September 23rd, 2015, was a milestone for relations between Russia and the Muslim world. Russian President Vladimir Putin, accompanied by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, opened a new mosque in Moscow that can accommodate 10,000 people.
Moscow today is home to some two million Muslims. This is more than the population of some Muslim countries in the world. Most of this community is made up of Muslims from the Russian Republics of the Northern Caucasus, Azerbaijan and other Central Asia Republics that formerly made up the Soviet Union. Furthermore, there are considerable numbers of Muslims coming from Tatarstan and Bashkortostan Republics situated by the Caspian Sea. Turks, with a population of 15,000 people, make up only a modest portion of this Muslim society.
The Russian Federation is home to a staggering 20 million Muslims, where Muslim and Christian communities are known for their warm and friendly co-existence. Christians happily live in Muslim majority areas while Muslims enjoy discrimination-free lives in Christian majority areas. Such peaceful co-existence is hard to come by, even in the Western countries that claim to be champions of human rights.
Muslims play a dominant role in the Russian economy. According to Forbes’ Richest 100 Russians, Muslims make up an important part of wealthiest Russians. Alisher Usmanov, the number three businessmen on the list, is an Uzbek Muslim; another name that made it to the top on the list is Azeri Vagid Aliekberov, followed by Aras Agalarov, Ingush Said Selam and Mikhail Gutseriyev, Dagistani Suleiman Kerimov and Uzbek Iskander Makhmudov. These names represent only some of the many Muslim businessmen that are major players in the Russian economy.
Muslims play an important and central role in Putin’s domestic and foreign policies as well. For instance, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, Tatar President Rustem Minnikhanov, and Vladislav Surkov, who has held the position of First Deputy Chief of the Russian Presidential Administration for a long time, are only some of these names.
Scientists such as Damir Hayreddinov, Rashid Sunyaev, artists like Dina Garipova, Dinara Satreddinova and athletes such as Kurban Berdiyev, Marat Safin, Nail Yakubov are all proudly making a name for Russian Muslims in the world.
The last two years in the world of Russian Muslims paint a fairly different picture. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, intense clashes erupted in Muslim majority areas due to the ensuing power vacuum. As tensions between Georgians-Abkhazians, Armenians and Azeris came close to triggering a wider scale Muslim-Christian confrontation, they ended on a local level. During the same time, two major Chechen wars resulted in the blood of hundreds of thousands of Muslims. However, this painful picture for Muslims was largely eliminated as Putin’s policies helped bring calm and stability. Muslims finally were able to live their faith, speak their language and practice their traditions freely.
The Russian Federation’s President Putin’s affiliation with the Islamic world isn’t merely limited to Muslims in his own lands. Since it is home to more than 20 million Muslims, Russia became an observer member of the Organization of the Islamic Conferences. The same year, it signed a deal with Saudi Arabia for building $14 billion dollar investment fund. After sanctions were lifted, trade between Iran-Russia gained speed and it is now known that the parties are discussing a comprehensive barter agreement.
Russia-Turkey relations have also followed a similarly positive route, despite small disagreements on various issues from time to time. Mega- projects such as the Turkish Stream, which will take Russian gas to Europe via Turkey, are currently underway. As the embargo disagreements with the USA and the EU over Ukraine are raging, Turkey proved yet again that it was one of the most reliable business partners of Russia. Despite its NATO membership, Turkey never neglected its trade and political relations with Russia.
President Putin’s good relations with Muslims both inside and outside his country are highly commendable and could be improved even more. The reliable ally that Russia has been seeking is undoubtedly the Islamic world. We hope that Russia always enjoys good relations with the Western world, but the truth is the Islamic world shares much more in the way of common values with the Russian people and Russia compared to the Western world. Muslims are loyal, they know what it is like to live through difficulties and they are not selfish. Additionally, they take pleasure in altruism and never betray their friends, regardless of the circumstances. Although materialism has gained control of the Islamic world, Muslims never refrain from sacrificing for the sake of their friends, all due to their strong spiritual values. Once again, thanks to this spiritual depth, Muslims have open hearts and practice sincerity. Therefore it is quite easy for Russia to win over hearts and minds and enjoy the support of Muslims. In short, the safe haven for Russia, which is being pushed away by the Western world due to the West's erroneous policies, is the Islamic world. A strong unity of love to be built between Russia and the Islamic world will lead to an unbreakable bond.
The Islamic world and Russia control a major part of the world’s oil reserves. Russia is an important balancing factor in the world’s oil markets and President Putin pursues decisive and independent policies in this matter. He views Russian interests as greater than the interests of corporate monopolies. The reason behind the pernicious anti-Russian propaganda seen in some Western media outlets today is actually these very oil policies. The truth is, policies independent of oil monopolies are in the best interests of the Islamic world. Cooperation will therefore be on common denominator.
President Putin is also aware of the importance of alliance with Muslims. He wishes to further economic cooperation and extend it to the social arena and build real and lasting solidarity and brotherhood. However, the fact remains that radicalism is still a threat for the Islamic world. It is imperative that moderate Muslims come together in the Islamic world and work together to completely eliminate radical tendencies. They should lead the efforts to communicate true Islamic values to the Muslims in Russia, which wishes to see the true Islam, completely purged of radicalism, and help spread real Islamic values in the country. The words of President Putin’s at the opening of the Moscow mosque will no doubt build the foundations of this new era of alliance:
“It will be a source for education, spreading humanist ideas and the true values of Islam.
Adnan Oktar's piece on MBC Times: