By Paul Goble
Prior to Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea and aggression in the Donbass, there were only a few thousand Muslims in the central part of Ukraine, but now, some 100,000 of the faithful have fled there from Russian occupied areas, dramatically increasing the size of that community in areas with little experience with Islam.
Sheikh Said Ismagilov, the mufti of the Kyiv-based Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Ukraine, told the QHA news agency that “100,000 Muslims from Crimea and the Donbass have moved to the territory under the control of the Ukrainian authorities” (qha.com.ua/ru/obschestvo/v-ukraine-sto-tisyach-pereselentsevmusulman-iz-krima-i-donbassa/167532/).
These people need assistance because they lack resources on their own, because “in Ukraine there are not very many wealthy Muslims,” and because foreigners and foreign Muslim organizations have not done anything to help. His mosques, the sheikh said, collect food and clothing, support orphanages, and do what little they can on their own.
He said that his MSD had not been in contact with the MSD in Crimea since the Russian Anschluss. “We know that they are harshly controlled by the authorities and that definite rules have been imposed on their functioning. Therefore we do not have any ties” with the Crimean muftiate lest such contacts things worse for the Muslims of Crimea.
Asked whether he would support the establishment of other Muslim organizations in Ukraine, including by Muslims from Russian-occupied Crimea, the mufti said that “they have the right to do so and we will not influence this process because we respect the choice and rights of our fellow believers and are happy to cooperate with any religious organizations of the Muslims of Crimea,” as long as they “support the national interests of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.”
Sheikh Ismagilov said that Ukrainians should not fall victim to those who demonize Muslims by claiming they are terrorists. There are terrorists in Ukraine, but they are supporting Russian forces in Crimea and the Donbass – and those people are not followers of Islam.