By Paul Goble
Religious leaders, heraldry experts, and other commentators have rejected Mufti Talgat Tajuddin’s call for putting a cresent on the coat of arms of Russia, but a senior official in the Moscow Patriarchate has opened the way for more controversy by suggesting a Muslim crescent could be put on the coats of arms of Muslim republics and regions.
That is because the suggestion of Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the head of the Patriarchate’s Department for Relations between Church and Society, could open the floodgates by demands from Muslims in various parts of Russia for just such representation and create a checkerboard of Muslim regions as opposed to non-Muslim ones.
And the symbolism of such an obvious division – and it would certainly change over time – would undercut efforts by Moscow to overcome inter-religious hostility and promote a common national identity and could reignite calls by some Muslim leaders to create Muslim political parties, something not now allowed by Russian law, to press for crescents.
In a statement to the media today, Chaplin, who is a close protégé of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, spoke out against Tajuddin’s proposal to put a Muslim crescent on on of the equals on the coast of arms of Russia, arguing that such a change was unnecessary given the tradition the current shield with crosses reflects (www.nr2.ru/society/328369.html).
“That historical form of the Russian coat of arms,” Chaplin said, “which has existed already for many centuries is historically justified. Islam is a local phenomenon for Russia [as] it is distributed as the dominating religion in particular regions. On the coats of arms of these regions may be both crescents and other Islamic symbols.”
“But on the Russian coat of arms, a cross has been present on the crowns over many centuries,” the Patriarchate official continued, adding that in his view “it is not necessary to change anything” at least for this symbol of the Russian Federation and its centuries-old traditions.
Chaplin’s remarks came in reaction to a proposal Talgat Tajuddin, who has occasionally styled himself as the “Mufti of Holy Russia” and head of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD), made in the course of an interview published in “Moskovskiye novosti” earlier today (mn.ru/newspaper_freetime/20110415/301066658.html).
Tajuddin, who has a reputation for flamboyance, told the paper’s Elena Suponina that he had sent his proposal to replkace on of the crosses on the Russian coat of arms with a Muslim crescent moon to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and had discussed it with President Dmitry Medvedev.
As the mufti pointed out, “the Russian coat of arms is a two-headed equal. All three crowns of this eagle – two on the head and one inbetween above them are marked with crosses. But in Russia there live 20 million Muslims. This is 18 percent of the population, and we are Russian Muslims, not from Saudi Arabia … Africa or the moon.”
“Our ancestors have lived here for millennia. By the will of the Most High we are united in a state. And a neighbor is equal to a brother. We are a constituent part of a single state. But then, where must a Muslim carry his passport on which the coat of arms is reproduced? In his left pocket, of course, near the heart!”
Prior to 1917, Tajuddin continued, “Muslims in the army gave their oath on the Koran. There were regimental mullahs andimams. They were assigned by spiritual administrations. During the war with Turkey, our ancestors did nto consider they were fighting against Muslims: they were defending their motherland, great Russia.”
“Recall the heroism of the Bashkir cavalry in 1812,” Tajuddin said; “they went into attack first. And in 1945, for example, my grandfather advanced to Berlin.”
“In Russia has been achieved a synthesis of a kind that never was in Europe or America,” the mufti continued. Here met East and West. In order that this patriotism not disappear among our children and grandchildren, we humbly ask to introduce certain changes in the coat o farms of our common land.”
Specially, he said, “we ask that one head of the eagle be crowned with a crescent moon and the other with an Orthodox cross. And that crown which is in the middle be both. Then not one enemy will be able to use the religious factor to harm the unity and integrity of our fatherland.”
In response, Russia’s master of heralds rejected this idea (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=40352) as did many Muslims (echo.msk.ru/news/766358-echo.html), Jews (www.argumenti.ru/society/2011/04/102414), and representatives of the human rights community (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=40350).
That united front of rejection makes Chaplin’s remark all the more curious – and at least potentially all the more dangerous, even though it may be walked back by other Orthodox hierarchs or used by them to suggest that the Moscow Patriarchate is, on this issue at least, more liberal and tolerant than many suspect.