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MOSCOW, January 19. /TASS/. Given Russian Muslims’ reaction to latest developments in France, the authorities have demonstrated respect for one of the country’s main religions, but at the same time preferred to restrict mass demonstrations to the North Caucasus, analysts have been saying. Many thousands of Muslims have taken to the streets to protest in Chechnya and Ingushetia. Meantime, Moscow authorities have denied permission to express such sentiment in public — and, some Muslim clerics say, for good reason.
In Chechnya’s capital, Grozny, according to local police sources, a huge crowd of more than one million gathered at the call of the republic’s head, Ramzan Kadyrov, to protest against the Prophet Muhammad cartoons. Guests from other neighbouring republics in the North Caucasus have taken part. And on January 17, more than 20,000 attended a rally called Islam against Terrorism and Extremism.
Russia’s Muslim community is estimated at 10 million to 20 million. According to the 2002 population census, “ethnic Muslims”, in other words, people traditionally professing Islam, account for a majority of the population in seven constituent territories of Russia: Ingushetia (98%), Chechnya (96%), Dagestan (94%), Kabardino-Balkaria (70%), Karachay-Cherkessia (63%), Bashkortostan (54.5%) and Tatarstan (54%).
Moscow authorities have turned down Islamic activists’ request for permission to call a rally by 100,000 in the center of Moscow on January 25. Chief of the Moscow government regional security department Alexey Mayorov has described the initiative as provocative. “It is unclear what those people had hoped for: There is no organization of authority capable of holding such rallies, or the corresponding capabilities behind them.”
The mufti of Moscow’s Muslim Board, Albir Krganov, said good prayer was the true believer’s real means of showing one’s feelings. He warned parishioners against yielding to provocations by all means. No rallies by Muslims had been agreed with the official religious organizations, he added.
“Even if we had received an official request, we would most probably have opposed the idea of a mass demonstration by Muslims in Moscow. In this particular case, we proceed from the basics of faith, the Quran. We all remember that the Prophet Muhammad always advised people to refrain from this sort of demonstration in times of trouble,” the Lenta.ru portal quotes Krganov as saying.
“In the current situation, the Moscow authorities’ decision to deny permission to hold a rally was a rather balanced one,”co-chairman of Russia's Council of Muftis and chairman of the Muslim Board of Russia’s Asian part Nafigulla Ashirov told the daily Kommersant. “These days, when the country is faced with many issues that have to be addressed jointly, it would be wrong to fan tensions.”
Specialist on Islam at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies Vasily Ivanov believes the Moscow authorities’ decision was reasonable. “Many of Moscow’s Muslims are migrants. Quite a few of them are Wahhabis or followers of other radical sects,” the analyst told the daily Novyie Izvestia. “Their foreign handlers may well urge them to riot. As for Chechnya, Kadyrov is capable of maintaining calm during the rally there.”
The authorities would like protests confined to the North Caucasus. They obviously have no intention of initiating something like that in other regions, first vice-president of the Center for Political Technologies Alexey Makarkin told TASS.
“On one hand, the Russian authorities wish to show that “We are not Charlie” and that in such cases, Russia reacts differently than France, that it has its own traditional values and religions to rely on in the context of confrontation with the West. On the other hand, it has no wish to incite inter-ethnic discord.”
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