St Petersburg University (Russia) Head of the Centre for Islamic Studies at St Petersburg University: “Muslims in Russia have been in the northern periphery of the Islamic world for centuries”

From 22 to 24 November 2022, an international conference dedicated to Islamic studies in universities was held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Russia was represented at the event by Professor Damir Mukhetdinov, Head of the Centre for Islamic Studies at St Petersburg University, First Deputy Chairman of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation, Doctor of Theology.

The conference, themed “Islamic Studies in Universities: Towards Promoting the Values of Citizenship and Coexistence”, was organised by Mohamed Bin Zayed University for Humanities (Abu Dhabi).

The participants were addressed by: Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah, Chairman of the Supreme Academic Council of Mohamed Bin Zayed University for Humanities; Dr Hamdan Musallam Al Mazrouei, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Mohamed Bin Zayed University for Humanities; Dr Muhammad bin Abdurrahman ad-Duayni, Professor of Al-Azhar University (Cairo, Egypt); Sheikh Dr Shawki Ibrahim Allam, Grand Mufti of Egypt; and Dr Ahmed bin Salem al-Amiri, Rector of Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University (Saudi Arabia).

The conference discussed the importance of Islamic studies in international higher education, focusing on: the development and implementation of Islamic studies in academic curricula; research in Islamic studies; enhancing Islamic sciences in Arab universities; integration between Islamic studies and other fields of knowledge; promoting civic coexistence; and enriching the public debate on issues of religious pluralism.

Damir Mukhetdinov, Professor of St Petersburg University, greeted the participants and organisers in Arabic on behalf of Russia’s Muslim Leader Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin and delivered a plenary talk dedicated to Islam and Islamic education in Russia. Professor Mukhetdinov spoke about the history of the origin and development of Islam on the territory of modern Russian Federation. The most significant milestone was the official adoption of Islam by the peoples of the Volga Bulgaria in 922, in the Gregorian calendar (310 AH). ‘Muslims in Russia have been in the northern periphery of the Islamic world for centuries. Geographically, they were very far from the main centres of Islam, but they tried to maintain spiritual and cultural ties with Bukhara, Samarkand, İstanbul, Baghdad, Medina, Cairo, and Kabul, where young Russian Muslims would travel to acquire Islamic knowledge,’ Damir Mukhetdinov explained. The most difficult period in the history of Islam in Russia was in the 20th century, when under the communist regime all religions fell into decline. It was only in the 1990s when the free exercise of religion was restored.

‘In a very short span of time, we have managed to achieve a real breakthrough by repairing and renovating the surviving mosques and building new ones, by opening Islamic madrasas and universities, and by publishing quality literature about Islam in Russian and our native languages,’ said Professor Damir Mukhetdinov, Head of the Centre for Islamic Studies at St Petersburg University. He expressed gratitude and appreciation to his colleagues for their support, ‘When we embarked on this path, we received significant support from the countries of the Arab world.’ According to Professor Mukhetdinov, the official visit of President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to Russia confirms the bonds of friendly relations between Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

Damir Mukhetdinov also noted that 2022 marks the 15th year of the presidential training programme for Islamic spiritual personnel. St Petersburg University has been actively engaged in this programme. Today, Moscow Islamic Institute — a partner of St Petersburg University in Islamic education — offers academic programmes with state-recognised degrees in Islamic theology. ‘At St Petersburg University, where I am honoured to serve as a professor, there is a Centre for Islamic Studies and the Institute of Theology. A new generation of specialists in the field of Islamic studies and Arabic studies is raised here,’ Professor Mukhetdinov concluded.

I am confident that Mohamed Bin Zayed University for Humanities can contribute to the development of cultural and humanitarian cooperation towards a spiritual rapprochement between the positions of our nations. Moscow Islamic Institute and the Centre for Islamic Studies at St Petersburg University are ready to extend support and cooperation in order to achieve the rapprochement between our countries on the principles of humanity and humanism.

Professor Damir Mukhetdinov, Head of the Centre for Islamic Studies, Doctor of Theology

We should also mention that the All-Russian Academic Conference “Islamic Education in Russia in the 21st Century: Results and Prospects” is presently being held at St Petersburg University and the State Hermitage Museum, with assistance from the Fund for Support of Islamic Culture, Science and Education. Among the participants are representatives of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation, as well as religious and state educational institutions implementing programmes in the field of Islamic studies.