08/18/2010, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Chechnya: door-to-door sermons for restaurant owners who do not close for Ramadan

by Nina Achmatova
Muslim religious authorities set up a special commission to visit cafés and eateries to lecture on the importance of respecting Islamic principles, and close down during the day on Ramadan. Experts and observers discuss the initiative; some groups with special needs are not required to fast.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Cafés and eateries that are staying open during the day in Chechnya are poised for a visit by a special commission set up to raise awareness about Ramadan. According to Muslim authorities, door-to-door sermons will remind people of the need to adhere strictly to the precepts of fasting and abstinence, this according to Chechen Mufti Sultan Mirzayev, who is concerned that some people in the predominantly Muslim autonomous republic do not observe one of the fundamental principles of Islam.

The cleric did acknowledge though that owners of dining places usually apologise to the members of the visiting special awareness commission for being open, thanking them for their trouble. Some have even shut down their establishments in the daytime.

Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar and is marked by dawn to dusk fasting. Compelling restaurants and other such places to close has led to a public debate across Russia.

According to the deputy chairman of Russia’s Mufti Council (Muftiyat), Imam Ildar Aljautdinov, what is happening in Chechnya cannot be applied to other Russian regions with a Muslim population.

In his opinion, each region is unique, and local religious leaders must accordingly decide what is best in regards to their community. For example, in Tatarstan or in the northern Caucasus, it would be unfair to propose such an initiative since most people are not religiously observant, the imam said.

Closing down all eateries during the day would also not take into consideration that some groups are exempt, namely pregnant and breast-feeding women, children and the sick.

“Even in countries like Saudi Arabia, some restaurants are open for non-Muslim,” Igor Bucharov, president of the Restaurant Owners Federation, told Echo of Moscow radio.

In Chechnya, the local population is also not very happy. “Observance of all religious prescriptions is certainly a duty of every Muslim,” Saikhan T., a local resident, is quoted as saying in Caucasian Knot (Кавказский Узел), a local website.

“I think however every person should have the right to choose. Based on his actions, God will judge him. The authorities instead should not act as the defenders of religion,” he added.

More broadly, door-to-door sermons are part of a strategy pursued by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov (pictured) to impose his version of “Chechnya’s traditional Islam”.

This includes firing imams who are not loyal to his regime as well as sending black-clad men from the president’s Centre for Moral and Spiritual Education into the streets to remind people of the evil of alcohol, spread the word about the right Islam, and verbally and physically attack women who do not cover their heads.

Recently, Kadyrov has proposed changes to the title of the chief executives of Russia’s federated entities (republics, krais and oblasts), with that of ‘Father of the Nation’ or even better, ‘Imam’, for himself. The title of President would instead be reserved for the head of the Russian Federation.

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