By Paul Goble
The Moscow media have long focused on the extent to which Islam is recovering among the historically Muslim peoples of Russia and on the acceptance of Islam by a limited number of ethnic Russians, but these outlets have devoted far less attention to the spread of Islam among non-Russian groups not historically linked to the faith.
And the Russian media have devoted even less attention to something that may prove to be an even greater matter of concern: the conversion to Islam of ethnic Russians who live as minorities in non-Russian areas whose dominant nationality is not Islam but of another faith and who have little contact with large Central Asian or Caucasian gastarbeiter communities.
One such nation where Islam is spreading despite its lack of deep historical roots is the Buryats where reportedly five to six members of that traditionally Buddhist people are turning to Islam every month, a trend that the imam in that TransBaikal republic says appears to be accelerating (asiarussia.ru/news/9308/).
The AsiaRussia.ru portal said that despite this growth, its journalists had had some difficulty in finding Buryat Muslims to interview, but it finally identified one young man willing to talk about how he came to Islam and what it has meant for his family and friends and how it has affected his life.
Bair Dugarov, 26, was born into a Buryat Buddhist family. He became interested in Islam at the age of 15 after making friends with some neighboring Kygyz. Three years later, he lost his mother, and the only people who really helped him were members of a Muslim family who showed him that “Islam is a religion of brotherhood, genuine brotherhood.”
He decided then to accept Islam and within a year began praying five times a day and fasting at Ramadan. He no longer drinks or smokes and lives a modest life. And he says he is convinced that “Islam is the salvation of all humanity.” At the same time, he is respectful of other faiths.
Dugarov no longer goes to a dastan although he is married to a Buryat Buddhist. Whe “respects” Islam but has not accepted it “fully.” According to him, “this is her right,” although he added that he talks to her about Islam “all the time.” The couple has three children, and Dugarov says he hopes to raise them as Muslims but that that is a question for them in the future.
The 18-year-old Russian who chose to be identified only by his first name Vadim said he accepted Islam at the age of 15. He came to Islam because he fell in love with an Uzbek girl, but when he became a Muslim, his family at first was totally opposed. Now, he says, they have accepted his faith and his bride to be.
Vadim said the most important thing Islam had done for him was to make him “more patient” and “better able to understand people.” He says he “doesn’t fear death as he did because now [he] knows that there is life after death.” And he appreciates the fact that within Islam, everyone is a brother to everyone else.
Vadim says he no longer used alcohol or tobacco, but he acknowledges that he only goes to the mosque once every two weeks – except during Kurban Bayram when he fasts and prays every day there.