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Cablegate: Moscow's Chief Mufti Stresses Tolerance And

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1. (SBU) Summary: Chairman of the Kremlin-friendly Council
of Muftis of Russia Ravil Gaynutdin told the Ambassador on
November 13 that Russia's Muslims practice a tolerant form of
Islam and are receiving increasing support from the GOR.
This is most evident, according to Gaynutdin, in the huge
expansion underway at his mosque near the center of Moscow.
Despite a misunderstanding that led to the cancellation of a
proposed International Visitor Leadership Program, Gaynutdin
expressed a desire to continue to work closely with the
Embassy on future exchange programs. End Summary.

2. (SBU) The Ambassador met on November 13 with Ravil
Gaynutdin, Chairman of the Council of Muftis and Chief Mufti
at the Moscow's Cathedral Mosque next to the huge indoor
stadium built for the 1980 Olympic Games. The meeting took
place at Gaynutdin's office adjacent to the site of a
planned, multi-year expansion of the mosque and construction
of a combined Islamic business/conference/trade center.
Gaynutdin expressed his appreciation for many years of close
relations with the Embassy, including private visits with
U.S. ambassadors and invitations to diplomatic receptions at
Spaso House. Gaynutdin had agreed to meet with the
Ambassador during a break in a conference in Moscow sponsored
by the Council of Muftis on strengthening Islamic culture in

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3. (SBU) Gaynutdin congratulated the Ambassador on the
recently completed U.S. presidential elections, saying that
like the rest of the world, Russians were interested in how
the campaign was run and the platforms of the candidates.
Most importantly, he emphasized, Russians saw how a real
democracy works, especially how it dealt with matters of
religion and race. He hoped that with the new
administration, mutual understanding between Russia and the
U.S. would be strengthened. He admitted that the August
conflict between Georgia and Russia had caused a problem, but
that the world's two superpowers must cooperate.

Russia's Muslims Benefit from Good Relations with the GOR
--------------------------------------------- ------------

4. (SBU) Gaynutdin stated that Islam is a core religion in
Russia -- not a religion of immigrants -- and actually
predates Orthodox Christianity in some parts of the country.
He stressed that Russia's Muslims have good relations with
all the other major religions of Russia (he specifically
mentioned Russian Orthodoxy, Buddhism, Judaism, and western
Christianity). Gaynutdin said he was the driving force for
the establishment of an inter-religious council that has
resulted in greater interfaith stability and added that his
deputy is a member of its coordinating group.

5. (SBU) According to Gaynutdin, President Dmitriy Medvedev
and Premier Vladimir Putin are more religious than was Boris
Yeltsin and this has improved the position of all religions
in Russia. Over the last two years, Russia's Muslims have
benefited from government assistance that has helped train
imams and increased support for Muslim media. Gaynutdin said
he wants to continue the muftiate's cooperation with the
government, including Medvedev's Council on Religions and the
State Duma's Commission on Religion. Gaynutdin proudly said
that he is the only Muslim member of the Public Chamber.

6. (SBU) As a result of his close relationship with the
government, Gaynutdin said that Putin had supported the
construction of a new mosque in Moscow while he was still
president of Russia. Moscow mayor Yuriy Luzhkov had donated
nearly a block of prime real estate adjacent to the existing
mosque north of the Garden Ring Road near Prospect Mir.
Gaynutdin explained that the ongoing "reconstruction" of the
existing mosque will transform it into a house for 10,000
worshippers. The muftiate will next add a conference center
capable of expanding participation by an additional
12,000-15,000 in adjacent halls and eventually a business
center with a halal grocery and a community center for Muslim
cultural events. Gaynutdin stressed that contributions for
the construction of these venues will come only from Russia's
Muslim community and not from abroad. He said this has made
the process difficult and slow, but that the muftiate had
decided from the start that no foreign money would be
accepted for its construction. He hoped the first milestone,
construction of one of the two 85-meter minarets, would be
finished in time for Kurban Bairam in December 2008. He
noted proudly that when finished, the new mosque will be
three times larger than the Qol Sharif Mosque opened in July
2005 within the Kremlin of Kazan in his native Tatarstan.

7. (SBU) According to Gaynutdin, the muftiate has questioned
plans by the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to require the
study of Russian Orthodoxy as a required subject in Russian

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public schools. The members of the muftiate have asked ROC
leaders to consider also instruction about Islam in the
schools. Gaynutdin stressed that Russian children need to
learn not only about their own religion, but also about the
religion of their neighbors. He added that it would be wrong
to teach Russia's Muslim children that Islam is the only true

Gaynutdin Keen on Further Cooperation with U.S.
--------------------------------------------- --

8. (SBU) Gaynutdin said that he and other members of the
muftiate are prepared to participate in international
programs and conferences dealing with tolerance and the
dialogue among civilizations. Without admitting any
involvement in the cancellation of a planned August 2008 IVLP
on Islam in America, he said that invitations for foreign
travel by imams funded by the USG should be transmitted
through the Council of Muftis. He noted that one of the
muftis selected to participate in the August 2008 program had
announced his selection on his personal website prior to
receiving permission to travel from the Council of Muftis.
Gaynutdin recalled that during a conference in Indonesia in
February 2008 he met an imam from New York who shared views
on tolerance similar to those held by Russia's Muslims. He
noted that since the 1990's, the muftiate has not had much
contact with Muslim groups in the U.S., nor does it have
strong relations with any Muslim organizations there.
Gaynutdin asked the Ambassador if it would be possible to
restart visits by U.S. Muslims who, like the imam from New
York, have a moderate view of Islam.


9. (SBU) Gaynutdin was effusive in his response to
President-elect Obama's election and seemed sincere in his
desire to work with the Embassy on future visitors' programs.
His desire to keep his own "vertical of power" within the
muftiate, however, came through strong and clear. We have
proposed an IVLP on "Religious Education in America" designed
for representatives from Russia's five Islamic universities
and based on a successful program for Saudi educators
inaugurated several years ago. We will reach out to
Gaynutdin for his suggestions of a representative from the
Russian Islamic University in Moscow that falls under his
purview and look for additional opportunities to bring
American Muslims and U.S. Islamic scholars to Russia.

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