chapter  7
19 Pages

Tatarstan: Islam entwined with nationalism

The Republic of Tatarstan represents an area of great scientifi c and practical interest as an illustration of how Islam is becoming ever more signifi cant in Russia’s social and political life. Historically, Islam made a major contribution to the forming of public identity and the principles of peaceful coexistence between different confessions and nationalities in the Volga-Urals region. Tatarstan, with 2.04 million ethnic Muslims (54 per cent of its total population), is now not just one of Russia’s main Muslim centres, but in the context of the formation of contemporary Russian statehood and national identity, its historical experience and present religious situation are often presented as an emulable embodiment of multi-ethnic and multi-confessional harmony. 1

The following chapter illustrates the extraordinary revival of Islam in Tatarstan since Gorbachev’s perestroika of the 1980s, concentrating above all on relations between the republican authorities, the national movement and spiritual leaders. First, it outlines the historic revival of Islam and its links with Tatar nationalists, before examining state interaction with the new strata of clerics (within the muftiat in particular). Finally, it examines more ‘unoffi cial’ forms of Islam and their potential challenges to the offi cially encouraged image of peaceful religious coexistence. The revival of Islam in Tatarstan must be seen primarily as an integral part of the general process of discovering new ideological alternatives. As Galina Yemelianova notes, the historical experience of coexisting with dominant ethnic Russian and Orthodox ‘norms’ has meant that for Tatars, the terms Islam and Tatar are practically synonymous, with the former being a primary element of Tatar-ness. 2 Indicatively, Islam in Tatarstan has been used mainly instrumentally, by the Tatar national movement in order to reinforce a distinct Tatar identity and buttress demands for greater autonomy or independence, or by the republican authorities to increase bargaining power with the federal centre and to ensure local political stability.