Islam in Russia

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Qolşärif Mosque in Kazan, belonging to Hanafite version of Sunni Islam is one of the largest mosques in Russia.
Nord Kamal Mosque in Norilsk, is the world's northernmost mosque.[1]

Islam is the second most widely professed religion in Russia. Islam is considered as one of Russia’s traditional religions, legally a part of Russian historical heritage.[2] According to many surveys, Russia is approximately 7% Muslim.[3] According to a poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 6% of respondents considered themselves Muslims.[4] According to a Reuters news article by Robin Paxton, Muslim minorities make up approximately 14% of Russia's population.[5] Muslims constitute the nationalities in the North Caucasus residing between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea: Circassians, Balkars, Chechens, Ingush, Kabardin, Karachay, and numerous Dagestani peoples. Also, in the middle of the Volga Basin reside populations of Bulgars and Bashkirs, the vast majority of whom are Muslims. There are over 5,000[6] registered religious Muslim organizations (divided into Sunni, Shia, Sufi and Ahmadi groups), which is over one sixth of the number of registered Russian Orthodox religious organizations of about 29,268 as of December 2006.[7]

History of Islam in Russia[edit]

Mosque in Moscow

In the mid 7th century AD, following the Muslim conquest of Persia, Islam penetrated into the Caucasus region, of which parts would later permanently become part of Russia.[8] The first people to become Muslims within current Russian territory, the Dagestani people (region of Derbent), converted after the Arab conquests in the 8th century. The first Muslim state in the future Russia lands was Volga Bulgaria[9] (922). The Tatars of the Khanate of Kazan inherited the population of believers from that state. Later most of the European and Caucasian Turkic peoples also became followers of Islam.[10]

The Tatars of the Crimean Khanate, the last remaining successor to the Golden Horde, continued to raid Southern Russia and burnt down parts of Moscow in 1571.[11] Until the late 18th century, Crimean Tatars maintained a massive slave-trade with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East, exporting about 2 million slaves from Russia and Ukraine over the period 1500–1700.[12]

From the early 16th-century up to including the course of the 19th century, all of Transcaucasia and southern Dagestan was ruled by various successive Iranian empires (the Safavids, Afsharids, and the Qajars), and their geo-political and ideological neighbouring arch-rivals on the other hand, the Ottoman Turks. In the respective areas they ruled, in both the North Caucasus and South Caucasus, Shia Islam and Sunni Islam spread, resulting in a fast and steady conversion of many more ethnic Caucasian peoples in adjacent territories.

The period from the Russian conquest of Kazan in 1552 to the ascension of Catherine the Great in 1762 featured systematic Russian repression of Muslims through policies of exclusion and discrimination - as well as the destruction of Muslim culture by the elimination of outward manifestations of Islam such as mosques.[13] The Russians initially demonstrated a willingness in allowing Islam to flourish as Muslim clerics were invited into the various regions to preach to the Muslims, particularly the Kazakhs, whom the Russians viewed with contempt.[14][15] However, Russian policy shifted toward weakening Islam by introducing pre-Islamic elements of collective consciousness.[16] Such attempts included methods of eulogizing pre-Islamic historical figures and imposing a sense of inferiority by sending Kazakhs to highly élite Russian military institutions.[16] In response, Kazakh religious leaders attempted to bring religious fervor by espousing pan-Turkism, though many[quantify] were persecuted as a result.[17]

While total expulsion (as practised in other Christian nations such as Spain, Portugal and Sicily) was not feasible to achieve a homogeneous Russian-Orthodox population, other policies such as land grants and the promotion of migration by other Russian and non-Muslim populations into Muslim lands displaced many Muslims, making them minorities in places such as some parts of the South Ural region and encouraging emigration to other parts such as the Ottoman Turkey and neighboring Persia, and almost annihilating the Circassians, Crimean Tatars, and various Muslims of the Caucasus. The Russian army rounded up people, driving Muslims from their villages to ports on the Black Sea, where they awaited ships provided by the neighboring Ottoman Empire. The explicit Russian goal involved expelling the groups in question from their lands.[18] They were given a choice as to where to be resettled: in the Ottoman Empire, in Persia, or in Russia far from their old lands. The Russo-Caucasian War ended with the signing of loyalty oaths by Circassian leaders on 2 June [O.S. 21 May] 1864. Afterwards, the Ottoman Empire offered to harbour the Circassians who did not wish to accept the rule of a Christian monarch, and many emigrated to Anatolia (the heart of the Ottoman Empire) and ended up in modern Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Iraq and Kosovo. Many other Caucasian Muslims ended up in neighboring Iran - sizeable numbers of Shia Lezgins, Azerbaijanis, Muslim Georgians, Kabardins, and Laks.[19] Various Russian, Caucasus, and Western historians agree on the figure of c. 500,000 inhabitants of the highland Caucasus being deported by Russia in the 1860s. A large proportion of them died in transit from disease. Those that remained loyal to Russia were settled into the lowlands, on the left-bank of the Kuban' River. The trend of Russification has continued at different paces in the rest of Tsarist and Soviet periods, so that[citation needed] as of 2014 more Tatars lived outside the Republic of Tatarstan than inside it.[10]

A policy of deliberately enforcing anti-modern, traditional, ancient conservative Islamic education in schools and Islamic ideology was enforced by the Russians in order to deliberately hamper and destroy opposition to their rule by keeping them in a state of torpor to and prevent foreign ideologies from penetrating in.[20][21] Jadid

Islam in the Soviet Union[edit]

Captured Soviet soldiers of Muslim backgrounds volunteered in large numbers for the Ostlegionen of the Wehrmacht.

Communist rule oppressed and suppressed Islam, like other religions in the Soviet Union.[when?] Many mosques (for some estimates,[22] more than 83% in Tatarstan) were closed. For example, the Märcani Mosque was the only acting mosque in Kazan at that[when?] time.

World War II[edit]

Many thousands of Russian Muslims served and fought in the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany.[23]


Areas in Russia with a significant Muslim population

There was much evidence of official conciliation toward Islam in Russia in the 1990s. The number of Muslims allowed to make pilgrimages to Mecca increased sharply after the embargo of the Soviet era ended in 1991.[24] In 1995 the newly established Union of Muslims of Russia, led by Imam Khatyb Mukaddas of Tatarstan, began organizing a movement aimed at improving inter-ethnic understanding and ending Russians' lingering misconception of Islam. The Union of Muslims of Russia is the direct successor to the pre-World War I Union of Muslims, which had its own faction in the Russian Duma. The post-Communist union formed a political party, the Nur All-Russia Muslim Public Movement, which acts in close coordination with Muslim imams to defend the political, economic, and cultural rights of Muslims and other minorities. The Islamic Cultural Center of Russia, which includes a madrassa (religious school), opened in Moscow in 1991. In the 1990s, the number of Islamic publications has increased. Among them are few magazines in Russian, namely: "Ислам" (transliteration: Islam), "Эхо Кавказа" (Ekho Kavkaza) and "Исламский вестник" (Islamsky Vestnik), and the Russian-language newspaper "Ассалам" (Assalam), and "Нуруль Ислам" (Nurul Islam), which are published in Makhachkala, Dagestan.

Mintimer Shaimiyev, the president of the republic of Tatarstan, in the Qolşärif Mosque, Kazan.

Kazan has a large Muslim population (probably the second after Moscow urban group of the Muslims and the biggest indigenous group in Russia) and is home to the Russian Islamic University in Kazan, Tatarstan. Education is in Russian and Tatar. In Dagestan there are number of Islamic Universities and madrassas, notable among them are: Dagestan Islamic University, Institute of Theology and International Relations, whose rector Maksud Sadikov was assassinated on 8 June 2011.[25]

Talgat Tadzhuddin was the Chief Mufti of Russia. Since Soviet times, the Russian government has divided Russia into a number of Muslim Spiritual Directorates. In 1980 Talgat Tazhuddin was made Mufti of the European USSR and Siberia Division. Since 1992 he has headed the central or combined Muslim Spiritual Directorate of all of Russia.

Putin has said that Orthodox Christianity is much closer to Islam than Catholicism is.[26][27][28][29]

There was large anger from mostly Muslims from the Caucasus against the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in France.[30] Putin is believed to have backed protests by Muslims in Russia against Charlie Hebdo cartoons and the west.[31]

Putin has allowed the de facto implementation of Sharia law in Chechnya by Ramzan Kadyrov, including polygamy and veil.[32]

A chain e-mail spread a hoax speech attributed to Putin which called for tough assimilation policies on immigrants, no evidence of any such speech can be found in Russian media or Duma archives.[33][34][35][36]

Islam has been expanding under Putin's rule.[37] Tatar Muslims are engaging in a revival under Putin.[38]

A Muslim Tatar owned supermarket in Tatarstan sold calendars with images of American President Obama depicted as a monkey and initially refused to apologize for selling the calendar.[39][40] They were then forced to issue an apology later.[41]

In Tatarstan a Muslim Tatar staffed ice cream factory produced Obamka (little Obama) ice cream with packaging showing an earring wearing black child and staff members like director of finance Anatoli Ragimkhanov and Rasil Mustafin, deputy development director defended the sale.[42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55][56][57][58][59][60][61][62][63][64][65][66] They were forced to stop manufacture of the ice cream.[67]

According to The Washington Post, "Russian Muslims are split regarding the [Russian] intervention in Syria, but more are pro- than anti-war."[68]


Chechen World War II veterans during celebrations on the 66th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War.

The majority of Muslims in Russia adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam. About 5% are Shia Muslims. There is also an active presence of Ahmadi Muslims.[69] In a few areas, notably Dagestan and Chechnya, there is a tradition of Sunni Sufism, which is represented by Naqshbandi and Shadhili schools, whose spiritual master Said Afandi al-Chirkawi receives hundreds of visitor daily.[70] The Azeris have also historically and still currently been nominally followers of Shi'a Islam, as their republic split off from the Soviet Union, significant number of Azeris immigrated to Russia in search of work.

Notable Russian converts to Islam include Vyacheslav Polosin,[71] Vladimir Khodov and Alexander Litvinenko, a defector from Russian intelligence, who converted on his deathbed.[72][73]


A record 18,000 Russian Muslim pilgrims from all over the country attended the Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 2006.[74] In 2010, at least 20,000 Russian Muslim pilgrims attended the Hajj, as Russian Muslim leaders sent letters to the King of Saudi Arabia requesting that the Saudi visa quota be raised to at least 25,000-28,000 visas for Muslims.[75] Due to overwhelming demand from Russian Muslims, on 5 July 2011, Muftis requested President Dmitry Medvedev's assistance in increasing the allocated by Saudi Arabia pilgrimage quota in Vladikavkaz.[76] The III International Conference on Hajj Management attended by some 170 delegates from 12 counties was held in Kazan from 7 – 9 July 2011.[77]

Language controversies[edit]

For centuries, the Tatars constituted the only Muslim ethnic group in European Russia, with Tatar language being the only language used in their mosques, a situation which saw rapid change over the course of the 20th century as a large number of Caucasian and central Asian Muslims migrated to central Russian cities and began attending Tatar-speaking mosques, generating pressure on the imams of such mosques to begin using Russian.[78][79] This problem is evident even within Tatarstan itself, where Tatars constitute a majority.[80]

Islam in Moscow[edit]

Moscow has 1 million Muslim residents and up to 1.5 million more Muslim migrant workers. The city has permitted the existence of four mosques.[81][82] The mayor of Moscow claims that four mosques are sufficient for the population.[83] The city's economy "could not manage without them," he said. There are currently 8,000 mosques in Russia.[84]


See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Bell, I (2002). Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia. ISBN 978-1-85743-137-7. Retrieved 2007-12-27. 
  3. ^ "Ogonek", № 34 (5243), 27/08/2012. <
  4. ^ Опубликована подробная сравнительная статистика религиозности в России и Польше (in Russian). 6 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-27. 
  5. ^ "Analysis: Airport bomb may aggravate Russian ethnic tensions". Reuters. 2011-01-26. 
  6. ^ Page, Jeremy (2005-08-05). "The rise of Russian Muslims worries Orthodox Church". The Times. London. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  7. ^ Сведения о религиозных организациях, зарегистрированных в Российской ФедерацииПо данным Федеральной регистрационной службы, декабрь 2006 (Russian)
  8. ^ Hunter, Shireen; et al. (2004). Islam in Russia: The Politics of Identity and Security. M.E. Sharpe. p. 3. (..) It is difficult to establish exactly when Islam first appeared in Russia because the lands that Islam penetrated early in its expansion were not part of Russia at the time, but were later incorporated into the expanding Russian Empire. Islam reached the Caucasus region in the middle of the seventh century as part of the Arab conquest of the Iranian Sassanian Empire.  
  9. ^ Mako, Gerald (2011). "The Islamization of the Volga Bulghars: A Question Reconsidered". Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi. 18 (208). Retrieved 2015-10-07. [...] the Volga Bulghars adopted the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam, as practised in Khwarazm. 
  10. ^ a b Shireen Tahmasseb Hunter, Jeffrey L. Thomas, Alexander Melikishvili, "Islam in Russia", M.E. Sharpe, Apr 1, 2004, ISBN 0-7656-1282-8
  11. ^ Solovyov, S. (2001). History of Russia from the Earliest Times. 6. AST. pp. 751–809. ISBN 5-17-002142-9. 
  12. ^ Darjusz Kołodziejczyk, as reported by Mikhail Kizilov (2007). "Slaves, Money Lenders, and Prisoner Guards:The Jews and the Trade in Slaves and Captives in the Crimean Khanate". The Journal of Jewish Studies. p. 2. 
  13. ^ Frank, Allen J. Muslim Religious Institutions in Imperial Russia: The Islamic World of Novouzensk District and the Kazakh Inner Horde, 1780-1910. Vol. 35. Brill, 2001.
  14. ^ Khodarkovsky, Michael. Russia's Steppe Frontier: The Making of a Colonial Empire, 1500-1800, pg. 39.
  15. ^ Ember, Carol R. and Melvin Ember. Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Men and Women in the World's Cultures, pg. 572
  16. ^ a b Hunter, Shireen. "Islam in Russia: The Politics of Identity and Security", pg. 14
  17. ^ Farah, Caesar E. Islam: Beliefs and Observances, pg. 304
  18. ^ Kazemzadeh 1974
  19. ^ А. Г. Булатова. Лакцы (XIX — нач. XX вв.). Историко-этнографические очерки. — Махачкала, 2000.
  20. ^ Andrew D. W. Forbes (9 October 1986). Warlords and Muslims in Chinese Central Asia: A Political History of Republican Sinkiang 1911-1949. CUP Archive. pp. 16–. ISBN 978-0-521-25514-1. 
  21. ^ Alexandre Bennigsen; Chantal Lemercier-Quelquejay; Central Asian Research Centre (London, England) (1967). Islam in the Soviet Union. Praeger. p. 15. 
  22. ^ А.Хабутдинов, Д.Мухетдинов. Ислам в СССР: предыстория репрессий (Russian)
  23. ^
  24. ^ History of Hajj in Russia from 18th to 21st century
  25. ^ Muslim teacher killed in Russia's North Caucasus
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ Nikolas K. Gvosdev; Christopher Marsh (22 August 2013). Russian Foreign Policy: Interests, Vectors, and Sectors. SAGE Publications. pp. 297–. ISBN 978-1-4833-2208-7. 
  29. ^
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  32. ^ Julia Ioffe (24 July 2015). "Putin Is Down With Polygamy". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 28 January 2016. 
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  67. ^
  68. ^ "Are Russia's 20 million Muslims seething about Putin bombing Syria?". The Washington Post. 7 March 2016. 
  69. ^ Ingvar Svanberg, David Westerlund. Islam Outside the Arab World. Routledge. p. 418. ISBN 0-7007-1124-4. Retrieved 2014-06-27. 
  70. ^ Biography of Shaykh Said Afandi al-Chirkawi ad-Daghestani
  71. ^ Polosin Ali Vyacheslav - My journey to Islam
  72. ^ "Litvinenko converted to Islam father says". The Times. London. 2006-12-08. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  73. ^ Litvinenko's Father Says Son Requested Muslim Burial - RADIO FREE EUROPE / RADIO LIBERTY
  74. ^ Russian Pilgrims Number Exceeds 18,000, Ministry of Hajj, Saudi Arabia.
  75. ^ Russian Muslims on Hajj to Saudi Arabia
  76. ^ Muslims in Russia ask for increased Haj quota
  77. ^ Muslims in Russia prepare for Hajj
  78. ^ The Rebirth of Islam in Russia
  79. ^ (Russian) [1]
  80. ^ (Russian) [2]
  81. ^ Underground Islam
  82. ^ Russia’s biggest mosque to be built in Moscow
  83. ^ Moscow mayor: No more mosques in my city
  84. ^ 2000 mosque in Russia

External links[edit]