SHAFAQNA – My Salaam | by Tharik Hussain : There are a record-breaking seven Muslim-majority nations taking part in this year’s World Cup in Russia, meaning that millions of Muslim football fans have flooded the huge Eurasian country, turning it into one of the most ‘Muslim’ World Cups yet. But this isn’t the first time Russia has experienced a wave of Muslim arrivals. In fact, the country has an Islamic history stretching back almost 1400 years, as these great Muslim Russian facts reveal.
RUSSIAN ISLAM’S SEVENTH-CENTURY ORIGINS
The second-largest religion in Russia, Islam first arrived in the country around the middle of the 7th century, when Muslims turned up in the Caucasus region as part of their conquest of Persia. This was only a few decades after the Prophet Muhammad announced the faith to the world.
RUSSIA’S MUSLIM POPULATION
The first local conversions to Islam are believed to have started about a century after Muslims arrived in the territories of modern-day Russia, forming what would become Dagestan. Today, the Russian Muslim population numbers around 21 million. That’s the same number of Russian Muslims as there are people in Sweden, Denmark and Norway combined!
RUSSIA’S MUSLIM EMPIRES
At various points in its history, parts of modern Russia were ruled by different Muslim empires. Some of the most notable include the Golden Khanate, the Safavids, the Afsharids, the Qajars and the Ottomans, all of whom helped to increase Islam’s influence on the Russians and the nation’s cultural landscape.
RUSSIA’S MUSLIM CAPITAL
The most famous Russian Islamic capital in history was Sarai at the centre of the Golden Horde during its height between the 13th and 14th centuries. `Sarai was described by Muslim traveller Ibn Battuta as “one of the most beautiful cities” he had visited. It is located in modern-day Astrakhan Oblast and is yet to be fully excavated.
Most people regard Kazan as modern Russia’s ‘Muslim’ capital, as it is home to the iconic Qolsarif Mosque and the Russian Islamic University, and it hosts several major Russian Muslim cultural events, including the Muslim Film Festival and the annual Quran Readers’ Contest.
THE PROPHET’S RUSSIAN DESCENDANTS
There are several Muslim ethnicities in Russia, and one of them claims to include people who have descended directly from the Prophet Muhammad. Certain families amongst the Dagestanis trace their lineage back to the earliest Muslims who came to spread Islam in the 7th century, some of whom were of the family of the Prophet. Amongst these claimants is the leader of the Daghestani Muslims, Mufti Ahmed-Hajji Abdulayev.
REPRESSION AND RESURGENCE
Sadly, Muslims in Russia have experienced several periods of painful repression. The most notable one was between the 16th and 18th centuries, when many were forcibly exiled, and there was one more recently under communism. However, since the collapse of communism, there has been a resurgence of Islam across Russia, which has seen the number of mosques in the country increase from around 160 to nearly 7,000 between 1990 and 1997. These sit alongside nearly 5,000 Muslim organisations and a pan-Russian Muftiate that oversees them all.
RUSSIAN MUSLIM REPUBLICS
Russia is a federation, within which there are 22 Republics, and seven of these have Muslim majorities. The Republics of Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Dagestan and Chechnya are the largest four, with a combined population of around 10.5 million. These republics are given a lot of autonomy and have their own capitals and state languages, usually Turkic or Caucasian.
The country’s most historic mosque is the Juma Mosque in Derbant, Degastan, built in 734 under the Umayyads. The biggest is the Moscow Cathedral Mosque, with a capacity of 10,000, which is also in the running for Russia’s most beautiful mosque alongside Kazan’s Qolsarif Mosque, the ‘Taj Mahal’ Bulgar Mosque and the St Petersburg Mosque, which is modelled on Tamerlane’s exquisite tomb in Samarkand.
RUSSIA’S ‘MUSLIM’ FOOD
Thanks to its Islamic presence, as one would expect, Russian food has a strong Muslim influence. Dishes like the cheburek, a pastry stuffed with spiced mincemeat and onions (a relative of the samosa), and chak-chak, a fried wheat-pastry dessert soaked in honey, have been popularised by Muslim Tatars. Other less widely eaten but intriguing Muslim foods include sokhta(a Dagestani favourite), a concoction of chopped and boiled mutton liver mixed with dried apricots and onion stuffed into lamb intestines: essentially, a kind of halal sausage!
Read more from Shafaqna: