Tolerance or respect for faith

Timur Utsayev, Grozny. Exclusively to Vestnik Kavkaza


Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has proclaimed the need to open a synagogue in Grozny. He made this statement during a trip to Chechnya by representatives of the NGO “Forum of Russia’s Traditional Religions”.

According to the pastor of the St. Petersburg Lutheran Church, Alexander Kudryavtsev, “The Forum of Traditional Religions enables constructive dialogue to address common pressing issues concerning inter-religious peace and interfaith cooperation. The Forum initiated religions that make up the majority in Russia. The organization is managed by the board, where all members have equal power in decision-making. It includes representatives of the Jewish community, the Russian Orthodox Church, Muslims and representatives of various Christian denominations. The membership also includes the imam of the Azerbaijani community of St. Petersburg, Haji Vugar Rzayev, who worked hard to organize this trip to Chechnya.”

The representative of the Council of Muftis of Russia in the Northwest Federal District, imam Munir Hazrat Beyusov, says, “If there are any problems in the Shiite or Jewish communities, we send a letter to one or another official on behalf of the Forum to help resolve the issue.” Speaking about the problems of ethnic discrimination in Russian cities, Munir Beyusov supports the Chechen students’ idea to give religious education to police officers. “Of course, with regard to the education of police, imams do not carry out such work at all . Only in the last few years has there begun the development of manuals for staff, with the basic tenets of different religions. But many migrants’ rights are violated, and it so happens that the authorities charge the police to detain a particular number of migrants.

On the other hand, in cities where terrorist actions have taken place in the subway and in homes, people are intimidated. The police should check, but if they check only one nationality, this is a big problem.

In many regions, Muslims are not allowed to open prayer rooms. In one region of the country, Muslims applied to register a local religious organization nine times, but they were refused. It turns into a vicious circle – on the one hand the authorities are afraid of extremism, and rightly so, but then we have to work with migrants, and they need to go to prayer rooms and mosques. A mosque is not just a place to perform namaz, imams can also be heard preaching there, explaining what is allowed by Islam and what is not. Officials need to understand that, by forbidding the registration of an organization and banning the construction of mosques, they create favorable conditions for extremism. If we do not allow people to go to the mosque and to prayer rooms, they will go to conspiratorial apartments, they will walk into some basements, and God knows what they will teach, and what will happen there.”

The chief Rabbi of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region, Rashi Rabaev, believes that if believers understand each other, it will be easier to overcome obstacles, “Wise men say, the one who wants peace and harmony overcomes all obstacles in the way, and the one who does not, finds a thousand pretexts. We came here and saw that the people are normal, Chechnya has changed. We have been in the national parliament and invited Chechen youth and the representatives of confessions to St. Petersburg to communicate. We would like to invite all national-cultural groups and confessions of St. Petersburg to come here on a return visit. When you begin to study Islam, you realize that this is a common traditional religion, which has the right to exist. Nearly a billion people practice Islam, so there is a need for this. And, thank God, the Constitution allows the practice of religion, and they are protected by the Constitution.”

The Forum of Traditional Religions is planning to implement the “New Jerusalem Project” in the Leningrad Region. Social activists are going to gather in one place the temples of various faiths, which could be attended by people of different faiths. “We discussed the project with Metropolitan Vladimir, with the Bishop of the Lutheran Church, with Baptists, Shiites and Sunnis. We agreed that it was necessary to create a “New Jerusalem.” Today the need is not tolerance, but respect for faith. This is the most important thing. We have the same fathers, the same prophets, we are citizens of Russia, we all speak in Russian, so we must respect each other, and if we respect each other, then we will understand more, and know more about ourselves,” the Rabbi says.

“I remember when, for the first time, Moscow bikers came to Grozny on their bikes. Impressed by movies, the Chechen youth expected to see some horned heavy metal fans, but they saw cultured people – engineers, university professors, who have a passion for riding motorcycles. Our youngsters told the guests that they imagined them differently, and they answered: “And how differently we imagined you!” In the XIX century, when the Caucasian War raged, at the time of Imam Shamil, there were Orthodox churches in Chechnya, and a Catholic church and a synagogue and a mosque. And in post-war Grozny, first an Orthodox church was built, and then the Central Mosque “Heart of Chechnya,” explains the historian and chairman of the Union of Journalists of Chechnya, Islam Khatuev.

The Deputy Minister for Youth Affairs of Chechnya, Sado Meserbiev, believes that “people of different faiths should learn more about each other and about the history of relations. Informal communication is needed which produces feelings of friendship; not only theological study is needed, in which comparison leads to opposition; emotional learning is also needed. When Chechens were deported, Mountain Jews lived in Grozny, and they flatly refused to move to the houses of those deported, refused to take anything from their property – this is clearly spelled out in history.”

The representatives of the Mufti of Chechnya say that “in Islam, a person’s belief is not considered perfect if a Muslim does not honour the other prophets and holy books of other religions.”