Muslims in Russia are facing a new wave of prejudice following a siege by Chechen guerrillas on a Moscow theater in October. The Washington Post (Dec. 23) reports that “Islamopohobia” has revived after a period when Russia’s estimated 20 million Muslims have been more numerous and freer than ever. “These events have only strengthened the hand of a large group in Russian society who were already hostile to Islam and considered Islam to be the ideology of terrorism,” says Robert Landa of Moscow’s Institute of Oriental Studies.
Human rights groups have reported a growth of hate crimes throughout Russia, with Muslims being targeted either for their ethnicity or religious faith. Much of the new attitude is partly due to a fear of terrorist activity and often centers around the concern that the militant Saudi “Wahhabi” branch of Islam is being exported into the country.
Russian Islam has largely been a moderate Sunni brand, but the situation has not been helped by the two top Muslim spiritual leaders in the country charging that the other is contributing to the growth of Wahhabism. The feud, between the leaders of the Central Spiritual Directorate of Muslims and the Council of Muftis (which claims the majority of mosques in Russia) is “ensuring that Russia’s Muslims do not secure the political clout that their numbers would seem to warrant,” writes Susan Glasser.