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Tatarstan's Muslims Elect New Mufti

Ildus Faiz has been elected as the new religious leader of Tatarstan's Muslims.

Ildus Faiz has been elected as the new religious leader of Tatarstan's Muslims.

KAZAN, Russia -- Tatarstan's Congress of Muslims has elected Ildus Faiz as the republic's new religious leader or "mufti" for the next four years, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reports.

Some 556 delegates representing all Muslim communities in Tatarstan participated in an electoral congress on April 13. Faiz -- who was the government's hand-picked candidate -- received 501 votes.

The voting was held openly, a factor that analysts said increased Faiz's chances of winning as many delegates did not want to be seen voting against the government's candidate.

Faiz replaces Gusman Iskhakov, who announced his resignation on January 13. No official reason was given. Iskhakov had been Tatarstan's top Islamic official since 1998.

Faiz, 48, was acting head of Tatarstan's Religious Board of Muslims (muftiat) after Iskhakov resigned.

Faiz is a former actor who received a religious education while working in the theater. He studied Arabic and the Koran in Qatar and Jordan but did not complete an official Islamic education.

Faiz began working as Tatarstan's first deputy mufti last year.

Some Muslim activists accuse Faiz of close cooperation with local and federal authorities who are trying to keep tight control over Islamic organizations in Tatarstan.

They also claim the election campaign for mufti was marked by Faiz's attempts to manipulate and intimidate local imams into voting for him.

At least one Islamic community in Kazan announced it has seceded from Tatarstan's muftiat and rejects Faiz's authority.

The congress was attended by Tatar President Rustam Minnikhanov.

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