A Muslim president of Russia?

a mosque in MoscowFor all of its differences with the West, Russia sees itself as a European country. However, the dismaying decline in the Russian birthrate and the life expectancy of Russian males means that the country will become more and more Muslim in the years to come. A detailed survey of the challenges faced by Russia produced by the Finnish Ministry of Defence says that the growing presence of Muslims in Russian society will affect both domestic and foreign policy. 

Umar Idrisov, head of the Muslim Religious Directorate in the Nizhniy Novgorod region, was asked whether a future President of the Russian Federation could be Muslim. He replied, “I may not live long enough to witness the wonderful miracle but I hope that, sooner or later, it will happen. Russia emerged from two civilizations - the Turkish and the Slavic, Islamic and Christian. The first state religion in the area of Russia was Islam, so why couldn’t Russia have a Muslim president?”

There is growing hostility towards Muslims as people begin to realise how Russian society is changing. 

Here are some statistics gleaned from the report.
  • There are 20 million Muslims out of a total population of 142 million. Figures from 2002 show that about 60% of Russians are Russian Orthodox, and 10-15% are Muslim. Between 5 and 30% declare that they are atheists.

  • In 1991 there were about 300 mosques in Russia; now there are nearly 8,000. Half of the new mosques have been built with foreign donations, mainly from Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

  • In 1991 there were no Islamic schools in the Russian Federation. Now there are approximately 60 madrassas, with 50,000 students.

  • Overall, Russia’s population is falling by 400,000 a year, yet the population in 15 Russian regions with sizeable Muslim populations increased in 2005.

  • The life expectancy among Muslim males is far greater than that of ethnic Russians.

  • The majority of Russian military recruits could be Muslims in 2015.

  • If current demographic trends continue, by 2020, 20 percent of Russians will be Muslims. By 2040, a majority of Russians will be Muslims. 
This is hardly news, although the consequences of a declining ethnic Russian population have only hit the newspapers recently. A couple of years ago,  Paul Goble, an expert on Islam in Russia and a research associate at the University of Tartu in Estonia, predicted major changes.
"Russia is going through a religious transformation that will be of even
greater consequence for the international community than the collapse of the
Soviet Union."


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