A Special Report from the Russian language Forerunner
By Oleg Aleksandrov
Translation by Roman Medvid
KAZAN, Tatarstan – The spread of the gospel in the former USSR has become an irreversible process. You can hear a lot about new churches and Bible schools being started, Christian literature being distributed and the lives of millions of people being healed.
The louder the gospel proclamation, however, the more indignant are those who see it as a threat to their well-being. It is no wonder that many inter-religious and inter-denominational problems emerged recently. These conflicts are dramatized in major cities where religion is tightly knit with nationalistic endeavors.
One of these “hot spots” is Kazan. The capital city of Tatarstan, the city is a large industrial, academic and cultural center in the Volga river valley region. The population of Kazan surpassed one million many years ago. Russians and Tatars make up 90 percent of the city, having equal shares of the population. However, local government offices and economic leadership are dominated by people of Tatar nationality. In attempt to maintain and enlarge their influence, the Tatars are evoking national conflicts. One of the most influential means, Islam, is the most traditional and common religion for the majority of the population.
During the rule of the Soviet Union, the roots of Islam were not entirely done away with in Tatarstan. Even though many priests were persecuted, many mosques were closed and Islamic religious literature was banned, the Muslim presence remained. Having penetrated the historical and national traditions of the Tatar nation, Islam recently became the “national religion,” as opposed to Christianity, which had been brought here by Russian migrants.
Antagonism between the two religions reached its climax recently. The conflict led some nationalistic groups under Islamic banners to call for the jihad, or “the Holy War.” The ideological position of Islam sees a struggle with another religion’s adherents as something that pleases Allah and every person killed in the struggle is seen as a martyr.
However, this extreme position has not been in favor with the common people of Tatarstan. In fact, the Orthodox Church, characterized by a great tolerance of other religions, has never promoted the conflict. Relations between Russians and Tatars have never been in enmity. Before it became a means of political struggle, Islam never had this strong support from the government.
Now the shift has taken place: old mosques in the Old City are being rebuilt at a rapid speed, new ones are built in modern districts and Islamic literature is being distributed through regular news stands. The idea is being promulgated among the common people that a real Tatar is to go to a mosque. Mass media promotes traditionalism, a return to old religious values and a refutation of anything new that has come during the past few decades.
This situation causes many problems to numerous young Christian churches, missions and centers. Evangelical Protestants have to counter much opposition not only from the government and followers of Islam, but also from the Russian Orthodox Church. Members of different Protestant denominations are far from agreement. This fact inevitably leads to the weakening of their influence. We hope that Christians from all denominations and confessions would unite in order to carry the Word of Truth to the people.