Friday, June 5, 2009

Russians converting to Islam

The above article is entitled “Why are Ethnic Russians Converting to Islam?” It was written by Paul Goble and appears in the June 3 posting of the blog “Window on Eurasia.”

Goble writes, “The conversion of historically Orthodox Christian ethnic Russians to Islam is one of the most politically sensitive issues in the Russian Federation, with journalists and commentators frequently offering wildly different numbers and explanations for a trend many find a matter of deep concern. . . Andrey Ignatyev, a specialist on the sociology of religion at the Russian State Humanitarian University, seeks to answer the question . . . without the exaggerations and apocalyptic language in which such religious shifts are usually cast ( ).

“. . . Ignatyev offers four [reasons for these conversions]

“First . . . the largest number of converts are those who convert because of marriage . . .”

“Second . . . [some] Russians are attracted by the mysticism of Sufism . . . .”

“Third . . . there are those who ‘. . . accept Islam as a religion in its concretely historical, ethnographic and cultural manifestation.” They are “more serious than the neophytes of the first and second groups,’ and some of them study languages of Muslim nationalities and even travel abroad for instruction in Islam. Most of these people associate themselves with one of the historical divisions of Islam such as . . . Sunni Islam, the Salafites, or the Twelver Shiia and are devoutly religious, publicly thanking Allah that he has brought them to the true faith. And many of them choose to live according to the shariat or adat.

“Fourth . . . a group that he calls ‘white Muslims’ on the basis of an analogy with Louis Farrakhan’s ‘Black Muslims’ in the United States. ‘Representatives of this group,’ he continues, ‘combine Islam either with Russian nationalism, neo-paganism and racism or with left-radical doctrines.’ Many of the relatively small number of people in this group were part of NORM, the National Organization of Russian Muslims, which viewed Islam as “a path to the rebirth of the Russian nation” or as “a means to the world-wide liberation of the oppressed” but which had little interest in historically Muslim groups. . . .”

“Ignatyev does not offer any numbers for these groups,” Goble tells us. He adds that “they probably amount in total to fewer than 50,000.”


There are Russian writers who view the advance of Islam in Russia much as Oriana Fallaci and Bat Y’eor view the advance in Europe. Ignatyev is critical of such writers as “Elena Chudinova and the Orthodox activist Roman Silantyev who have written alarmist tracts about “Russian Muslims” and the threat they supposedly represent to Russia’s future.” His is similar to the criticism one can read in Europe of Fallaci and Y’eor.

Ignatyev seems to take the position that we are one world now and people are going to be converting back and forth regardless of where they live. He refers to Japanese and Middle Easterners who have become Orthodox and wonders why anyone would object to some ethnic Russians becoming Muslims.

But is it not normal and healthy to want to preserve your culture? Oriana Fallaci was intensely Italian and worried about the progress of Islam in Italy. However large it is, it has to some degree replaced the “culture” that had been traditionally Italian. Yes, the Russian conversions are different from the Italian, which are largely the result of immigration rather than conversion. but it doesn’t seem equivalent to what we might do in Anglo-America, that is, switch amongst Catholicism, Protestantism or Orthodox without any sacrifice of culture. Islam demands an acceptance of the Islamic culture, at least the traditional Islam of Category three above does.

In discussions of pacifism and self-defense it is generally agreed that anyone will defend himself and his family. Even pacifists admit this. Some of them go further and say that they would defend their nation if it were directly attacked, but they are pacifistic in the sense of never approving the initiation of an attack against another nation regardless of the provocation. But look now at what is happening with Islam. Isn’t the advance of the Islamic culture, the replacement of some part of your nation with a new Islamic nation very like an attack?

Maybe they aren’t physically attacking you. But are they not appropriating for themselves some part of your nation? They are there amongst you and yet they do not become as you. They want to be themselves in your midst. They want to expand the Islamic Ummah into Russia, Italy, and elsewhere. Some today don’t care. Who cares if Italy or Russia remains ethnically what it traditionally has been? Ignatyev seems of that bent. He doesn’t care.

And since I live in America, a land that accepts any ethnicity, why should I care? Actually, I don’t care, but I do care about what we might call our “social contract.” That is, if you want to live here in America, then you ought to want to assimilate and to accept our Liberal Democratic system. But of course, holding this view means that I object just as much to Left-wingers who want to abandon our Liberal Democratic system for some form of Socialism as much as I do to the Category three Muslims who actively hope to expand the Ummah by growing their distinctive beliefs in the midst of non-Islamic nations.

We have had discussions about whether Russia continues to be a “superpower” and the composition of the Russians whom one reader described as predominately “White ethnic Russians” who were also faithful Orthodox practitioners. We see here that some Russians are abandoning their ethnicity to identify themselves with Islam. Goble thinks the number who have done this is relatively small, 50,000 out of 140,000,000 Russians.

In saying as he does that this is one of the most politically sensitive issues in the Russian Federation,” he is being a bit ambiguous, but I take him to be implying that member nations in the Russian Federation such as Kazakhstan with large Muslim populations are taking offense at ethnic Russians such as Elena Chudinova and Roman Silantyev who object to ethnic Russian conversions to Islam.

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