Ukraine Islamic vector: Ukrainian Ummah’s reason for being
Russian-Ukrainian conflict affected among the others the Muslim community of Ukraine. The post-totalitarian syndrome whereby religion is regulated by bureaucracy provokes further political intervention into the spiritual realm and new confrontation. Our country may become yet another arena of conflict if the so called Islamic factor comes in.
Islam in Ukraine and over the world
Islam in Ukraine has more than a thousand-year history. Today, the Ukrainian Muslims are represented by several registered centers: the Religious Administration of Muslims of Crimea (RAMC), the religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine (RAMU), the Spiritual Center of Muslims of Ukraine (SCMU),the Religious directorate of the independent Muslim communities of Ukraine ‘Kyiv Muftiyat’ and the Religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine “Ummah.” Recently, there has been growth of the number of instances where ethnic Ukrainiansconvert to Islam not because of external causes, but following a spiritual vocation.
For all the variety of representatives of Islam, one cannot talk about unity among them. Not only the issues of interaction, but also those of impact, in particular, sending pilgrims to Mecca (Hajj), remain quite painful. Despite the fact that Ukraine has a quota for such tourists, it is not in use. All travelers go to holy places only with the help of Russian representatives. And this is not the last problem that the Ukrainian Ummah faces.
All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and religious organizations: access for strangers denied?
Two weeks ago RAMU “Ummah”Mufti Said Ismahilov was denied by the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) to represent the Religious Administration of Muslims of Crimea (RAMC) at the meeting. Before the regular meeting on June 22, Sheikh came to the meeting as a RAMU representative with a letter signed by mufti EmiraliAblayev. However, the Council members represented by their secretary Maxim Krupsky (representative of this year’spresiding organization –the Ukrainian Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists) denied him participation. This denial was due to the contradictions caused by the letter provided to him in Crimea. It was made on the blank sheetof a Russian organization –the Centralized Religious Organization of the ReligiousAdministration of Muslims of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol –bearing a Ukrainian seal. As Maksym Vasin, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Freedom confirms, such document has no legal force. However, Mufti Said was not provided withthe minutes of the meeting containing references to the review of this matter. Next day he sent a letter to the Council in response asking to explain the existing situation.
Nonetheless, the RAMU “Ummah” leaders repeatedly applied for membership of the Council. Every time they were refused. Note that the AUCCRO has keptits composition unchanged and its main activity reduces tothe announcement of the statements by heads of religious organizations it includes and representation of Ukrainian communities in the world. Despite the title of "All-Ukraine" Council, many other organizations also were denied the membership. The difficulty of joining for the new members also lies in the fact that the decisions should be taken by consensus, unanimously, which is not always possible to achieve.
The activities of this agency have long been criticized by Professor Olexandr Sagan: “They violated the provisions of paragraph 4 of the Council, stating that the WCC shall not interfere in the internal affairs of religious organizations. So they cannot block a representative of another religious administration, whowas directed to representthe Muslims of Crimea. Sheikh Said takes care of the Muslims who left the Crimea, including in Kherson region and Lviv, where a new facility has been opened. And who is to perform representative functions? In addition, it seems impossible to exclude the RAMU from the WCC - it will be a blow to the image of Ukraine. We do not recognize Crimea as the Russian territory and strongly support Crimean Tatars.”
Maxim Krupskiy explained that neither did he had the right to disclose details of the meeting nor to makean official comment: “I assure you that the AUCCRO understands the complexity of some interfaith relations in Ukraine, acting in accordance with its position and acts very gently towards all members of the Council, including the RAMU. We really lack the capability to communicate with Crimea, so we believe that the next AUCCRO meeting will be able to clarify the situation and clarify all issues concerning representation and membership in the organization.” According to the heads of religious organizations present at the meeting, they will wait for the Crimean representative, who is not the chairman of any other religious administrationin order to have an idea what to do next.
Currently, the sole representative of the Muslims in the AUCCRO is Sheikh Ahmed Tamim, who leads the Religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine (RAMU). Another organization representing Islam is the Spiritual Center of Muslims of Ukraine (SCMU, located in the East, terminatedits membership as of 21.01.2013) does not participate in the meetings. Thus, in all international meetings and in official documents the opinion of Muslims of Ukraine is expressed solely by Sheikh Tamim, who is referred to as Mufti of Ukraine, while officially he has no right to be called so.
An attempt to set up the Council for Muslims of Ukraine was made on April 15, 2007. It was designed as an independent public organization - the Council of Representatives of the Religious Administrations and Centers of Muslims of Ukraine at the State Committee on Nationalities and Religionsof Ukraine. Then the RAMC (in the office of Said Ismagilov), the RAMU “Ummah”, “Kyiv Muftiyat” and Olexandr Sagan on behalf of the State Committee signed the document. “WCC was initiated in the same way and even the head of the State Committee was a member of the WCC. We have repeatedly held general meetings to see whether it is advisable to create such an agency. However, we had a pressing question - Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and the conflict in Ummah (Muslim community). We made an appeal to the state authorities to prevent registration of the SCMU because it would create tensions on the peninsula - and now we have the pro-Russian Tavrian Muftiyat. The RAMU then was denied the membership, although they participated in all the meetings, but did not sign the document - it was their principled position. Tamim considers himself to be the only the legitimate Muslim leader, therefore he does not recognize neither the RAMC, not the RAMU “Ummah”, Professor Sagan says.
Unity is not on the agenda
However, the situation in the Muslim world of Ukraine is not so unambiguous. There have been covert discussions about the confrontation between the RAMU and the RAMU “Ummah”, although there is no open conflict between them, except for a lawsuit about copyright of the name of “RAMU”. TheCrimean Tatars account for the largest proportion of Muslims in Ukraine. And in fact the Muslim community of the peninsula was the largest, comprising 300 communities, while about the RAMU included 126 communities and the RAMU “Ummah”- 30, of which only 13 are officially registered. The political inclinations of the Crimeans are interesting enough. According to the poll , only 50.6% of Crimean Tatars advocated the fulfillment of the edicts of Islam and the peaceful coexistence of the democracies of the state, while 20% supported the idea of building a state on the principles of Islam and 25.6% of respondents called for the restoration of the Caliphate (theocratic feudal Arab-Muslim state).
While the RAMU is being privately accused of neutrality, which is allegedly a sign of pro-Russian sentiment, the RAMU “Ummah” and the All-Ukrainian association “Al Raid” (former center “Ar-Rayid”, which was re-registered) face no lesser charges. Director of Middle East Studies Igor Semyvolos likened the “Al Raid” supporters to the “Muslim Brotherhood” and called them the followers of their ideology. His opinion is supportedby a researcher from Crimea Elmira Muratova. “In our view, the most politically oriented Islamic organizations of the peninsula is Hizbut-Tahrir party and the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which are associate with Al Raid.
Publicly, everything looks much more conclusive. In recent years, Mufti Said Ismagilov has been constantly present at most events relating to matters of religion and Islam, he is a well-known person in media, hehas mastered Ukrainian language and speaks out from a clear pro-Ukrainian perspective. Beside the large Islamic cultural center in the capital, the ICC was opened in Lviv. The RAMU continues its activities in the east,although details are not made public for security reasons. In a recent comment, the Sheikh recalled that Muslims do not suffer harassmentin the occupied territories, which is not similar to the information on vandalism in Crimea. During the holy month of Ramadan, the RAMU “Ummah” continues to support its faithful not only in the East but also in Kherson region, where the families of Crimean Tatars have settled. Overall at the beginning of this year's festival they received more than 2 000 food packages, each worth a minimum of USD 1500. Now in Kherson earn representative of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, as it was already reported by the organization’s chairman Refat Chubarov.
Annexation of the Crimea as a threat to internal fight
Currently, no one speaks aloudabout the RAMC exclusion fromthe AUCCRO, although they havebeen functioning as a Russian religious organizationfrom the beginning of March 2015. Moreover, recently, on July 13, Mufti Emirali Ablaev received “state” award from Sergei Aksenov, together with Metropolitan Lazar of the Moscow Patriarchate. It should be added that only two religious organizations has fully completed registration of their statutes in Moscow – the RAMC and Simferopol and Crimean Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Back in August last year in Crimea, the Tavrian Muftiyat was established at the former Spiritual Center of Muslims of Crimea. The leader of the former center RidvanVeliyev (former Deputy of Emirali Ablayev, RAMC) was removed and was hiding in Kyiv, while RuslanSaitvaliev became the Muftiyat leader and EnverAkhtemov became head of the administration. From the very beginning the Tavrian Muftiyat positioned itself as the “only right organization for Muslims of Crimea”, referring to the traditions of the peninsula and at the same time creating an open conflict of opinions. Mufti’s request about non-transfer of Han-Jami mosque in Yevpatoria to the RAMC submitted to Vladimir Putin was made public on the web. Media representatives accused the RAMU and Sheikh Ahmed Tamim in helping to establish the Tauride Muftiyat and their support. All this happens against the backdrop of persecution of pro-Ukrainian Crimean Tatars, kidnapping of youth and searches of dwellings by the new government representatives for the purpose of finding allegedly extremist literature.
Yet another aspect of influence and a special type of business is the issue of pilgrimage or Hajj, whichevery Muslim should perform at least once in a lifetime. “Hajj is money. Anyone who deals with this issue shall decide which of travel agencies is most prepared for pilgrimage travel to Mecca. And the Spiritual Center has some preferences of travel agencies that are willing to win this right. The issue has not been solved so far. Previously,the Ukrainians with their international quota were delegatedby Mufti of Crimea Ablayev. He had to send people to pilgrimage by Russian routes, and visited for that end Mecca to sign new contracts,” Said Ismagilov believes. The pilgrimage is performed on such a large scale that even the Saudi authorities set about building a separate airport intended solely for pilgrims. Emirali Ablaev delegated his power to solve the problem of Hajj to Sheikh Said, having sent a letter to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin. However, the current Ukrainian quota is not used, and some pilgrims fly through the Crimea under Russian quota.
Islam as a cornfield for constructing myths
The myth that all Muslims are terrorists is being built around Islam in the international arena, which is attributable to radicalization of Islamic fundamentalists striving to develop their own political system and return to the Islamic state. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of other Muslims practice a policy of peace, despite the efforts of the media and politicians to create a different picture. The main threats are the radical Muslim community. One of the most famous is the“Muslim Brotherhood”, which are banned in several countries as a terrorist organization. Despite the prevalence and credibility in the Arab world, the organizationwas recognized as terrorist even in Saudi Arabia in 2014 and in Egypt in 2013 following the bloody events.
Islamic factor that becomes bogeyman for residents of Europe and the US through the efforts of media and radicals can become similarly dangerous for Ukraine. It depends on who and why wants to provoke a new conflict and to play on the feelings of Muslims within the state. On stepping across the line and moving to the phase of open conflict, Ukraine can face the new internal war that is no less scary and dangerous.
As the Ukrainian Ummah undergoes changes that has actively evolved after Maidan, when Muslims along with Christians and Jews were praying on stage. A new twist on the backing and support Crimean Tatars occurred after the events in Crimea. Taking advantage of this moment and turning to international experience of peaceful cooperation, Ukraine could become an example for many other countriesdespite the diversity of opinion.
Senior Fellow of ‘Ostroh Academy’ National University, Ph.D. Mykhailo Yakubovych:
“The AUCCRO is a descendant of post-totalitarian era, because there is the situation whereall are equal, but there are religious organizations that are more equal than others, which is unacceptable and inefficient. Undoubtedly, participation in this Council ensures special access to power, thus making it easier to get land plots. And the number of meetings with state representatives before the next elections grows, because this is akind of support for politicians’ ranking. Therefore, I do not see any problems if the RAMU “Ummah” does not enter into the AUCCRO. Obviously, there are those who do not want to see this organization as part of the Council. The second aspect is the interaction of the RAMU with Russia and Russian religious organizations. But they have to survive in these realities after the annexation of the peninsula, so the situation is ambiguous. Earlier, the RAMU “Ummah” representatives were invited to create an alternative association of Muslims accepting the doctrine of unity, but the project was never implemented. We are still under the influence of the heritage of 90s, despite the declaration of freedom of conscience. For example, in Poland there is the Christian-Muslim Council that operates efficiently albeitbeyond the state auspices. Publicly we do not see any counterstatements and reaction in the Muslim world, they remain behind the scenes. And it is a regular practice for the modern Islam when the movements are renovated, return to tradition and more. In fact,the RAMU and the RAMU “Ummah” differ at the doctrinal level, so they give diverging assessmentsof the situation and the teaching,asthe RAMU keeps neutrality and the RAMU “Ummah”displays pro-Ukrainian bias.”
Associate professor of cultural studies of Dragomanov NPU, PhD Denis BRYLOV:
“The Ukrainian Ummah undergoes changes of format. Even in their best days the RAMU “Ummah” could not compete with the RAMU, so they resorted to RAMC’s support. After the annexation of the Crimea and the ATO in the east the RAMU “Ummah” lost most of its communities and support of the RAMU, which reregistered and fully transferred to the Russianjurisdiction. Therefore, they had no choice as to go for broke. Moreover, the pro-Ukrainian position of Said Ismagilov ensured some support among Maidan-minded Ukrainians, so he decided to join the AUCCROat whatever the cost in an attempt to gain a foothold. The RAMU “Ummah” is trying to take control of Tatar settlers, it can be easily seen on the example of Lviv, when speaking against the construction of mosques by Crimean Tatars, Ismagilov stated that the Islamic cultural center was fully sufficient for them (i.e. Al)Raid agency). But it remains a big question whether the Crimean Tatars will readily move under the RAMU “Ummah” jurisdiction. For me, this seems unlikely. They recognize only a native from their environment. Plus much of settlers from Crimea are linked to the groups, which are banned in Russia, as the said Hizbut-Tahrir, which have their own agenda, which may seriously differ from the plans of the RAMU “Ummah”. Therefore, in the near future the Muslims will bunch together. The RAMU is unlikely to lose some of their community members as it was the case of the UOC. The RAMU “Ummah” will try to gain a foothold at the expense of newcomers and lobbying of their interests via non-Muslim organizations (including the Churches) and there will be a center or centers of Crimean Tatars which also will joinad hoc alliances.”