"Ukrainian Muslims do not threaten and are not a closed sect."
Interview with Sheikh Achmed TAMIN, head of the Spiritual Direction of the Muslims of Ukraine, president of Islamic University, and mufti of Ukraine.
There are more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. In Ukraine there are more than 2 million. According to various estimates, 50-60 thousand followers of Islam live in Kyiv alone, capital of the country.
Who are they, the Muslims of Ukraine? Most of them are representatives of national minorities and enjoy the full rights of Ukrainian citizens. Still, among them there are Ukrainians and Russians who converted to Islam as a result of mixed marriages or other convictions. According to analysts’ assessments, the tendency of “Islamization” will become more popular for the following reasons: Ukraine’s geographical location between “Christian” and “Muslim” worlds, further democratization, and the openness of society. Obvious examples of this case are France, Great Britain, and Germany.
What role will Islam play in Ukrainian society in perspective? Sheikh Achmed Tamim will help us to distinguish myths created by politicians from reality.
— Sheikh Achmed, is there a threat of Islamic extremism in Ukraine?
— Unfortunately, there is such a situation when the politicization of Islam takes place under slogans of the Islamic religion. The goal of this is to achieve the implementation of the purposes of some concrete people among which are extremism and terrorism. This is taking place because of incorrect interpretations of Islam. These extremist organizations noticeably harm that true Islam which has peacefully existed in Ukraine for centuries.
Also, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the establishing of the Ukrainian state, many of those citizens of the former multinational country who stayed on the territory of Ukraine became Ukrainian citizens and enjoy full rights in Ukrainian society. Muslims remain patriots of the country, serving in the Ukrainian army and working for its good together with representatives of different nationalities and religions. The clergy teach them to represent Islam in Ukraine with honor and to be a model of behavior.
That is why Ukrainian Muslims do not threaten and are not a closed sect. On the contrary. We are aiming to develop good relations with all religions. The Spiritual Direction of the Muslims of Ukraine is an active member of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations. It takes part on its own in the civic life of the country, in national and official events, and also together with representatives of various churches and religions. We invite them and they invite us. We do not have any problems in our relations. We are conducting an active dialogue.
— Nevertheless, the threat of penetration of extreme Islamic movements into Ukraine exists. A stream of radical ideas not traditional for Ukrainian Muslims is coming here together with refugees and immigrants from the East.
— We have paid close attention to the problem of the struggle with extremism from the moment of establishing the Spiritual Direction of the Muslims of Ukraine. We were warning about the danger of spreading radical and extremist ideas in Ukraine and all over the world in 1992-1993. This was a long time ago before the events of 9/11, when society was still not ready to think about this.
Unfortunately even today people do not listen to us all the time. Thanks to the democratic laws of Ukraine, representatives of those organizations which support extremist ideas penetrate Ukraine without any obstacles. Here are some facts. The political party Khizb-ut Takhrir, prohibited in Europe, owns a printing house and regularly posts news on the Internet in Russian. Other civic organizations and representatives of another radical party, Dzhamat Islamia, also function here. They are active in religion and politics. They publish their own editions. The Wahhabites also print their own literature in Ukraine without any restrictions.
These organizations publish many harmful materials and unfortunately they are open to Ukrainian Muslims’ use. They are based on a mistaken understanding of Islam. It is written there that Muslims have to fight everybody who does not agree with their beliefs. Here it is called “freedom of speech” until it starts “thundering.”
Is it unknown how these organizations will conduct themselves when they become strong? Cases of such “activity” are, unfortunately, known in America, Madrid, and London.
— What difficulties do Muslims have in Ukraine these days? Are there difficulties in relations with representatives of the government?
— There are difficulties and misunderstandings in relations with the leading civil administrations, especially local ones. For example, this relates to the registration of our communities. Questions regarding land are also very complicated. If we ask for a site on which to locate a cemetery, which is required by Islamic traditions, we have to go and explain everything to the authorities for a long time. Even if we receive a site, later it appears that somebody else also has been given the same spot. There were similar situations in Kremenchuk, Kyiv, Melitopol, and other places. Asking the authorities to give a spot for building a mosque is useless. They will give nothing, or land far away from a city.
There are problems with the return of worship buildings. Some religions get their property returned, though with difficulties. Nobody even wants to talk about ours. Often our letters are left without a reply.
We lack houses of prayer and imams. We are training local personnel. Muslims themselves help with the process of buying premises for holding classes, and so on.
We do not want to depend on foreign financial organizations. That is why we have to count on own means. Nevertheless, we keep our firm independent position regarding the protection of society from any manifestations of extremism. We hope that society will think better of us and citizens of Ukraine will support us when people find out more about us.
— The myth about a disrespectful attitude towards women is most popular among rooted myths and legends about Islam which are liked by persons of narrow interests so much. Is this myth true?
— This is not true. Probably not all Christians know that the best example of behavior for a Muslim woman is St. Mary, Jesus’ mother. In the Koran there is a whole chapter that tells about her birth and the birth of Jesus. It is also said there that Mary was chosen by God and that she is the most holy woman of all times.
The question of whether a woman wears a headscarf depends only on her personal beliefs. If a Muslim woman thinks that she must obey certain religious rules, this is her right. It is much worse if you follow rituals but commit sins in different cases, like swearing, spreading gossip, and deceiving.
The prophet told men that the best of you are those who have fear of God. Among those who fear God the best are those who have high moral standards and morality. Among those, the best are those who have the best attitude towards women. The honored person is the one who treats women with dignity. Mean is that one who humiliates them.
Islamic women are involved in politics, business, and medical care. There are many teachers among them. Many women are recognized as saints in the religion.
— Where it is possible to get accurate information about Islam?
We are open to communication. We have our own newspaper and Internet web-site, www.islamyat.org. There you can find true information and ask any questions. Students come asking, writing papers, doing course or diploma work. We help doctoral candidates find information if they are working on Islam. Institutions of higher education invite us to give lectures. We invite all interested to listen to our sermons. You can come any time. We are not closed community but vice versa. We are interested that everybody would know more about us.
We help ill persons and people in need. Among them are not only Muslims. The mosque is our home and it is open to everybody.
Alexander KOZLOVSKYIi conducted the interview, which RISU’s Ukrainian-language site posted on 13 June 2007.