Staunton, April 10 – Reacting to the involvement of Central Asian Muslims in recent terrorist attacks and a Pew Research Center finding that Muslims will be almost as numerous in the world as Christians, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta have called on the Kremlin to support Russian Orthodox missionary activity among the country’s Muslim population.
If the paper’s call is heeded, that would mark the end of what has been an informal agreement among Russia’s four “traditional” religions not to engage in missionary activity among members of the other, an accord that has helped keep inter-religious peace and whose annulment could spark ever more serious religious clashes.
Since the end of Soviet times, the leaders of the four “traditional” faiths have generally agreed that it is perfectly fine for each to promote its respective faith among those who follow other faiths or none at all but spoken out against missionary work by one of them among followers of the other three.
That policy has not always been respected: Many Orthodox churchmen have sought an end run around this ban by arguing that most Muslims in Russia are “ethnic Muslims” – that is, people who identify as Muslims for ethnic rather than religious reasons --rather than real believers and thus missionary work among them is perfectly permissible.
But the rule has generally held and enjoyed the support of most experts and commentators as a necessary condition for inter-religious stability in a religiously diverse Russia. And consequently, that makes the argument by the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta today to the contrary so striking.
In a lead article entitled “Islam is Outpacing Other Religions,” the editors cite the findings of the US-based Pew Research Center that by 2060, the number of Muslims in the world will nearly equal the number of Christians, with three billion of the former and 3.1 billion of the latter (ng.ru/editorial/2017-04-10/2_6970_red.html).
Pew also projected that the share of people who will not believe in God or support specific religious teachings will fall over that period from 16 percent to 12.5 percent and that the share of the followers of Hinduism and Buddhism will fall from 15.1 percent to 14.5 percent and from 6.9 percent to 4.8 percent respectively.
The American researchers, the editors say, linked these trends primarily to demographic differences between the current followers of these religions. But Nezavisimaya gazeta argued that it would be a mistake to ignore something else: “the significant polarization” of many societies regarding “the preservation of traditional Christian values.”
In Russia, the editors say, the Russian Orthodox Church is “almost the only bulwark of defense of these values.” It should engage in “productive dialogue” with the other faiths on behalf of these values especially among Muslims “in order to limit the influence of radical Islam.”
But that isn’t enough, the editors continue. In addition to supporting “moderate Islam,” Russians at all levels must give “all possible assistance to the efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church, including its missionary work.” That is needed, they say, to “consolidate society against the terrorist threat from radical Islam” and to defend “the territorial integrity of Russia.”