By Paul Goble
The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate with the support of the Russian government has provided priests and hierarchs for Orthodox believers abroad, individuals who have often served the Russian government every bit as much as they have served Russian Orthodoxy.
Now, it appears, some in Moscow aspire to have the Muslim community of the Russian Federation play the same role abroad. Damir Mukhetdinov, rector of the Moscow Islamic Institute, said his school could become “a real ‘forge’” to provide “spiritual cadres” not only for Russia but for Eurasia and Western Europe (islamsng.com/rus/news/15517).
The rector said that “the main task” of his institute remains to “train imams for the regions of Russia.” But now that it has been certified by the International Muslim Forum as a training center, it can look more broadly and become “’a forge’ of spiritual cadres not only for Russia but also for Eurasia, including Western Europe.”
It is likely that the Moscow Islamic Institute will focus first and foremost on providing such “cadres” to the former Soviet republics in Central Asia and in the Caucasus; but he clearly aspires to send his graduates to other countries as well. If that happens, it will give Moscow both religious and secular yet another lever of influence beyond Russia’s borders.
At the very least, Western governments should be aware of the risk that mullahs, imams, and muftis trained in Moscow nominally as religious leaders may be performing other non-religious tasks, including influence operations and espionage. The Kremlin’s use of the ROC MP in this regard is too obvious a precedent to be ignored.