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Church historian Sergey Bychkov: "Our state is suspicious of Islam"
17 November 2020, 19:54
Church historian Sergey Bychkov: "Our state is suspicious of Islam"
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The pandemic is a test that tests all denominations. The Church must be missionary, and it must, first of all, support the believers, and this is now not found in Orthodoxy or in Islam. Freedom is hard and unwanted for many. Faith will help a person.

Sergey Bychkov , Doctor of Historical Sciences, Russian Church historian, told Novy Izvestia about the place of faith and freedom in the life of Russians, about the crisis of faith and what kind of religious policy is required from the state.

- Why do we see that fundamentalism is spreading right now?

- Because a pandemic is like a visit from God. It is like a test in which all confessions are tested, including, of course, Islam. It is sad to observe that in this difficult situation, instead of supporting people, such hasty and ill-considered decisions are made that only cause bewilderment.

Sadly, the Council of Muftis has always had a broad outlook. The chairman of the Council of Muftis, Ravil Gainutdin, has always been a man of broad views. Therefore, the decision sounded very strange in the midst of a pandemic, when people need encouragement and support. Instead, they were given such a gift - think about whether you did the right thing if you got married or married a Gentile.

The Council of Muftis of Russia, headed by Ravil Gainutdinov, has always been very balanced, and there was no way to accuse him of fundamentalism. Let me remind you that basically, they represent the interests of the indigenous Tatar population of Moscow, about half a million people. But not only Moscow Tatars go to the Cathedral Mosque. Visiting Muslims also go there.

The position of both Gainutdin and the Council of Muftis, in contrast to Ufa and Talgat Tadzhuddin, has always been very balanced. If this decision had been made in Ufa by Tajuddin, I would not have been surprised. I think that sooner or later they will reconsider their decision, since it is unlikely that it will receive sympathy among Muslims who listen to the voice of the muftiate.

- More broadly, not about Russia, not about the Caucasus, Tatarstan or Bashkiria. Do you think that fundamentalism is gaining strength in the world?

- We need to talk about Europe, as it is flooded with refugees, who mainly profess Islam, mainly. These people are ignorant, they do not know the Koran. Of course, radicalism very easily awakens in them against the background of the fact that they feel themselves destitute, homeless. Looking at how Europe lives, they rise up what was called "class hatred" in the Soviet Union. Of course, there are radicals who are trying to fan the flame from this spark. But, on the other hand, if you take France and the Charlie Hebdo magazine, I must say that these people are completely headless, who act as provocateurs. What is there to be surprised at that this causes a wave of hatred.

- The Russian authorities declare that the state treats all religions professed by Russian citizens equally.

- The state treats Islam, I would say, with suspicion. The enmity between the two centers - Moscow and Ufa - is constantly being maintained and heated. On the other hand, I remember what the problems were when the Cathedral Mosque was restored and then built, what blood was given to the Moscow Muslims. It should be taken into account that there are only four mosques in Moscow, and there are only about half a million of Moscow Tatars, but how many millions are Tajiks, Uzbeks? We remember how it was impossible to pass on the Olympic Avenue in Kurban Bayram, because people did not fit in the mosque. The policy of the authorities, which are everywhere Orthodox churches, is incomprehensible, but as far as mosques are concerned, there is constant oppression and restrictions. This cannot but cause protest among Muslims. There should be a well-considered state policy.

- If we return to Russia, is there a danger that religious norms will supplant the Constitution, as it actually happens in some Muslim republics?

- As for Chechnya, it is a mono-national republic, and this is a special conversation. Indeed, the head of this republic, Kadyrov, is inclined to ensure that, first of all, Sharia law should operate on the territory of the republic. About seventy nationalities live in Dagestan, so you can't paint everyone with the same color. There are completely different religions, so the question of introducing a single Sharia law is not raised at all. The situation is different in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia. There, too, there is a gravitation towards the Chechen variant. The Chechen Republic is a beacon for them. There is no radicalism in Ingushetia, which is observed in Chechnya.

- How dangerous is it?

- I think that first of all we need madrasahs. We need enlightened muftis, imams who would educate Muslims. Apart from yelling "Allahu Akbar", most people know nothing else. Long work is needed among believers, although it is already commendable that Muslims rise to prayer five times a day at certain hours. Compared to Orthodoxy, which is in a grave crisis, the late priest Dmitry Smirnov has repeatedly said: take the example of Muslims, how they stand up for prayer. Wherever they are, wherever the hour of prayer finds them, they always perform namaz.

I think it is very important to create madrassas, especially in the Caucasian republics. There they are simply necessary.

- How does this compare with the principle of separation of the state from the church?

- The fact is that the Constitution says that the Russian Federation is a secular state, and the church is separated from the state. We see that in Moscow, for example, the “Two Hundred” program is being implemented - the construction of two hundred churches. It is funded by the government. We know that the largest church - the Cathedral of Christ the Savior - is on the balance sheet of the Moscow City Hall. All significant expenses for housing and communal services are paid from the Moscow budget. That is, one thing is declared, but in fact another.

It is necessary, at least, not to interfere with the Muslims if they want to build a mosque, so that they do not crush each other. If, even in this, the state policy is open to them, then this will largely relieve the tension that exists.

- Why is personal choice and personal freedom under fire from fundamentalists of all religions?

- Freedom is a heavy burden. We see how people who have just freed themselves from slavery are looking for confessors, elders, who would explain to them how to live. Indeed, to use freedom, you need an inner core, you need to have faith. It is not surprising that after the collapse of the totalitarian state - the Soviet Union, people gained freedom. We saw what this turned into - the shooting of the White House, banditry, racketeering, extortion. The first to use freedom were those people who bring evil. For others, this freedom turned out to be a heavy burden.

More often than not, freedom is not in demand, difficult and unwanted for many.

- What secular institutions can resist?

- I think that a special niche is occupied by religion, human conscience. No matter how a person is exiled, if he did something wrong, insulted someone, the conscience denounces the person. So is the church. It should deal, first of all, with the support of believers, should be missionary, something that is completely absent in Orthodoxy and Islam. Therefore, no secular institutions can replace Orthodoxy, Islam, or other religions.

- Will the trend of strengthening fundamentalism continue? Will the secular state stand?

- I think it is difficult to predict now, especially in Russia and during the pandemic. Only one thing is clear - we are going through a grave crisis, not only in the social, but also in the religious sphere. Moscow churches, which were full before the pandemic, are now empty. There are a lot of churches in Moscow - about one and a half thousand - all of them are empty. The question arises: how will the priests survive? If in the first wave of the pandemic the Moscow mayor allocated a certain financial support for each priest, now we are not talking about this. Yes, indeed, there is a budget deficit. Therefore, it is difficult to predict.

A pandemic is a test, a test, a visit from God. Who will pass this test, the exam, and who will not.