Muslim Family in North Caucasus

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The North Caucasus is a very specific region of Russia. For almost twenty years there has been going on a so-called anti-terrorist operation, as a result, the republic of Chechnya has been virtually destroyed, more than a thousand civilians have been killed. Nowadays Grozny – The capital of Chechnya – is practically rebuilt, the republic has returned to peace and tranquillity. But alas there are certain damages that are impossible to recover so quickly. Because the war has not only ravaged towns and killed people, it has also sown corruption and presumption of power; it has changed the moral level of the entire region.

And one of the sad consequences of war, according to some experts, is that family institutions in the North Caucasus republics are being ruined. Centuries-old traditions cannot hold against the trials of war, corruption and bureaucratic arbitrary rule.

I would like to remind you that we are talking about a Muslim region which has always been famous for strong traditions and a high level of morality. It is well known that almost half of all marriages end in divorce in Russia. But in the Muslim republics of North Caucasus the situation is different. In Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan only 5-15% of marriages fall apart. These republics are leading in the number of children per family. By the way, every year the population of Russia decreases by almost half a million people. The North Caucasus where population growth is increasing year by year stands out against this background.

It is in this region that the institution of family has begun to disintegrate. Here are some shocking facts.

Recently a trial was held over two women in North Caucasian city Pyatigorsk. A resident of Ingushetia Lydia Ausheva bought for $ 650 a two-day-old baby from a resident of Pyatigorsk Nonna Akopdzhanova. Some employees of maternity hospital fell under suspicion of the investigation as accomplices in the crime.

In 2009 the District Court of Stavropol (also in the Caucasus) sentenced 45-year old Tamara Kenova, who tried to sell a newborn baby from the maternity hospital for $3000. The selling of an infant, according to her, was going to be organized with support of some employees of Stavropol perinatal center.

We are aware that trafficking of infants from large and poor families, abandoned by their mothers, is well established in hospitals and perinatal centers in the North Caucasus. Childless families go there for babies from different regions of Russia.

We may talk about personal degradation, the decline in morality. But let’s look at the social-political atmosphere prevailing in the region.

Let me remind you that the main principle of tsarist Russian policy in the Caucasus created some national elite loyal to the central power and giving the rule of the territory into their hands. This principle existed in the Soviet times, and in fact it still operates today. That is, the central authorities

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allocate funds to local kings, who in return get exclusive rights to the territory and people. The consequences of such short-sighted policy are clear: the level of corruption increases and an illegal governmental system arises.

This policy in the Caucasus has erased the line between good and evil and erected a wall of bureaucracy between the state and the people. As you see, nowadays because of corruption and widespread clan system, ordinary people in the Caucasus are not provided with medical and social care. Today in Dagestan, Ingushetia or Chechnya it is extremely difficult for a poor family with a disabled child to get at least some social benefits.

How can a large family survive in such circumstances?

With all those in mind, furthermore in recent years the growth of blood diseases and cancer has been much higher in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan than it has been in the rest of Russia.

It is known that after the deadly wars in the Caucasus region in the late 20th and early 21st centuries the number of blood diseases and cancer in the population significantly increased. We all remember the horrible video footage of children’s hospitals in Gaza, Iraq … Chechnya and Dagestan are in the same condition. Russian official statistics for 2009 show that 44 in ten thousand people in Chechnya and Dagestan suffer from blood diseases, including leukemia. This is 55 times more than in Moscow. And 22 times more than it is in the neighboring Krasnodar region. The leading position in ontological diseases in Russia belongs to Chechnya. And the level of nervous disorders in Chechnya and Dagestan is 2 times higher than in the rest

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of Russia.

But it is necessary to point out that as a result of the wars an acute shortage of doctors arose in the region. In Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia their number is three times below the established norm. At the same time corruption in health care system has become so large-scale that it is practically impossible even to obtain a referral for child’s treatment in a Moscow clinic from republican Health Ministries. A child might be suffering from cancer and need chemotherapy treatment, or dying from burns but those officials will not be moved by that. They will not stir a finger without money.

Let me illustrate it with a typical example: two months ago our Foundation tried to make Chechen Ministry of Health issue a referral letter for surgery in Moscow for a boy with multiple burns. Officials were shown pictures of the poor child whose stomach and thighs has been badly burned. We phoned and wrote letters to the authorities on all levels, but to no avail. There appears to be a wall between government and the people that can be overcome only through bribes. Imagine the money is extorted by the of ficials who do not even treat patients themselves; they just allow them go to a hospital. And then they have to pay for the treatment, too. So the poor parents have to sell their homes, their plots of land, only to save their children.

Timely and qualified medical assistance could have saved thousands of Caucasian children. But, alas! They died or become disabled…

Now our fund has been establishing a broad volunteer network in the North Caucasus. Our volunteers our volunteers looking for sick children at the mountain villages, whose parents just cannot imagine that, a child can be taken into a good clinic in Moscow. We break through the bureaucratic walls so that those parents could get the social benefits due to them under the law!

That is what a charitable foundation has to engage in times of civil strife and paramilitary conflicts, when the state social system disintegrates.

When corrupt officials the destruction of trust in the power and its ability to restore order, the degradation of morals, and destruction of social ties is leading the North Caucasus republics to social disaster.

We still haven’t been able to find out the number of orphans in Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria, where the military actions are most active, as well as in other republics. The departments of education have also refused to tell us the number of children who do not attend school because of poverty and obligation to earn money from an early age, or those who do not go to school for religious reasons. We have been told that it is a state secret.

But it is only because if published these figures would highlight yet another problem: religious parents in the North Caucasus do not trust modern secular schools. Children leave school after 4 or 5 years to study only the Quran and Arabic at home. This problem is particularly true for rapidly getting Islamized Dagestan. The state fails to respond to the growth of religious identity of people.

Caucasian officials try to conceal it by all means, how many children remain uneducated. But we can rely on the official statistics in order to understand the scale of the tragedy. 10 years ago there were 460,000 school children in Dagestan; in 2009 they were 80,000 less. All this happens against the background of a steady population growth in the republic.

Ibrahim Mahtibekov, our volunteer in Dagestan, seeing this problem, launched a school of Qur’an Hafizes two years ago, based on the general education program. The first thing he did was to invite orphans whose fathers had been killed during military operations. It’s extremely difficult to work with such families. Intransigence, intolerance, rejection of other people’s opinions are common with them. Nowadays, in Dagestan, a commission has been established by the order of the republic’s leadership for militants’ adaptation. But adaptation is actually necessary for the entire population of the North Caucasus.

According to Russian political analyst Ruslan Kurbanov, virtually all social and political groups have been involved in emergence of the present situation. “Officials, spiritual authorities who have allowed the ideological split-up to happen, and the population which remains indifferent to killings of law enforcement bodies representatives, to kidnaps of young guys, to their increasingly falling under the influence of radical preachers, and the young people themselves who in this situation get radicalized to the last extent.”

In the North Caucasus we observe a very low level of civic engagement. And we believe that consolidation should occur at all levels, including between the neighbours. Not to witness in silence as one’s neighbour is being humiliated, robbed, and his rights violated, but to rise to his defence. An incident in Ingushetia can serve as an example of unification of the population, when some masked men tried to take a young man from his house, about 70 villagers gathered and actually rescued him from the kidnappers.

It is true; something has already been done in the hot regions. Social, public, information channels have been improved through which residents of the North Caucasus can report crimes; make their complaints known to the authorities. But unfortunately these channels are not yet fully used.

Not just the civil institutions have been unprepared for the increase of religious awareness but the institution of the family, too. The consequence is radicalization of young people whose parents were brought up in communist times, their alienation from their families. Here is a typical example of this conflict of generations: Abdurahman Abdurakhmanov, the son of a federal judge, used to buy in Moscow scopes for illegal armed groups with his father’s money. Gadzhimurad Hulataev, the son of Deputy Chief of Dagestan Ministry of Internal Affairs Investigation Department, put a hit on his father for his service in the judicial system.

Experts believe that the North Caucasus today undergoes processes of social disintegration. The atmosphere of mistrust and hatred gradually draws more and more people into the fratricidal slaughter. Moreover, legal nihilism, the reluctance to recognize public institutions can be witnessed among the religious youth. After three or four years of studying at universities young people quit them, believing that “infidels” cannot teach Muslims. Meanwhile the authorities rely on so-called “traditional” Islam and semiliterate preachers.

In Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino- Balkaria, four mosques were closed as a means of fighting radicalization. Now in the city with a 60 % Muslim population, is Muslims there is one mosque and two orthodox churches. The republic has been paralyzed by the opposition of militants, security forces and vengeful relatives of those killed.

In the civil strife imams and Muslim leaders often get killed. The only doctor of Sharia Sciences in Russia was killed in Dagestan under mysterious circumstances two years ago. Muslims, after studying abroad in Islamic universities, are recommended no to return to their homeland.

With all that, neither the traditional clergy, nor the authorities, sometimes not even parents who live with the ideals of the atheist Soviet regime are able to find common ground with young people. The Mufti and the faithful live in parallel and not intersecting worlds. In many Caucasian republics this has resulted in the youth having been pushed out to the sidelines and falling under the influence of radical ideas.

But what do these youth see today?

They see that public offices are being sold out for huge sums of money.

They see that ministers in those republics patronize their relatives who sell weapons, stolen vehicles, are involved in extortions.

They see that “traditional” mullahs and imams take money for performing religious rites, which undermines the impoverished families’ budgets.

And finally they see that half of all the unemployed in Ingushetia, Dagestan, Chechnya and Kabardino- Balkaria are young people of the most active age – 20-29 years.

Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that the groups “out there in the woods” are being reinforced by the “cut off from life” youth. And the results of a survey carried out by Dagestan State University among the Dagestani youth are not surprising either. The following question as was posed: “Will the level of extremism and terrorism in Dagestan and the North Caucasus be reduced if the peoples professing Islam move from secular laws to Sharia?” 33% of all the questioned responded to it positively, 40% were sure that it would not decrease and 24.5% were undecided. The question “What state would you like to live in?” received the following answers: a religious one – 30%, a secular state – 54%, undecided 9%.

In such a situation of moral and ethic corruption we can see only one solution – to strengthen NGOs and civic engagement. Independent social, educational and business projects in Russia are in their infant period. In Moscow there are about 500 different charitable funds functioning now. But do you know how many of them operate on Islamic principles?

This question would puzzle many people. And no wonder. Until recently there was no such thing as an Islamic charity at all in the media scene of Russia.

In other words, the concepts of ISLAM and CHARITY have not been connected in the popular consciousness. It can be objected that our Ummah faces a lot of problems today that are far more enormous and requiring an immediate solution. But I believe that first of all we must firmly join together these two words – Islam and charity – in the public consciousness. Moreover, it is much more important for Muslims themselves because our hearts are in dire need of mercy.

You will probably be surprised to learn that two years ago in hospitals of Moscow, where there always were many volunteers, church ministers, Protestants, Catholics in the wards, you wouldn’t see any Muslims. Allah Almighty said: “You are the best community”. That means an example for all. At the time of formation of the Islamic state, when people saw the relationships among Muslims, their fraternal assistance and generosity, their fairness and justice, they would accept Islam without any coercion.

What kind of example are the Muslims of Russia today? Once I even wrote a small article on the subject, called “Why can’t you meet a Mullah in the hospital?” The answer from the official Islamic structures of Russia was as follows: remove the article. Though later Charity Department of Spiritual Directorate of Muslims set a special timetable for visits to hospitals. Now we have imams visiting hospitals once a month.

But I would like to talk about our activities and not about the mosques, since the mosques are places for worshiping Allah and unlikely to be able to assume a social function of helping the destitute.

Solidarity Foundation was registered with Ministry of Justice as a non-profit charity, so it is quite a secular fund. But since it has been founded by Muslims we act according to Islamic principles.

In the beginning, people were downright shocked. Well, this is quite understandable – after all they had seen and heard they just couldn’t believe that Muslims were apt not just to terrorist attacks. It might seem funny but the expression Islamic Foundation would throw into a stupor even North Caucasian officials. “Is there really such a thing?” – They asked incredulously.

So what should we expect from the non-Muslims?

Solidarity Foundation which I represent started its activities in 2009. And when our volunteers began to appear in hospitals in Moscow, the first reaction of the other charities was stunning. We were told: “Well, now you have got your own fund,” – and they immediately “cut off” their support for all the Muslim children they had been taking care of. And now all the financial care for sick Caucasian children is assigned to our Foundation.

But only a mentally ill person can base charity on religious and ethnic principles. Islam does not divide people according to their religious and national identity, when it is a question of saving lives and helping the poor. But how do you suppose the general public will know about this if they do not see any examples of Islamic grace, mercy, if all they see on TV is Wahhabists, shahids’ belts and terrorist attacks?

Our foundation is two years old. I can say that there is an urgent need for charity in the Muslim community, which would operate on principles of brotherhood, openness and transparency. Hundreds of young Muslim volunteers have already taken part in our projects in Moscow, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Chechnya, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Ingushetia. Young people want – or rather feel the need – to help the disadvantaged. These are fundamental human instincts – compassion for the oppressed, charity, equality, peace and conflict resolution, forgiveness.

You are probably aware that in the North Caucasus there are a huge number of widows and orphans – the situation is quite common. Military and paramilitary conflicts have claimed lives of hundreds and thousands of young people – fathers, brothers and sons. Hundreds of orphans are in the care of Solidarity Foundation.

Here is just one example. There is a fishing village in Dagestan called Sulak. Half of the families there are widows with orphans. The sea takes their men away.

The first time we went there it was only to visit the children, bring them some gifts. But now, a team of young local businessmen, athletes and students have been organized there. They develop business plans for rehabilitation of the village and supply food.

It is all being done by young people. And for us that is the main achievement.

We have strongly encouraged our society for compassion and have awakened in it the need for mercy.