Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's decision to award Mufti Ravil Gainutdin with the country's highest honor, the Order of Merit for the Fatherland, has caused something of a dilemma in Russia's Muslim community.
The honor of receiving the order is not the problem. It is the shape of the award, which is a large Christian cross that would be out of place and likely even be offensive to many Muslims if Medvedev were to pin it on Gainutdin's chest -- as is the custom -- when he presents it to him at a Kremlin ceremony whose date has not been announced.
Gainutdin, 50, is the head of Russia's Council of Muftis and is known for his firm positions defending the religious rights of Russia's Muslims.
He has been a vocal critic of a Russian court's recent ruling putting restrictions on Muslim literature, which he says is an abuse of the fight against Islamic extremism.
But by awarding him the order, the Kremlin has potentially put the mufti -- who is an ethnic Tatar -- in a potentially embarrassing situation.
The Order of Merit for the Fatherland was instituted in 1994 and has four grades. It is awarded for outstanding contributions to the state, professional achievements, and significant contributions to the defense of the Russian Federation.
-- Tatar-Bashkir Service