Moscow’s Little-Noticed Islamic-Outreach Effort
Comprising nearly 15% of then population and a majority in several region, Russia is home to many Muslims. Conflicts in its Muslim areas like Chechnya have led it to lead many efforts to support moderate interpretations of the religion. Like the US, it has also made concerted efforts to fight the perception that it is fighting Islam or Muslims. These outreach efforts, which many in the country consider to be an extension of its wars in Chechnya and beyond, have greatly strengthened its influence in the Middle East where most focus on its activity is in military, political, or economic terms. Middle Eastern countries themselves have begun a concerted push to combat Islamism, and one of their allies is Russia’s key figure in these efforts, the Sufi Islam-adherent head of the Chechen Republic, who has held many meetings and conferences with countries throughout the Middle East. While openly negative about Salafism, the official interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia, this has not seemed to harm ties between the two countries efforts. In 2017, Saudi Arabia reportedly agreed to end funding for mosques and proselytization in Russia at negotiations where the head of the Chechen Republic was permitted to perform Sufi rituals considered deviant by Saudi’s. This suggests that political relationships between countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia are taking priority over stark religious disagreements.