Moscow (AsiaNews) - An appeal for "dialogue and prayer" as a way out of the crisis in Syria , condemning any foreign military intervention in the conflict as " inadmissible" as well as attacks against Christians in the Middle East; rejecting the idea of a " fundamentalist Islam " as inherently contradictory; pointing to the international presses' responsibility in demonizing Muslims around the world and support for the use of social networks by religious leaders to divert young people from extremism . Thirty-two years old and of Tatar origin , Rushan Abbyasov is the vice president of the Council of muftis of Russia. He is Ravil Gainutdin's right hand man, the chief mufti, who since 1996 has been at the head of one of the largest organizations of the Muslim community in the Federation ( over 20 million members ) . In a conversation with AsiaNews - in his office , near the construction site of the Prospekt Mira Great Mosque in Moscow - Abbyasov also speaks of the problems Muslims face in Russia, relations with the Kremlin and other religions and his hopes for a visit of Pope Francis to Moscow.
Azraht Abbyasov , what is the Council of
muftis position regarding the Syrian crisis ? What worries you most?
The Muslims of Russia , like those around the world, are part of the Umma . Thus, according to our religion , if someone is wounded, the whole community shares in this pain. We are very concerned about this war between Syrians , including Muslims, who kill each other and Christians . Any type of bloodshed can only worry us . Our spiritual leader , the mufti Gainutdin , recently publicly supported the intervention of President Vladimir Putin in the New York Times, against any kind of attack on Syria .
Are you also opposed to armed intervention ?
We also believe that the external interference in a sovereign country is inadmissable. This scenario is what concerns us the most. We have seen what has happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya ... it would be the same in Syria. Of course, the international community needs to help solve the crisis, but only through political dialogue .
How can religious leaders help ?
Our only weapon is the word. And only through talking, through dialogue - as the Pope, the Patriarch of Moscow and other Muslim spiritual leaders all said - can we find the path to peace. Our religion tells us that all conflicts must be resolved through dialogue and not war. We call on the Syrian government and all the parties in conflict to find a peaceful solution. We hope that our prayers are heard by both the Syrian government and opponents .
In addition to prayers , you also have programs of humanitarian aid for the population?
Recently, through the Syrian ambassador in Moscow, we received a letter from the Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Hassoun Badreddin , calling for spiritual support. We promised to pray that the land of Syria find peace . After this letter, we started to think about what kinds of aid programs we can implement and to study concrete plans to provide help.
What do you think of the role that your country is playing in the Syrian crisis ?
I am proud of the fact that Moscow has managed to stop an attack against Syria, opening up the possibility of a political solution to the problem. There is the word fitna in the Koran, which means discord, and it is a greater sin than killing . The Koran says those who manage to reconcile two conflicting parties are greatly appreciated. And Russia is playing its part. A year ago we received a delegation from Syria of politicians, religious leaders and the opposition. We heard only one thing from all of them: we want peace. My impression is that there is a third force involved which aims to spread the fighting and bloodshed.
As a Muslim , are you concerned about the future of Christians in those lands ?
The Christians have a very long history in the Middle East and we must preserve it and defend it. And this is the task of the rulers, who have the responsibility to ensure, in the Constitution and in reality, the freedom and rights of minorities.
Unfortunately, this is not often the case: although formally there is freedom of worship, in reality this fails to prevent the persecution of Christians. For example in Egypt or Iraq.
You should not look for an ideological reason in the attitude of governments towards Christians . The Koran teaches us not to kill or humiliate those who are different from us. The information can now be manipulated, but Islam looks upon members of other faiths with respect. Such as the Christians and the Jews, who also have their prophets , such as Abraham and Jesus.
But those who kill Christians, often do so
in the name of their faith .
Violence against Christians does not depend on Islam. If a person follows the Koran heart and soul , they can not be violent. Today the whole world is frightened by this fanaticism , which has nothing to do with Islam. One of the meanings of ' Islam ' is ' Peace ' . It is therefore a contradiction to speak of ' Islamic terrorism ' ? Because it means ' terrorism of peace ' .
So Islam has no responsibility for these violent tendencies?
The problem is the media. As the Council of Muftis , we have prepared a text, where we explain to reporters how to correctly use the terminology regarding Islam. Using the term ' radical Islam ' is totally wrong, as I have explained.
Let me get this straight , the spread of fundamentalism depends on TV and newspapers ?
If television and newspapers always and only report what Osama bin -Laden and al- Qaeda says and doe, then they are helping to spread their ideas. Why not come and speak to scholars and spiritual leaders who study the Koran day and night to know how Islam teaches us to really behave ?
What do you think of the new Pope ?
My first impression is that of a humble person , who wants to be closer to the people . This is something we need today, because it is obvious that people want to be closer to spirituality. It is not just to leave churches or mosques open, but to be open to a direct dialogue with the people, with our faithful. I hope that this Pope plays a big role in interreligious dialogue. There are reports of collaboration between Muslims and Catholics in Moscow and in Russia. We intend to develop them further , because only through dialogue can we preserve peace.
Are you going to meet Pope Bergoglio ?
Maybe when he comes to Russia , or if we go to Italy.
You have hopes, therefore, of a Papal visit to Moscow?
Any meeting, communication or collaboration between religious leaders is helpful. Even more so when media report on what we say : it is good for the people to see peace and dialogue . Everyone has their own faith and belief , but between us there is a commonality of spiritual and moral values which are the same in the Bible and in the Koran. Often people do not know this and you have to explain it . We are ready to meet everyone who comes in peace to Moscow. Certainly the possibility of the Pope's visit to Russia is related to problems between Christians and between Orthodox and we shall not interfere in this, but certainly if he came to Russia we would be ready to receive him and talk to him .
What is the biggest problem facing Muslims in Russia today ?
I want to clarify that Muslims in Russia are part of the local population and not just immigrants. Of course the biggest problem is the fact that our values are distorted by the media . Our community has become the victim of a media attack . There is not a day goes by when the media does not speak of Islamic terrorism , and we do not have time to correct everything that is said .
Do you thing that the strong opposition to the construction of new mosques in Moscow depends on this? You have been asking for this for a long time. But Muscovites do not want to see other minarets in the city...
Yes , this is a problem too. The Russians go on vacation mainly to Muslim countries , Egypt and Turkey , but then they fear us because the TV speaks of terrorism all day, of the fact that there is extremist material in mosques . People ask , then , why should they have a mosque near their home, near the park where their children play.
How can you fight the phenomenon of the underground and often fundamentalist community?
It is a problem that concerns the security agencies and special forces , you should ask them.
But there is a problem related to young people, attracted by radicalism . What do you do to combat it ?
For example, we try to use different means : not only the traditional Koranic schools , but also the Internet and social networks. I have a Twitter account , Facebook and a blog there and try to speak against fundamentalism and promote the true Islam .
Fundamentalism is not only in the Caucasus , but recently has also appeared in Tatarstan . Does this only regard the security forces as well?
It is difficult to understand fundamentalism in that context, because it is a stable and developed region. The problem exists, but for the most part is fabricated . Today there are forces that want to divide the Muslim and the Russian community, prevent its prosperous development . We have to fight these forces.
Can you tell me what these forces are?
They are forces trying to destabilize the situation , but who they are and who is behind them is a question for the police , we are not investigators.
In some Russian regions girls are banned from wearing the Islamic veil in school. What do you think ?
Here the veil is not only a Muslim custom, but also part of the traditional national costumes . And there had been no problem. Today some are trying to create the idea of there being a problem in the Muslim community . There is no federal law banning the veil, and here, unlike that in Europe , you can be photographed with the veil even in official documents . In addition, the veil is also the way in which - in keeping with other religions - we try to fight the immorality and preserve moral values .
Recently a law was passed against attacks on religious sentiment. Do you think it necessary?
We were in favour because we experienced this problem first hand, with swastikas continuously being sprayed on our mosque.
Did you also agree with the
introduction of religion classes in school?
I think the most important thing , in school, is to study the fundamentals of the religions of the world and not individual religions . We live together and often do not know each other our idea of the other is the one created by the media. When children understand the basics of other religions and their traditions, the child understands that there are common roots among us.