Islam in Russia: Full speed ahead

Street prayer in Moscow, 2014. Source:Twitter

Vladimir Putin has made religion a central part of his public image, using Orthodoxy as a way to bolster for his political agendas. But Orthodoxy is not the only religion that experienced a revival in the post–Cold War period; among other religions, Islam, once shunned by the Soviet state, has increasingly been embraced by the Russian state.

This was a major theme of an April 7 presentation at George Washington University’s Elliott School by Bulat Akhmetkarimov, a PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). At the event, titled “Islam and the Dynamics of Ethno-Confessional Regimes in Russia, 1990-2012,” Akhmetkarimov discussed the Russian state’s attitudes toward religion and how attitudes toward Islam have evolved in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

As the largest religious minority in Russia, Muslims make up roughly 11 percent of Russia’s total population. Based on statistics provided by Pew Research Center, this percentage is predicted to increase to roughly 13 percent by 2030 and nearly 17 percent percent by 2050, with about twenty million Muslims in Russia.

To highlight just how much has changed with respect to Islam in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Akhmetkarimov stated that the percentage of Muslim “believers” has increased dramatically over the last two decades or so.

He further asserted that there was a post-Communist Islamic revival in Russia around 1997, commenting that the number of mosques in Russia increased from 160 to 7,000 between the years 1990 and 1997. While these were mostly private initiatives, the increase in the number of these initiatives could have been indicative of a relaxing of attitudes in Russia towards Islam, and perhaps religion more generally…