a Muslim, but she started wearing hijab only four years ago, after she got married and gave birth to two children. Despite a higher education diploma, she managed to get work as a nurse in a daycare centre with great difficulty. “The director told me that another Muslim nurse worked there before.

She wore hijab and the parents, whose children attended the institution, wrote a petition against the Muslim nurse that looked after their kids. Therefore, I had to hide my religion, not to lose my job.”

Tamila says she has troubles with her co-workers as well, because of Muscovite suspicions towards Muslims. “The speech therapist asked one of the educators about me. She was wondeing if I was one of those who organized explosions. Although she always talks with me, and has never asked me directly about it,” Tamila says. “I have lived in Moscow all my life, and have never felt a negative attitude, and my friends have never talked about it. It is true that I have never worn a shawl.”

Diana works as a doctor and conceals the fact that she is a Muslim. She even wears a tattoo, which is strictly forbidden in her native land. She says she is trying to start a new life, one that would have no association with Muslim foundations.

The deep roots of Islam in Russia

Islam first entered Russia through Dagestan from the mid 7th century it started to spread to the Northern Caucasus. By the year 21 AH (641 CE), the Muslim army under the leadership of 'Abd Rahman ibn Rabiah reached the Southern Caucasus northward after taking control of Persia and Al-Quds

The Muslim army achieved victory over the powerful Khazar Kingdom during the Umayyad rule in 119 AH (737 CE). Subsequently, the Northern Caucasus, which previously was a vassal of the Khazar Kingdom, became a part of the Umayyad Empire.

Muslims transformed the region into an important administrative centre and introduced Islam to the tribes of the Caucasus. Islam gradually established itself in the Volga basin through trade and other economic relations with the Muslim world. The Bulgar Kingdom, which existed in the Middle Volga region from the 8th century until its invasion by Mongols in 1236 CE, recognized Islam as an official religion of the state in 922 CE ( 304 AH).

Starting from the central region, Islam spread to north and east parts of Russia, particularly to Siberia. The second wave of introducing Islam to Russia took place during the period of the Golden Horde (Jusi Ulusi or Altan Ordon ), which was established as a north kingdom of the Mongols in 1242 CE.

In fact, the small numbers of the Mongols who stayed in the area did not have any significant impact on the fabric of the local society. So, culture, language, religion, and social life remained the same. In the beginning of the 15th century, a number of independent Islamic khanates[1] emerged from the gigantic Golden Horde. These khanates covered almost all of the modern Russian territory, except the region between the cities of Moscow and Kiev where the majority of Russians used to live in a number of principalities.

Until these Islamic Khanates were defeated by the Russian Empire in the 16th century, Islam dominated the most parts of the modern Russia. Due to the importance of the Volga River for transportation to Tsarist Russian Empire, the Volga-Ural region was the first to fall under the newly-established mighty Russian Empire.

On October 15, 1552, after the conquest of Kazan Khanate-which was previously the strongest state in the region-the way for the Russians to occupy the entire Volga region and the Caspian Sea was wide-open.

In 1859, Muslims of Dagestan (Chechnya and Ingushetia were altogether part of Dagestan) also lost their country to Tsarist Russia after 34 years of resistance under Imam Shamil (1797-1871). After Imam Shamil a new era in history of Russia started that’s why Russian Muslim who are still residing in there are stiff.

Traditions of a good neighborhood

Mufti Farid Salman, Chairman of the Ulema Council of the Russian Association of Islamic Accord, said that the problem of hostility towards Muslims is not vivid in all Russian regions. “In the Volga Region there are no differences between people of different religions, they are neighbors, friends and colleagues.

Despite the religious tenets, people of one religion do not seek to convert others to their faith,” says the theologian. “As a result, our close friends are followers of different religious traditions.”

The Mufti notes that Tatar Muslims have always lived peacefully with the Russians. However, in order to disseminate such an experience, it is necessary to work hard and spend a huge amount of money. “We need a certain public policy. I am surprised sometimes by the words of our politicians, who continue to use terms of nationality and religion when referring to terrorists. We should not do that. These people have moved away from God and the law,” says Farid Salman. “The mass media does not always understand that such definitions divide people.”


Russia has always prided itself on being a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. So where does the apprehensive attitude to Islam come from?

Muslims are the second largest religious group in Russia and they have peacefully coexisted with Orthodox believers over many centuries. However, in recent decades, some Russians have started behaving suspiciously towards Muslims, especially in the wake instability in certain regions and terrorist attacks.

The Muslims of the country are asking fellow citizens not to confuse the faithful believers with those who call themselves Muslims, but actually do not follow the norms of Islam. Theologians, in their turn, are asking people not to associate terrorism with Islam, and to use education in preventing conflicts.