How Russia uses Muslims and religious propaganda — former mufti of the Religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine “Ummah”

With slogans about “deshaitanization,” the Russian government manipulates the ignorant and uneducated population, says the former mufti of the Religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine “Ummah.”

In addition to cruise missiles, tanks, fighter jets, and artillery, Russia has seriously weaponized the religious factor in the war against Ukraine. The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill (Gundyayev), blesses Russian military personnel from the altar to kill Ukrainians. However, it is not only Christian denominations that have fallen under the Kremlin’s influence. The official leaders of Muslims in Russia have also supported Putin, and the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, even calls the aggression against Ukraine a “holy war.”

Why did the Muslims of Russia turn out to be just as submissive to the dictator? Why does Ramzan Kadyrov behave like a madman when declaring jihad, and how is it possible to “kill for spirituality”? Former mufti of the Religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine “Ummah,” Said Ismagilov, who volunteered on the front lines from the early days of the war, revealed in an interview with Telegraph.

Said, the large-scale invasion, of course, changed the lives of the entire country, but if we look at your personal story, you made a radical decision: being a spiritual leader of Muslims in Ukraine, you took up arms and joined the military. What was the motivation behind this act?

I cannot stand aside when such a great disaster befalls my country, my people: a major large-scale war breaks out, children and women are dying, and I simply don’t understand how a man in such circumstances would not go to defend his homeland. I completely fail to understand those men who evade, flee, give bribes, buy some certificates claiming that they cannot defend their homeland. I truly do not understand that because in the toughest and most difficult times, one should gather all his courage and go to defend his people and ultimate future. Escaping and hiding, from my point of view, is absolutely immoral because who, if not men, should protect women and children? Therefore, I had no hesitation.

You left Donetsk, which was occupied. Did you expect that Russians would not stop and the war would engulf the entire territory of Ukraine?

I knew that a major full-scale war would start. It was talked about everywhere. And when people complain and say they weren’t warned about the war, well, for the last three months until February 24th, everyone talked about was the looming large-scale war. Foreign intelligence services, journalists — everyone was buzzing about this topic. And it became clear once and for all when diplomatic missions of other countries were evacuated from Kyiv. As a mufti, I saw diplomats, envoys leaving, including those from Muslim countries. And if the diplomatic corps is leaving, they have a hundred percent information that something is about to happen.

What does a day in the life of a paramedic on the front line look like?

The day of a paramedic on the front line is unpredictable. You can work with the wounded all night and during the day and evening. You must always be ready to provide assistance, so there is no fixed schedule at all. When you have a spare moment, you have to eat, wash up, and if possible, get some sleep and pray. Sometimes you work so much that you forget you haven’t eaten anything all day. And it’s not just paramedics, it’s the same for soldiers as well. War is unpredictable, and there can be no set routine. We even joke that all of us here have miraculously survived. In the conditions in which our guys are fighting and our paramedics are working, if we are still alive, it’s a miracle.

See also: Orban’s 11 hostages: how Russian Orthodox Church and Russian authorities “trade” Ukrainians with the Hungarian government

You once mentioned that the majority of Muslims in modern Russia are “tolerating” because Russia is destroying their culture, traditions, and yet they tolerate it. Why do they tolerate it?

Because some are afraid, others simply tolerate it, and some consciously work in the interests of Russia. Let’s remember those same Kadyrovites who went to Moscow to suppress the rebellion of Prigozhin. Here you are, in two Chechen wars, they destroyed you, killed your women and children, left Grozny in ruins, and instead of taking advantage of the situation and freeing yourselves, which your not even grandparents, but parents aspired to, you defend this regime. Some of them, like Kadyrov, fought in the Second Chechen War. It’s just unbelievable! You were being destroyed, you were being killed, and yet you are dogs of the regime, the regime’s chained dogs. Instead of seizing the moment and advancing your own interests, raising your national consciousness, you simply disgrace the memory of your ancestors.

Perhaps they simply don’t realize that they are tolerating?

No, from what I understand, some people sell themselves in large numbers for positions, power, and money. It’s not just the Kadyrovites, it applies to other Muslim republics as well. There, people are simply sold bit by bit for Russian money, positions, and privileges. But not everyone is like that. Some people are just intimidated, even though they hate Russia. And others simply “tolerate.” For example, I look at Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, and see what is happening there. They are practically doing whatever they want with them, and they just silently swallow it. There is absolutely no human dignity.

Regarding the figure of Kadyrov, who presents himself as an informal leader of Muslims in Russia. Is this a fake image, or does he actually have influence?

They have been working on this image for a very long time, not just since the start of the full-scale war but for over 15 years. Various conferences were held in Chechnya, he was taken to different Muslim countries and presented as a Muslim political leader. So, it’s a media project. But Kadyrov is not truly a leader for Muslims in Russia. It’s more of a brand, and it primarily works not for the domestic audience but for the external one.

Some may be surprised, but in many Muslim, especially Arab countries, people truly believe that Kadyrov is a powerful leader of Muslims in Russia, genuinely courageous and militant. These images of Kadyrovites shouting “Allahu Akbar” and rushing to storm something are simply laughable for us, for people who witness war every day. In modern warfare, everyone crawls and squeezes into trenches and into the ground. No one runs into attack at full height. That’s Bollywood stuff. But even that Bollywood is watched by someone. People from those countries who don’t know the real situation believe in this image.

When Kadyrov calls the war against Ukraine a “holy” war of Muslims, a jihad, what manipulation is involved?

There is manipulation involved in every aspect of that statement. Firstly, he is not a religious official leader who has the legitimacy to declare jihad. To declare jihad, you must be a legitimate supreme spiritual figure. Such a scenario could only occur in countries like Afghanistan or Iran, where essentially a spiritual leader stands at the forefront. In other Muslim countries, there is a president, a king, a prime minister, or someone else in power, and the spiritual leader does not hold the position of the head of state. Only a legitimate spiritual leader can declare jihad. However, Kadyrov is neither a popular nor a legitimate spiritual leader. Russia is not a Muslim country, and Sharia laws and norms do not apply there. Additionally, the majority of the population in Russia is not Muslim.

Therefore, Kadyrov’s declaring jihad in Russia is simply absurd. It is akin to a Muslim individual going to the Vatican and declaring jihad there because they consider themselves the only Muslim in the Vatican. Why not? It’s the same comparison. You are a secular official of a secular state. Taking the audacity to proclaim spiritual slogans in a non-Muslim, secular, and nominally Christian country gives you no right to do so whatsoever.

Secondly, from the perspective of Sharia, jihad can only be declared if there are valid reasons for doing so. For example, if Ukraine was a Muslim country, we would have grounds to declare jihad because we are being attacked. We are being killed, destroyed, and robbed. Russia has not been attacked. Therefore, they have no valid grounds to declare jihad. In essence, manipulation is taking place with the minds of ignorant and uneducated individuals who might believe in these slogans.

What amuses me even more are the slogans about “deshaitanization”. I read Russian news about Kadyrov’s men sexually assaulting someone in Belgorod Oblast or in Krasnodar Krai. They rape other men. This is essentially homosexuality. Therefore, we can declare “deshaitanization” towards them because rape is a major sin and crime that carries the highest punishment according to Sharia. And we should perceive them as devils for their actions, not the other way around. So, just as Russia is an absolute lie, hypocritical, and fake country, these so-called “Muslim leaders” are also completely fake Muslims.

What about the official spiritual leaders of Muslims in Russia? It’s clear with the Russian Orthodox Church and Gundyaev, but why did the spiritual leaders of Muslims in Russia support Putin’s war? Like the Grand Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin

They are the same as Gundyayev. All the Muslim leaders in Russia are either employees of the Federal Security Service or individuals who are recruited and tightly controlled by the Federal Security Service. There is no independent Muslim religious leader there who would have the courage to speak the truth. They are all fully integrated into the Russian security services and will only say what they are told to say by the authorities at the Lubyanka (headquarters of the Federal Security Service ).

You made appeals to the Muslims in Russia urging them not to participate in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Did you receive feedback?

Periodically, I receive threats from Russia. Various anonymous individuals write threatening messages on social media. It’s quite amusing. As I mentioned before, we are all people who have randomly survived here on the frontlines. So, when someone threatens you, it’s truly laughable. However, I try to debunk myths, including those about the Kadyrovites, and expose the unworthiness of Russian religious figures who support this war. Well, some people don’t like that, hence the threats.

Towards the end of last summer, when it became clear that Russia was not achieving its military objectives in Ukraine, Russian propaganda suddenly came up with a narrative of “Ukrainian satanism,” and the aggression was being “sold” as a “fight against the Antichrist.” What is all this about? Where did it come from?

In Russia, there is a dark, poorly educated population. It’s not even a population; it’s the general populace. And this dark, poorly educated populace lives by religious myths. It’s not genuine religious life because religious life is a healthy life, with a healthy consciousness, filled with happiness, responsibility, faith, good deeds, and healthy morality. I say this as a former mufti. None of this exists in Russia. Therefore, they live with pseudo-religious beliefs, folk beliefs, and myths. To mobilize this dark, poorly educated mass for war against Ukraine, one needs to speak in a language that it can understand.

If we talk to them about high ideas and values, a person who had a poor education, if any, in school will understand very little. However, if we say that we are fighting against Satan, who is “oppressing the canonical church” of the Moscow Patriarchate, then for these dark-minded individuals, it becomes a real motivation, and they believe in it. They may not attend church, but they desire it to exist, and for it to be Moscow-controlled.

The same goes for Muslims. They are equally dark-minded and uneducated. That’s why Kadyrov declares “deshaitanization” because he needs to speak in a language that is understandable to the electorate.

Let’s analyze the mindset of such a dark-minded Russian: how can the pursuit of “spirituality” with the killings in Ukraine reconcile?

It all fits together perfectly. You see, Russians don’t understand us. Take, for example, Prigozhin, who stated that he could seize Ukraine in a single day. He can indeed travel from Rostov to Moscow in a day, and no one will resist him because everyone is afraid, and most people simply don’t care. But we don’t understand them either. How do we assess phenomena and people? Through our own lens. Yet we are nothing like them at all. If such atrocities and killings were committed under religious slogans in Ukraine, our people would not stand for it. Ukrainians wouldn’t accept it. But for Russians, it’s normal. They genuinely live like that, and they truly believe in it.

And the entire history of Russia is evidence of this. All these terrible terrorist attacks, famines, deportations, there were many of them in the history of Russia. They accept mass destruction with a bang. They are really different when our people call them “orcs,” it’s not a coincidence. These are absolutely fake people with absolutely fake spirituality.

What is your opinion on the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine? Should it not exist in Ukraine?

I have served in religious ministry for over 20 years, and I firmly believe that the entire church, especially its spiritual leaders, priests, metropolitans, the synod, the head, and the bishops, all work for the Federal Security Service of Russia. Perhaps some lower-level priests in villages are unaware of this, but they continue to promote Russian ideology nonetheless. And even after victory of Ukraine, they will continue to follow Moscow’s orders. If we want to prevent such a war from happening again and avoid having traitors among our people, we need to defend our national interests. It is in Ukraine’s national interest to rid ourselves of this propaganda platform, which is more of a business than a church, and which promotes hostile ideology within Ukraine and our nation.

In one of your interviews, you mentioned that after the war, we will face moral and ethical problems between those who experienced the war and those who stayed behind or evaded it. Could you explain what you mean?

In 2014, when the war began, returning soldiers, some with injuries, often faced discrimination in society. They were told on a personal level, “We didn’t send you there.” Therefore, it was implied that they should not expect any special treatment as veterans or consideration for their needs. And I believe that after the war, those who did not want to fight, to defend, will say the same to our soldiers. When everything is over, people will say, “We didn’t send you there, so why do you expect any privileges or special treatment?” I think that’s how it will be. Especially such accusations will come from those who couldn’t refrain from corruption even during the war, who enriched themselves through humanitarian aid, who profited from selling fake certificates at draft boards.

So, a part of society hasn’t changed and doesn’t want to change. Especially those who believe that the war doesn’t concern them. And there will be a significant psychological problem after Ukraine’s victory: soldiers will feel certain discrimination, and there will be significant questions directed towards those who fled and didn’t want to defend their homeland. If people who have experienced the war are demanded bribes, for example, for disability paperwork, it will be very dangerous. Because people who return from war no longer fear anything, I’ll say it frankly. And I’m afraid that some soldiers will not be able to handle the pressure if they are humiliated, discriminated against, or asked for bribes.

Originally posted by Artur Hor on Telegraf. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

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