TALLINN, Estonia, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- The Russian government is preparing a major move to control Muslim training schools.
At the direction of President Vladimiir Putin, the Russian government's Commission on Religious Organizations has prepared a new draft law that will allow Russian authorities a powerful voice over the curriculum, faculties and even continued existence of these institutions, "Kommersant" reported Wednesday.
Some students in these institutions have long sought such a change in status because it would allow them to get draft deferments and make their diplomas legally equal to those of state institutions. But religious leaders, Christian and Muslim alike, believe that the state is likely to use such a law to shut down Islamic institutions.
The draft law, according to the Moscow paper, already has the backing of the Education and Justice Ministries. It reportedly is to be reviewed at an upcoming meeting of the Presidential Council on Religious Affairs, and if it is approved then Putin will present it to the Duma "personally," virtually guaranteeing its adoption.
At the present time, there are 162 religious higher education institutions in the Russian Federation. Of them, 49 are Orthodox Christian, 75 are Islamic, four are Catholic, and two are Buddhist. While some of their leaders hope the proposed law would allow them to gain state financing, many of them are concerned that it will limit their religious freedom.
Father Andrei Kurayev, an outspoken and often controversial Orthodox priest who teaches at the Moscow Spiritual Academy, told the paper that there was no "enthusiasm" for the proposed legislation among his colleagues because they "do not want to lose their independence." But more than independence may be at stake.
In the course of 2005, Kommersant reported, the Ministry of Education and Science examined many higher educational institutions in the regions and closed more than 20 of them for failing to conform to government standards. The same could be ahead for many of the religious institutions, particularly the Islamic ones.
Nafigulla Ashirov, the co-chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, told the paper that he is certain that Moscow would use such a law to close down many Muslim educational centers. "Even now," he said, "many courses organized by communities, individuals or even the Muslim Spiritual Directorates, are being subjected to pressure and discrimination."
In the past year, he continued, "a madrassa in the Tatar city of Buinsk was persecuted by such checks, and the madrassa in Buruguslan (in Orenburg oblast) was closed on the basis of invented charges." Ashirov did not mention it, but the Islamic University in Kazan was almost closed this fall and now operates with only a one year extension in its license.
"We are constantly in the sights of the law enforcement organs," Ashirov said. "We are subject to endless checks and inquiries. So that the new draft law will only encourage local bureaucrats in the framework of their struggle with Wahhabism to destroy Islamic education in the country."
Even the Orthodox Priest Andrei Kurayev agreed, although unlike Ashirov, he does not appear unhappy about that prospect. "The new law will be directed above all at Muslim centers," Kurayev said, because "in the entire world, madrassas are thought to be places for the recruitment of fanatics."
(Paul Goble teaches at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)
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