By Paul Goble
Even though the 2010 Russian Federation census has not released nationality data and did not ask questions about religious affiliation, Russia’s Muslims are confident that the latest enumeration will show that their numbers have increased significantly and that this in turn will allow them to secure a larger quota for the haj.
Ilyas Umakhanov, the vice speaker of the Federation Council and head of Russia’s haj mission, told Kavkaz-uzel.ru that the results of the 2010 census show a growth in the population of the Muslim regions of Russia and this will become the basis for Moscow to seek a larger haj quota (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/184169/).
The Saudis as the keepers of Islam’s Holy Places of Mecca and Medina set annual quotas of one haji for every 1,000 Muslims in each country of the world. For the past decade, Russia’s quota has been 20,500, a number based on Saudi estimates that there are 20,500,000 of the faithful in the Russian Federation.
Moscow, at the urging of the Muslims of Russia, has sought a higher quota, occasionally successfully as when two years ago Vladimir Putin secured an additional 5,000 haj slots by using the argument that there was pent up demand from Soviet times when few could make the required pilgrimage.
But the Saudis have been reluctant to grant Moscow extra slots not only because any such concession would anger others or encourage them to demand more slots but also because it would appear to legitimize what is an increasing problem: thousands of Russia’s Muslims simply go to Saudi Arabia outside the limit and “crash” the haj lines.
The results of the 2010 census may give Russia new arguments for boosting the country’s haj quota. “In areas of the compact settlement of Muslims,” Umakhanov said, “the growth of the population all the same shows a very positive dynamic,” one that suggests Russia has more than 20.5 million Muslims and hence should be allotted more than 20,500 haj slots.
According to Umakhanov, during the period from 1945 to 1990, only 900 people made the haj from the entire Soviet Union. But today, “Russia is in the top dozen countries which has the largest quota for the haj, and even as that is the case, the number of those who want to make the pilgrimage is growing.”
Umakhanov said that the Saudis appear likely to want to see the official results of the census before making any adjustment, but he suggested that it is already obvious that the Muslim population of the Russian Federation is growing rapidly, especially among the peoples of the North Caucasus.
“If we consider Daghestan, the Chechen Republic, Tatarstan and Ingushetia alone,” the republics which generate more than 85 percent of all hajis from Russia, the haj commission chief said, then population growth alone in these regions should lead the Saudis to increase the haj quota for the Russian Federation “already in this year.”