Countries across the continent have wrestled with the issue of the Muslim veil – in various forms such as the body-covering burqa and the niqab, which covers the face apart from the eyes. The debate takes in religious freedom, female equality, secular traditions and even fears of terrorism. This article summarizes the current debates and statuses of France, Britain, the Netherlands, Turkey, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Russia, Austria and Switzerland.
Shari’a Standards for Islamic Financial products issued by the Accounting Association of Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) will soon be presented in Russian. An agreement was reached during the visit of the Delegation of Council of Muftis of Russia to Bahrain last December.
The first product standards will be published in February 2010 and will include operations such as murabaha (deferred sale finance), sukuk (interest-free loans) and takaful (an Islamic insurance concept).
Yardem National Islamic Charitable Foundation, in cooperation with the Rehabilitation Center at the Sulaiman mosque in Kazan have initiated a fundraising effort for “Light of Knowledge for the Blind”, to purchase equipment for a local Muslim library.
Danis Garayev, a project initiator, says each year the library issues hundreds of Braille Muslim books. “We distribute these books in several regions of Russia, including Bashkiria, Chelyabinsk, Ulyanovsk, Nizhniy Novgorod, Chechnya, and Daghestan – all for free.”
The library needs to upgrade technical equipment to increase the printing run and to improve book quality.
The Religious Directorate of Muslims in the Asian cultural region of Russia provided an incentive to open libraries at mosques in Siberia and the Urals, says the chairman of the Directorate Nafigulla Ashirov.
While Muslim communities in Central Russia, the Volga region and in Northern Caucasus are well supplied with Islamic books, it still remains a problem in the Urals, Siberia and Far East of Russia. “Available books are few in number and expensive for simple Muslims”,–says Ashirov.–“That is the reason why we need to open libraries at every mosque in these regions so the books can be accessed not just by Muslims but for everyone who is interested; for example, students who write papers on Islam and Muslim-related matters.”
Medina Publishing House, one of the largest Muslim publishers in Russia, is ready to contribute to this initiative. Its books on the history of Muslim communities in Russia and Islamic theology and practice, form many libraries around the country.
An agreement to base a representative office of the International al-Wasatiya Center in Moscow to proliferate ideas of moderation in Islam was signed in Kuwait during the 5th session of the “Russia and the Islamic World” Strategic Vision Group.
The International al-Wasatiya Center was founded in Kuwait several years ago and is currently run by Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s apprentice Shaykh Isam Bashir. It has offices in a number of countries around the globe, including USA and Great Britain.
The agreement to open its branch office in Russia was previously reached in July 2009 during a meeting between the Islamic Culture, Science and Education Foundation (Russia) and First Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs and Wakfs Kuwait Adel al-Falyah (Kuwait).
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent a message to greet the fifth session of the “Russia and the Islamic World” Strategic Vision Group held in Kuwait.
In the message he notes that “the Group has made a great contribution to development of trust and mutual understanding between Russia and Muslim states during three years of its work”. He also said: “Your activities help to resist radical and extremist initiatives. The Group is a platform for sharing experience in building tolerant relations between different cultures and religions.”
“The Russian Federation as Organization of the Islamic Conference observer state is firm in its intention to develop dialogue with the Islamic world,”–the message also reads.
City authorities do not exclude the possibility of building a mosque in Sennaya square in the center of Saint-Petersburg. Currently the City Planning Council is developing a reconstruction plan for the site. The plan should first, however, include reconstruction of the Assumption Church, destroyed in 1960’s.
“Today [Sennaya square] has become a specific area due to thousands of migrants from Caucasus and Asian republics living here. Want it or not, we can no longer neglect their national and religious peculiarities and demands, we have to face this process”,–says Serguey Sokolov, former chief architect of Saint-Petersburg.
According to the latest population census held in 2002 over 70,000 people of Muslim origin live in Saint-Petersburg. Experts, however, say the number may be much higher taking in consideration ever-growing migration flows.
Meanwhile only one mosque is available for Saint-Petersburg adherents of Islam, along with a couple of prayer rooms.
Representatives of Central Religious Board of Muslims, Council of Muftis of Russia and Coordination Center of Muslims in the Northern Caucasus, the three major Musilm organizations in Russia, met on December 5th to discuss the possibility of consolidation. The meeting was initiated by Talgat Tadjutdin, the head of Central Religious Board of Muslims. The result of the meeting was a decision to make a working group for developing the details of the consolidation project.
For the position of grand mufti of Russia Talgat Tadjutdin suggested shaykh Ravil Gainuddin, the chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia. Talgat Tadjutdin himself is supposed to take the central position of Shaykh al-Islam.
The necessity of such consolidation has been much talked about among Russian Muslim leaders in the recent decade. As a matter of fact, it was the principal issue discussed at All-Russian Muslim Conference held in 2005 in Nizhniy Novgorod by Religious Directorate of Muslims for the Nizhniy Novgorod region. However it wasn’t until now that the idea to create an organization to unite Muslims administratively is actually being worked out.
The initiative is widely supported by Russian Muslim leaders, however, some of them say the offered structure is disputable.
Muftis of Northern Caucasus welcome the consolidation process, but highlight the importance of Coordination Center of Muslims of Northern Caucasus. “Caucasus is a specific region and it requires specific approach‚” says Ismail Berdiyev, the chairman of Coordination Center of Muslims of Northern Caucasus and mufti of Stavropol Krai and Karachay-Cherkess Republic.
Mufti of Tatarstan, Gusman Ishakov, says it would be reasonable to form a High Council of Muftis of Russia out of the three organizations privileged with prior decision making.
Damir Mukhetdinov, the head of Council of Ulems of the Nizhniy Novgorod region, believes that all Russian citizens, not only Muslims, would benefit from consolidation of Russian Muslim community: “Today we see very well organized extremist groups creeping into our towns and to oppose them we need a well-structured administration with highly qualified and consolidated team.”
The meeting of the Conciliation committee is scheduled on the end of December.
Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the deputy chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations said that representatives of other religious ought to participate in organizing people’s guards in Russia. “I don’t see any obstacles to making people’s guards inter-religious, at least, where followers of other religions will be ready to participate in them. It would make the guards stronger,” said the Patriarchate. He added that Muslims are decisive and real warriors, who can fight against alcohol, drug, and tobacco abuse. Archpriest Chaplin added that people of all religious backgrounds could bring their own strengths to fighting such problems.
The Prosecutor’s Office in Moscow has warned magazine Russian Newsweek on the illegality and unacceptability of publishing stories instigating ethnic and religious hatred. “Issue 40 of September 29 – October 5, 2008 carried two stories entitled “He Who Comes with the Mosque” (a play on the phrase “He who comes to Russia with the sword will perish by the sword” and “Mosque Carriers,” in which Muslims and Christians are in opposition),” the prosecutor’s office said.
The articles in question contain captions satirizing the prophet Muhammad. Photos and inspiration were taken from the Danish newspaper ‘Jullands-Posten’ which caused worldwide protests and condemnation after publishing insulting material mocking the Prophet Muhammad.
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