An interview of Haroun Sidorov, CEO of I4E to Ali Shahin

As-salamu aleikum, Harun. As the CEO of the project “Islam for Europeans”, please tell about yourself and about how you relate to this problem?

Wa aleykumu as salam. I converted to Islam in 2003 and this was preceded by about 2 years of meetings and discussions with the person who opened my eyes to itGeydar Dzhemal. This man, who died in 2016, was an intellectual patriarch of the entire non-conformist Russian-speaking Islamic space. Geydar Dzhemal was a colossal philosopher who could talk about Islam through the prism of Western philosophy and vice versa. Therefore, in Russia he actively led the dialogue with a whole spectrum of non-conformists, whether left or right, many of whom came to Islam through him. In the West he communicated with such people as Claudio Mutti, Jakub Zaki in Scotland and others. He was representative of the Khartoum conference of Hasan Turabi in Russia and created an Islamic committee for this.

Only then, after my ”arrival into Islam’’, our paths parted, because at that time he was looking at Islam through the prism of Shiism, while I originally considered myself a Sunni. But I am glad that before his death we managed to restore our communication and reconcile, especially since shortly before it he changed his ideas about Shiism.

As for my way to getting to know Dzhemal, all 90s of the last century I was an active Russian nationalist. My childhood and youth fell at the same era as the the disintegration of the USSR and my family had to leave Azerbaijan, where 3 generations of my ancestors lived and where my great-grandfather came from the internal Russia for work at the beginning of the 20th century. However, by the end of the 1990s I was disappointed both in the most political Russian nationalism and in the spiritual basis of modern nationalism. I became interested in the works of Nietzsche, Rene Guénon, Julius Evola, the metaphysics of Hinduism, and at that moment I became acquainted with Dzhemal. He introduced me to a much deeper intellectual perspective than quenonizm or evolaism, and in the end I became a Muslim.

At the same time, I must say that at that time I was no longer the only former Russian nationalist who accepted Islam. When we began to communicate, it turned out that there are already a lot of people like that. There were even more people who had a keen interest in Islam, but they were stopped from accepting it because Islam in Russia was always associated with its non-Russian peoples and migrants. Therefore, we had an idea to create an organization of indigenous Russians who accepted Islam, to show the Russian people that they can be Muslims, while neither joining ethnic diasporas nor becoming single without their own identity. So in 2004 groups of Russian Muslims from Moscow, the Volga region, Omsk and Kazakhstan gathered in Siberia and established the National Organization of Russian Muslims (NORM).

In 2007, we met with Shaykh Abdulqadir as-Sufi (Jan Dallas). Soon we joined his movement “Murabitun” and I headed its Russian community. At the same time, we joined the European Muslim Union, whose sources were the European students of Shaykh Abdulqadir As-Sufi. In this activity we took part approximately until the end of 2013, after which we stopped attending those events, and we were no longer invited to them. So, one can say that I am engaged with the problems of the European Muslims since 2007, and if we talk about their Russian part, then since 2004.

Well, we will come back to EMU and Murabitun activities a bit later, in the second part of our interview. Now I will ask you this question. It’s no secret that in the era of the new Cold War, everything connected with Russian participation in Western public and political processes is under suspicion. Much is said about the fact that Russian propaganda is purposefully working in the West in order to destroy the structures of the European Union and Euro-Atlantic solidarity, the coming to power of far-right politicians as Putin’s allies, etc. Are not you afraid that the project of Islam for Europeans will be perceived in this same way?

The things you are telling me about are absolutely correct. But they have nothing to do with me and my associates, moreover, we warned our friends in the West about them a few years before they began to understand it. We faced aggressive Putinism long before the West encountered it. Moreover, not only with its propaganda machine, the birth and ideology of which we have observed for a long time, but also with its repressive machine. I, myself as the leader of the NORM, was forced to leave Russia in 2009, and already two of my three children were born in Europe. And in 2013, most of the other active participants of the NORM have emigrated from Russia.

And I must say that we are not the only ones. In recent years, thousands of Russian political emigrants have left Putin’s Russia, including Muslims, liberals, Russian and non-Russian nationalists, leftists, human rights activists, and opposition Christian and even Orthodox groups. Unfortunately, today the West does not want to notice these people who understand the essence and methods of Putinism better than anyone else. It sees only the “Russian threat” in the face of Putin’s networks, not understanding what to do with it.

Therefore, we must understand that in the West today there are not only pro-Putin Russians, who unfortunately have the majority and they have the support of the Kremlin, but also the anti-Putin Russians, who unfortunately are not supported by anyone. And I want to say that in the global world, the participation of Russians in Western processes is inevitable because since Peter I the Russian culture is closely connected with the western, was under its influence, and on the contrary it influenced it. Moreover, I am sure that Putin is now holding back this participation, because his policies lead to the isolation of Russia. If not for this, more Russian students would study in Western institutes, more Russian specialists would work in Western companies, more Russian businessmen would conduct business in the West and so on. And thanks to Putin’s policy and Western counter-measures, the Russian presence is greatly reduced and at the same time politically polarized.

For many of our readers, what you are talking about will be surprising, because many Muslims in the West and in general all over the world view Putin as a friend and ally of Islam, in particular, in the struggle against American hegemony and Zionism. What explains your so intransigent attitude towards him?

In fact, we absolutely did not want to go to confrontation with the Russian authorities. Moreover, we, ourselves for many years had hopes that it would appreciate the importance of the Islamic factor in Russia and the world. However, after several years of our activity, it became obvious to us that this is impossible and that the Kremlin’s rhetoric towards Muslims is fundamentally different from its real policy. We saw an increase of Islamophobes in the Russian establishment, but at first, like many Muslims, naively thought that this was not the position of the authorities themselves, but of some groups. Some of them are associated with the Russian Orthodox Church, the other part with Zionist circles. And we thought that Muslims need to work with the authorities to oppose these circles. However, after we had the opportunity to communicate with representatives of the Kremlin, we realized that these are illusions. There they are ready to recognize only Muslims – puppets of the state, supporting its domestic and foreign policy, whatever it may be. Therefore, they regard the independent Islamic civil society as a mortal threat.

Look, in Russia, Islamic organizations such as Muslim Brotherhood, Tabligh-Jamaat, Hizb ut-Tahrir, and even the movement of Said Nursi’s readers are officially banned and recognized as terrorists. We ourselves can disagree with them in some ways or criticize them, but they are free to operate in Western countries and have hundreds of their centers and thousands of their followers. Western Islamophobes are trying to get them banned, but what has just been discussed in the West has long been applied in Russia.

If someone decides that this attitude concerns only organizations of foreign origin, then it is deeply mistaken. Our community is a good example – the secret services initially viewed us as enemies, even when we did not have any international ties (although why should their presence be a problem?). The reason for this is that after the bankruptcy of communism, the Kremlin decided to bet on the chauvinistic version of Orthodoxy. Therefore, in Russia, except Chechnya, led by Kadyrov (where these concessions are also likely to be temporary), a policy of double standards is being implemented. On the one hand, the green light of the expansion of the Orthodox Church is given, which is supported by one part of Russian society and rejected by another, secular. On the other hand, there is a policy of maximum de-Islamization of Muslims, which is supported by both the Orthodox and the secular (liberal) part of Russian society.

But worst of all in this situation, the native Russian, who accepted Islam. If indigenous Muslims from non-Russian peoples are still tolerated as an inevitable evil, then indigenous Russian Muslims are seen as something that simply should not be. Because in Russia it is believed that Russians can be either Orthodox or non-religious. Therefore, although there are some Russian Muslims and even their families in Russia, at the level of state policy, propaganda, special services, everything is done to ensure that there are no centers for the consolidation of Russian Muslims. For this reason, the NORM was in fact extruded abroad and suspended its activities in Russia.

To sum up all this for Western readers, one can say that the free creation of Islamic centers, communities, madrassas, an active call to Islam of local people, which they perceive as a given in the West, are impossible in Russia. Moreover, in the West, the Kremlin supports precisely such forces that want you to have the same way, whether it’s the Austrian Freedom Party, the French National Front, the Alternative for Germany, etc.

Good. What prompted you to create a new international English-language project? Do you consider it as part of the information struggle against Putinism?

No, this project has nothing to do with this. These are our internal problems and we are not going to involve other European Muslims in them. We generally want to keep this project away from any political issues that can split European Muslims. It is not a secret that there are different positions among European Muslims on such issues as attitude towards Putin, Syria, Erdogan, Brexit, EU and so on. Therefore, we want to focus on what unites, namely, the development of our identity, the reconstruction and study of historical and cultural heritage, our positioning in relations with other communities, both Muslim and non-Muslim.

As for the reasons that prompted us to initiate this project, this is what many people need, but no one has done this for many years. Now the active part of Russian Muslims is driven out of Russia into emigration and many of us are more connected with the West than with Russia. Russian Muslims already live in Central Europe, Scandinavia and the UK, let alone Ukraine, whose citizens have now received a visa-free regime and are actively traveling to the EU.

But we saw this need in many Western Muslims with whom we have communicated. These ideas were developed in his articles by the Italian Sheikh Ahmad Ali Adani (Enrico Honnorat) and shared by Muslim Italians from his circle in Italy, Britain and the United States. We see interest in them from our brothers in Sweden and the Netherlands. And, of course, one of the main segments of their supporters is the Muslims of the indigenous peoples of Eastern Europe. Including their representatives who live in the US – Bosnians, Polish-Lithuanian Tatars, converts from Ukraine, Belarus, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

And today our website already has readers from 52 countries and more than 200 localities. 

Why, in your opinion, they all need this new project?

Briefly, we must note that the policy pursued in Europe, let alone the United States (where it simply does not exist), by the leadership of European Muslims associated with “Murabitun” (we call it the European Muslim Movement 1.0.) does not correspond their needs and expectations, and in some cases simply ignores them. Our attempts to change this situation from within for several years have not led to success. Therefore, now we see the launch, while in a virtual field, of what can be described as the European Muslim Movement 2.0.

To be continued

2 Comments

  1. Wow! More excellent info, I am praying for the success of you brothers and sisters. MashaAllah.

    One suggestion, it would be great to hold polls if possible on this site targeting European converts. I would love to learn about marriage patterns(are they marrying outside European peoples), the size of family and even the way they trend (Sunni orthodox, salami, etc). I really hope more European converts have the kind of confidence you do – it will help so many people come to the deen inshaAllah.

Leave a Reply to Harun Cancel

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*