While Muslims and Eastern Orthodox are battling in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and the Orthodox Church is in conflict with other Christian bodies around the world, the situation in the Russian Republic of Tartistan is markedly different.
An article in Religion, State & Society (September/December), a journal on religion in former communist lands, finds that in Tartistan, which is at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, both Islam and Orthodoxy are peacefully co-existing and even cooperating. Sergei Filatov writes that both Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam in the republic have been highly receptive to the spread of democratic and Western values.
Islam in Tartistan was repressed and outlawed for centuries under Russian rule, and as a result, Islamic practices became internalized and based in the home rather than the mosque. In the 1990s, when the Tatars became free of communist rule, a strong nationalist movement emerged attempting to control independent religious activity, including Orthodoxy).
This government opposition has brought together the Orthodox Church and Muslim believers; one priest says: “We don’t have problems with Muslim; we have problems with atheists, both Tatar and Russian.” Arab Islam has tried to influence Tatar Muslims in more fundamentalist directions, but it has been largely resisted. The Orthodox diocese of Kazan in the republic is the most liberal in Russian Orthodoxy. Books of banned authors (such as the late ecumenical Orthodox priest Alexander Men) are on sale in every church, and relations with the Catholics and Lutherans are cordial.
An Orthodox nun Mother Mariya has formed a growing youth movement and has achieved notoriety for her opposition to compulsory religious education in schools and other forms of authoritarianism in Orthodoxy. This “conservative democratic alliance of Orthodox and Muslim believers”.is creating a long sought-after “Eurasian” reality, Filatov concludes.
(Religion, State & Society, Keston Institute, 4 Park Town, Oxford OX14 3UE)