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Moscow Mufti: IS 'Has Nothing To Do With Religion,' Warns Of Migrants' Vulnerability

Mufti Ildar Hazrat Alyautdinov says Russian migrants' "ignorance” of Islam could make them an easy target for groups seeking to recruit them as jihadi militants in Syria.

Mufti Ildar Hazrat Alyautdinov says Russian migrants' "ignorance” of Islam could make them an easy target for groups seeking to recruit them as jihadi militants in Syria.

The mufti of Moscow and the chief imam of Moscow’s Cathedral Mosque has dubbed the Islamic State (IS) militant group a “political organization that has nothing to do with religion.”

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, Radio Azattyk, Mufti Ildar Hazrat Alyautdinov said that IS was “all politics and geopolitics, which have some sort of Islamic coloring. The actions of a man who fights tell you that he has nothing to do with Islam. You see, its politics, which have tacked on or attributed religion to their aims. Religion has nothing to do with it.”

In the wake of the rise of IS in Syria and Iraq, and amid reports that Russian-speaking Muslims from the Caucasus and former Soviet republics are fighting in Syria, including with IS, there have been fears that IS extremist ideologies could take root among Russia’s Muslim population, including among labor migrants in Moscow.

The Russian capital is home to around 2 million Muslims, more than any other city in Europe. The city also hosts a large population of Muslim migrant workers from the Caucasus region and from former Soviet republics like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

However, Alyautdinov said that he “did not feel, see, or notice” that religious extremism was developing among Moscow’s Muslim immigrant population.

However, the mufti warned of groups preying on impoverished and unprotected migrants in order to recruit them to go to Syria and Iraq.

“There are groups who are persistently recruiting and ferrying people to Syria and Iraq. This could increase, because there is fertile ground for it. Migrants are in many ways not protected. They have a whole host of problems related to work and money. They’re being recruited through the provision of housing, cash, and basic services, and afterwards people find themselves in Syria or Iraq."

The mufti also warned that the migrant population’s “ignorance” of Islam could make them an easy target for recruitment as jihadi militants in Syria.

“The second reason is the deep ignorance of Muslims, both migrants and locals. This is about all of them -- Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, and Tajiks," Alyautdinov told RFE/RL. "Unfortunately, I see that the governments, especially in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, do not let people delve deeper into the faith and get to know their religion. This creates a gap that gets filled by someone else.”

The Moscow mufti said while self-defense was permitted in the Koran, there was no reason for Muslims to go and fight in Syria or Iraq because this is not mandated by Islam. Alyautdinov criticized the Islamic State group for brainwashing Muslims to fight and kill, saying this was “geopolitics."

“When you have to defend yourself, of course you may defend yourself. This is your duty," Alyautdinov says. "But for everything else, there is no such thing. It’s geopolitics. The organizations you talk about are puppets who are manipulated from above. The so-called cannon fodder goes to fight but completely different people are in control. This is the question. If you want to fight and be someone’s running dog, to have someone pulling your string, go for it! But what will be the outcome? Heaven or hell?”

Alyautdinov’s comments come after a flood of reports in the Russian press about the threat posed by the Islamic State group to Russia, which have included concerns that extremists are infiltrating Russia from Central Asian republics.

One recent report cited an unnamed officer of the FSB’s Border Service as saying that Russian security services had been discussing the development of measures against IS factions operating inside Russia, including the monitoring of militants coming to Russia from Syria via Central Asia, particularly Tajikistan.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena