Mykhailo Yakubovych: Ukrainian Islam In Three Realities

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Mykhailo Yakubovych, research officer at  National University of Ostroh Academy and the man who translated the Holy Qur’an to ukrainian, participated in press-conference “Transformational Processes In Ukrainian Muslim Community”, held at “UkrInform” Agency on February of 2015. He shares his thoughts about modern Islam in Ukraine, and those we offer to our readers.

I would like to describe the situation in Ukrainian Muslim communities in terms of continuous political confrontation in our country. It bears noting that as we divide Ukraine’s contemporary history in two periods, namely 1991 - 201302914, and 2014 and further, it’s obvious that the same division is good for the history of Islam in Ukraine. You may ask - why so? It may sound strange to someone, but Ukrainian Muslim communities are exactly the social groups most influenced by what is going on in Crimea and Donbass. In 2013, vast majority of Ukrainian Muslims lived in the South and the East of the country, mostly in Crimea.

After the latest events in Crimea and Donbass, we can speak about Ukrainian Islam in three realities. First reality is particularly Ukrainian, the second is Russian political and legal realities in Crimea, and Donbass is the third one, where Muslims are in an indefinite state, as some settlements are occupied by the pro-Russian troops and others controlled by Ukrainian army. Almost every second Muslim left the occupied Donbass and moved to other regions of Ukraine for the reasons of safety; almost 20,000 Crimean Tatars resettled to the continent.

I’ll start my review with analysis of Crimean situation. There was a strong religious administration on the peninsula, and it became the focus of interest after the annexation. Smaller structures either ceased to exist or transformed to some other state. Take for instance representatives of so-called Salafi communities: such organisations as Hizb-ut-Tahrir left the peninsula, as Russian policy lies in harassing the most active elements of the Muslim communities. People were being arrested and gone missing already. Amid this, new mosques are being open and some Islamic activities are held. But at the same time the most active members of the communities who either stood against Russian occupation or fall short of accepted Russian standards for the followers of Islam were forced to leave the peninsula. Religious Administration of Muslims of Crimea found itself amid a power struggle between different Russian Muslim religious Centres. The point is that there are about 90 Muftiates in Russia, and the largest of them (first of all, Central Religious Administration of Muslims of Russian Federation and the Council of Muftis of Russia) tried to persuade the RAMC to either allot or at least ally the RAMS. Delegations from Russia’s major political Muslim players visited Crimea one by one, and Muslims form Caucasus seemed to be the most successful. RAMC, however, preferred to stay neutral and refused to allot some larger structure.

Those processes look like dialogue now, however, RAMC would face the need to come down on the right side of the fence sooner or later, at it wood need some “protection” to speak to Russian authorities on their behalf and try to defend the rights of Crimean Muslims, as State attitude towards Muslims is completely different in Russia, and Crimea gets more and more integrated in that reality every day.

Things went slightly different in Donbass, where all pro-Ukrainian Muslim organisations unfortunately lose their influence and even can’t maintain constant communication in person. There were attempts of creating some “alternative Muftiates” and “Alternative Religious Administrations”. For instance, there was a little-known community “Edinenie” (Rus. “Unity”), whose head is being often referred by the press as “Mufti of DPR” (“Donetsk people’s Republic”). It’s an ongoing process, but certain part of Donbass Muslims didn’t stand against separatism, and some mosques even agitated for separate territories, and some Muslims, though very few, had sympathies for such ideas. It’s hard to say how disappointed those people may be now, but it’s obvious that Islamic factor will have further developments, and there will be an attempt to create some central Muslim Administration in some or other way.

The situation in Ukraine is changing as well, most of all for the reason of migration. This, first of all, includes migrants from Crimea to Central and Western regions of the country. In Lviv, Ternopil, Vinnytsya regions, for instance, social processes caused by increased number of Muslims activate, and there are ideas of creating new Religious Centres of autonomous communities. We’ll have the situation when there’ll be several such centres in one city, or several centres dominated by different religious administrations. This is caused by disagreement when interpreting some theological rulings and lack of common vision of even the matters of doctrine, not to mention the patterns of cooperating with the State.

This is quite a challenge for the local authorities who never faced Muslims. As the report of Ukrainian Centre for Islamic Studies reads, the lowest Islam awareness level is in the Central and Western regions, as they are mostly polyethnic and polyreligious, especially in rural areas. I can recommend that the Ukrainian authorities maintain dialogue with Ukrainian Muslim communities, because sometimes there rise the questions of opening new mosques, and there can be some misunderstanding, as, for instance, in Khmel’nytskyi or Bila Tserkva where they refused to allocate the land for the mosque projects. And those steps have to be taken right now while positive attitude towards Muslims, mostly those from Crimea, dominates, so there’s certain perspective.

Changes within the Muslim communities led to re-opening of Ukrainian islam’s formative period. It bears reminding that there were officially no Muslims in Ukraine up to 1989, so evolution of Ukrainian Islam indissolubly related to the evolution of ukraine. A formative period began in 1990-ies and came to it’s completion in early 2000-ies. Also we must expect division between Muslims for their political preferences.

Religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine formally declares its devotion to Ukraine, but it shows no actual support so that position is rather formal and declarative, but though it’s a position.

Religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine “Umma” took a way more active part in Euromaidan. Autonomous communities, even those who moved from Crimea (Hizb-ut-Tahrir, for instance) are negative towards the latest events in Ukraine, which is linked to their ideology that the only state a Muslim should care for is Islamic Caliphate and all revolutions, regardless of the circumstances, are evil. At the same time, the left Crimea for the Western Ukraine in search of religious freedoms as Hizb-ut-Tahrir is forbidden in Russia.

And summarizing it all, I want to say that there’s a long-felt need to create a United and powerful Centre For Islamic Studies, that would at least preserve the heritage created between 1991 and 2014. This is necessary in order to show how positive can cooperation between Ukrainian Muslim communities, Ukrainian Society and Ukrainian State be, as Muslims are indeed the indigenous part of ukrainian society and have been such for a long time. And if this isn’t done within the nearest year, we'll start losing Crimean Muslims who can get totally integrated in one of the Russia’s Religious Administrations; same goes for Donbass.

I want to believe that this will be done, and that the main role is that process will be played by the Muslims communities themselves.

Recorded by Mr.Ihor Yanvarev

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