Russia's Tatars Turning to Islamic Roots

Friday August 26, 2005 8:16 AM
AP Photo MOSB111 
Associated Press Writer,1280,-5234947,00.html

KAZAN, Russia (AP) - The clothing store across from
the mosque features torn bluejeans, feather boas and
brightly colored button-down shirts. But for customers
who want the latest look, it also offers headscarves,
veils and ankle-length tunics. 

In Russia's Tatarstan region more and more young
people are switching from Western-style dress to
Muslim attire. More than just a fashion, the trend
reflects a surging interest in Islam among the youth
of this largely Muslim region on the Volga River, some
450 miles east of Moscow. 

``Young people are looking for something more,
something deeper than just discotheques, alcohol and
sex,'' said the shop's 22-year-old clerk Elizha, who
was dressed in a tightly wrapped blue headscarf and a
black jacket and skirt. 

She said many young Tatars - who trace their lineage
to the feared Mongol hordes that raced across Russia
in the 12th and 13th centuries - wear headscarves or
some sort of Muslim clothing. 

The growing demand for Muslim clothing has enabled
store owner Ildar Gubaydullin to open two shops in
Tatarstan's capital in the past two months. But on the
streets of Kazan, whose skyline is a mix of new
Russian architecture, Soviet-era apartment blocks,
Russian Orthodox church cupolas and mosque minarets,
the trend is not immediately apparent. 

Orthodox Christian Russians are the second largest
ethnic group in Tatarstan, and very few people on a
Thursday afternoon were dressed in anything resembling
Islamic clothing. 

Still, two teenagers in headscarves, long shirts and
ankle-length dresses strolling near one of Kazan's
numerous universities, say many young Tatars are
turning to Islam. Many still wear bluejeans - and
sometimes more unusual items like boas - but
headscarves are commonplace. 

``It's everywhere now in universities, in schools,''
said 18-year-old Dzhamila, who like Elizha did not
want to give her last name. Many Russians are
reluctant to divulge personal information to

Pavel Chikov, a 27-year-old rights activist, said the
interest in Islam is a new phenomenon - within the
past four years - that is reflected not only in
clothing, but also in demand for food prepared
according to Islamic dietary rules, called halal.
Salami is a ubiquitous form of meat throughout Russia,
but halal-style salami has appeared in Kazan markets
only in the past year. 

``It's a natural process. No one is forcing this on
us,'' Chikov said. 

Tatars tend to be moderate Muslims, and the region has
had little of the religious tensions or extremist
tendencies that has plagued other Muslim regions in

Raphael Khakimov, a political adviser to President
Mintimer Shaimiyev, noted that just a handful of
Tatars traveled to Chechnya to fight with Islamic
separatists during the first war there. That was an
anomaly for Tatarstan, he said, along with the arrest
of several alleged members of the extremist Islamic
group, Hizb-ut-Tahrir. 

There are no hard numbers how fast Tatars are turning
to Islam but the religion has clearly become more
visible in public life. The towering Qol Sharif mosque
was rededicated in June. Russian Islamic University -
the country's first - was opened five years ago. Three
years ago, three Muslim women demanded they be allowed
to wear headscarves for official identification
photographs, and Russia's Supreme Court allowed it. 

Khakimov said that since the Soviet collapse 14 years
ago, nearly three dozen Islamic religious schools -
called madrassahs - have been built in Tatarstan, and
many are tied to Russian Islamic University and its
mainstream pedagogy. 

Tatars practice a particularly liberal form of Islam -
``Euro Islam'' he calls it - which views the religion
as a personal, individual belief where men and women
are considered equal. Islam here also draws on its own
specific Tatar traditions that sets it apart from
stricter versions, such as Saudi Arabia's dominant
austere Wahabbism, Khakimov said. 

``For us, Saudi Arabia is very, very far away. What
can we take from them?'' he said. 

Ilgiz Shigoballin, a 22-year-old assistant imam at the
Nurallah mosque across the street from Gubaydullin's
store, said Friday services are now overflowing, with
most of the interest coming from college-age and
younger men and women. 

``Young people are sick of having empty lives,'' he


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