By Paul Goble
Last year, for the first time, the Muslims of Russia failed to fill all the haj slots allotted to them by the Saudis, sending only 12,000 Muslims and not the 16,400 the Riyadh had agreed to. But despite that, Muslim leaders say, they will press for more slots next year when the Saudis currently plan to restore the Russian allocation to 20,400.
The reason the Russian allocation is scheduled to go up is that the reconstruction the Saudis have been carrying out in Mecca will be completed, while Russia’s Muslim leaders say they will ask for 25,000, in recognition of their growing numbers – the Saudis a lot one haj slot per 1,000 Muslims per year per country – and in hopes that the Russian economy will improve.
These are just some of the figures, many surprising but others completely expected, about the number of hajis from various parts of the Russian federation over the last three years that Maksim Matveyev and Liliya Khafizova offer in an article on Kazan’s “Realnoye vrema” portal this past week (realnoevremya.ru/analytics/31071).
As protectors of Islam’s holiest places, the Saudis each year allocate haj slots to every country where there are Muslims. Then, the Russian authorities divide these among the four major Muslim republics – Tatarstan, Daghestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia – and the three largest Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs). — the Central MSD in Bashkortostan, the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR) in Moscow, and the Coordinating Center for Muslims in the North Caucasus.
Last year, Russia was allocated 16,400 slots, with Tatarstan getting 1200, Daghestan 6200, Chechnya 2600, Ingushetia 1400, the Central MSD 1100, the Union of Muftis 2500, and the Coordinating Center for Muslims of the North Caucasus 1100. But it sent to Mecca only a total of about 12,000, with some of these places falling short and others oversubscribed.
According to “Realnoye vremya,” Tatarstan sent only 50 percent of the number it was originally allotted, Daghestan about 70 percent, Chechnya 100 percent, Ingushetia 100 percent, the Central MSD 160 percent, the Union of Muftis 80 percent, and the Coordinating Center 100 percent.
(The Russian haj authorities can shift slots from one to another if it becomes clear that those to whom the slots were assigned in the first place were unable to fill them. Moreover, it sometimes happens that Muslims in places where the allocation is oversubscribed will apply elsewhere, also shifting the balance.)
The major reason for the inability of Russia’s Muslims to fill all the slots they had available was economic: Many Muslims in Russia are suffering from that country’s economic downturn, and they are hurt in particular by the collapse of the ruble against the dollar given that the Saudis require dollars in payment for haj services.
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But there are three other reasons that there is such a wide disparity among Russia’s Muslims in filling the quota. First, there are very real differences in interest with Muslims in Daghestan traditionally far more interested in going than those in Tatarstan. Second, some republics like Chechnya heavily subsidize travel while others do not. And third, there are major differences in the prices haj tourist agencies offer. All of them raised their prices over the last year, but some are as much as a third cheaper than others.
Despite failing to fill a quarter of the slots last year, Rushan Abbyasov, a senior official with the SMR and part of the Russian haj delegation to Saudi Arabia which negotiates the quotas, says that Russia’s Muslims plan to ask for 25,000 slots for next year, not the 20,400 the Saudis have suggested they will offer (idmedina.ru/medina/?6744).
The reason for that, he says, is that 25,000 more closely reflects the rapidly growing number of Muslims in the Russian Federation.