SHAFAQNA- Since the end of the Soviet Union, Islam has had an unstable and sometimes controversial role in the social construction of Muslim-majority regions in Russia. Islamic educational institutions could meet the demand for religious and religiously grounded education among young people and decrease the potential risks of youth who are involved in extremist and radical groups. However, improper and unsuccessful attempts to control this sphere by local authorities are effective on sociopolitical instability in Muslim-majority regions in Russia.
With regard to sociopolitical stability, education plays a significant role. It can help construct social engagement and institutionalize interactions between secular and religious social structures. As a result, religious institutions engage in constructive communication with secular institutions. High levels of unemployment and also large-scale social transformation, intensified migration, and the growing influence of globalization in Russia’s North Caucasian republics have to a large extent eroded young people’s sense of identity. The processes of post-Soviet political, economic, and social development created demand for Islamic education as well as the conditions for radicalization in Islamic institutions.
Islamic education system could be a solution to problem of youth radicalization
A potential solution to the problem of youth radicalization could be the Islamic education system which is currently being revived and institutionalized. However, it will be difficult to standardize the Islamic educational system, because institutions are at present independent from each other and excluded from the state and international educational systems.
Historically, there has been a high risk of the emergence and spread of terrorist activity in some regions of Russia, basically the North Caucasus republics. One of the consequences of terrorist threats in past years was the emergence of a powerful center of Islamic radicalism that attracted the most extremist Islamists from Russia and neighboring countries. Moreover, after Russia’s declaration of victory over the terrorists in Syria, the militants, with their accumulated experience, can disperse, and some have started doing underground activities in their homelands.
System of Islamic education in the Muslim-majority regions of Russia
The system of Islamic education in the Muslim-majority regions of Russia from the first centuries of the penetration of Islam into these territories included three parts: the Quranic school, Maktab, and Madrasah. This system in various regions of the Russian Empire was not dependent on the state and secular authorities in terms of financing and its existence was mainly due to voluntary donations from the parents of students and zakats, among others. Nonetheless, Islamic institutions were recognized by the imperial government, and the number of mosques, Madrasahs, and Maktabs increased rapidly from the second half of the 18th century to 1917 in the Turkic-speaking regions, including the middle and lower Volga regions, western Siberia, and the southern Urals.
From the second half of the 19th century to the early 20th century, the ideology of Jadidism (a current of Islamic modernism) became prevalent, new teaching methods were introduced, and the range of taught disciplines expanded to encompass secular sciences and the Russian language. Preparing the Muslim intelligentsia for their subsequent involvement in Russian society apart from the narrow religious circle, and also addressing the political and ideological problems faced by Muslims in the Russian Empire were the aims of the principles of Jadidism.
Secular disciplines had been taught in many Madrasahs since their foundation in Dagestan, and Madrasahs often became the center of religious teaching as well as secular disciplines.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Egypt gave support to the Muslim-majority regions of Russia. In the 1990s, the Middle East became a powerful ideological center in relation to the sharp intensification of the political and social role of Islam.
The issue of radicalization of ordinary Muslims and their involvement in terrorist activities is still significant in the North Caucasus as one of the regions of post-Soviet Russia. These trends became more intense in the mid-2010s in relation to the emergence of the Islamic State (IS).
Article 14 of the Russian Constitution separates state and religious institutions rigorously, leaving Islamic educational institutions outside the scope of state-funded education.
How does the governance of Islamic education in Russia influence outcomes, regarding identity and radicalization?
The present study deals with two sets of questions. First, how does the governance of Islamic education in Russia – and the relationship between Islamic institutions and Russia’s broader educational system – influence outcomes, regarding identity and radicalization? Second, why do people go to work and study in this area? What are their expectations? What are their life goals? Are they satisfied with what they receive?
Muslim-majority regions of Russia have become hostage to two contrasting trends. On the one hand, the failure to fulfil the requirements for religion on behalf of legal Islamic institutions could result in radicalization of religious communities, should the process of obtaining Islamic education go underground. On the other hand, meeting this demand fully is not possible because of the limited opportunities for further employment of the graduates. The research revealed that the largely spontaneous, unsystematized selection of literature for students in Islamic universities is an important disadvantage of the current system of Islamic education. In most cases, the so-called classical medieval sources for the study of Islamic law, theology, Islamic philosophy, and political thought are utilized as education materials.
The very limited teaching of history, which is restricted to the first few decades of the history of Islam was of particular concern. The subsequent history of Islam, which contains the standpoint of both religious and secular knowledge, and does not contradict the work of most major Islamic scholars, is more or less removed in most Islamic universities in Dagestan. This results in a kind of de-historicization of students’ consciousness, including in matters of the history of Islam, which provides wide opportunities for manipulation by representatives of extremist circles. The leaders of Islamic universities are fully aware of this problem. They are ready to expand the scope of Islamic studies, but a lack of qualified staff and funding to hire experts from somewhere else has left this educational vacuum.
Islamic universities of Russia
Islamic universities in Dagestan actively declare that they are fighting against possible manifestations of extremism. However, Dagestani universities focus less on producing highly qualified specialists, and more on doing social and educational work with “high-risk” young people.
In contrast to the universities of Dagestan, Islamic universities in Ingushetia have managed to move to a qualitatively different level of teaching. In the 1990s in Ingushetia, Islamic higher education was reduced to the study of the Arabic language and memorization of the Quran.
There is a distinct group of problems such as lack of religious personnel in Tatarstan, a republic with a smaller proportion of the Muslim population.
The accessibility of Islamic education in a certain region is related to the economic situation, general federal policies toward Islam and Muslim-majority regions, interaction between secular and religious actors, and Islamophobia and the general perception of Muslims. In some cases, the experience of Islamic universities in stabilizing the sociopolitical situation has been quite successful: irrespective of the virtual absence of regulatory bodies, the Islamic universities of Dagestan, despite state policy, have thwarted the radical movements in the region.
Students and graduates of Islamic universities believed that the sources of radicalization are corruption, lack of work, lack of sports infrastructure, and general social tension. In their opinion, underground Islamic educational institutions become especially dangerous under these circumstances. Simultaneously, the respondents noted that people who have received a “correct” Islamic education are not immune from joining underground militant groups. It is affected by difficulties of finding a job, corruption, and, to a large extent, the popularity and authority of radical movements. Islamic universities are coming to realize that a transition from quantitative to qualitative indicators of success is necessary.
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