By Paul Goble
Violence, both from militants and official force structures, is keeping Muslims away from mosques in Nalchik, the capital of the North Caucasian Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, a development that is likely to lead not to a break with Islam as some might expect but rather to the radicalization of at least some of those now praying independently.
That is likely because those who pray at home are more likely to fall under the influence of mullahs who have not been vetted by the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) and the regime and thus fall under the influence of radicals. Indeed, in this connection, it is worth recalling that in Soviet times, Islamic radicals were sometimes referred to as “the non-mosque trend.”
And it is not implausible that some Islamist radicals now are seeking precisely that outcome, although as the results of a poll conducted by a group of journalists suggest, they are intentionally or not being aided and abetted by Russian force structures that often do not make a distinction between “Muslim” and “Wahhabi.”
As part of its continuing survey of religious attitudes in the North Caucasus, the Caucasus Times portal has published the result of a survey of 200 people over the age of 16 in Nalchik and three other districts in that republic who were prepared to talk with the portal’s journalists about these questions (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=20224).
By its very nature, this poll is far from a scientific one: Those who conducted it could gain answers only from those prepared to respond, and they lacked the opportunities to select a representative sample. But despite those limitations, this Caucasus Times poll is broadly suggestive of attitudes in Kabardino-Balkaria.
The portal’s journalists first asked about the religious attachments of their interlocutors. Sixty-eight percent identified with Islam, 24 percent with Christianity, two percent with Buddhism and one percent with Judaism. In addition, two percent said they were “close to the Jehovah’s Witnesses” and another two percent indicated that they were atheists.
When asked “what role religion plays” in their lives, 42 percent responded that their faith played “a large one,” and another 35 percent said that it played “more a large than a small one.” Slightly over a third – 36 percent – said they prayed each day, with another nine percent saying they did so at least each week.
In writing up the results, Caucasus Times noted that “the results of the poll show that none of the respondents visited a mosque or church every day,” a pattern that some of the Muslims said reflected “the growing insecurity of public prayers in the mosque” because “in their words, the republic force structures are inclined to confuse ‘Islam’ with ‘Wahhabism.’”
Asked about how satisfied they were with how the rights of Muslims were observed by the powers that be in Kabardino-Balkaria, “almost half of the residents of Nalchik indicated that they were satisfied on the whole.” But just over a third – 36 percent – said that Muslim rights were either not observed most or the time or not at all.
Caucasus Times noted that the attitudes of the residents of Kabardino-Balkaria toward Wahhabism and other religions is “significantly more positive” than the attitudes of residents of Chechnya and Ingushetia, republics where the news agency earlier conducted similar polls, and a reflection of Kabardino-Balkaria’s greater diversity.
Twenty percent of the sample had a positive attitude toward Wahhabism with another 19 percent having a largely positive one, the survey found, while 39 percent of those questioned had a negative attitude, and 22 percent had a largely negative one, a remarkable picture given government hostility toward that trend in Islam.
Almost half of those questioned – 48 percent – had a positive attitude toward Christianity, with another 30 percent having a largely positive one. “Only six percent declared that they had a negative attitude [toward Christianity] and 10 percent said that they had a ‘more negative than positive’ one.”
The attitudes of residents of Kabardino-Balkaria to Buddhism and Judaism were also positive, with 78 percent saying they had a positive or more positive than negative view of the former and 71 percent saying that they had a positive or more positive than negative view of the latter.