Young Shiite convert writer Anastasiia (Fatima) Ezhova, a former collaborator of Russia’s historical Islamist leader Heydar Jemal, shortly evokes the present division of neo-Muslims in Russia between a ‘first’ and ‘second’ waves. Briefly introducing the old generation, the author insists of the variety of its affiliations and quest of a trans-madhhab ecumenism. She also identifies the links between this first generation and figureheads or periodicals of Russia’s neo-traditionalist circles, extreme right, and anti-Zionist movements. Converted to Islam in the 1990s and 2000s, notably under the influence of Heydar Jemal’s television broadcasts (“Minaret,” “Nyne”) and websites (“Kontrudar,” “Orientatsiia – Sever”), the second generation is introduced through its new strategies: the acquisition of a complete traditional religious education that its elders are lacking, and a rejection of the models inherited from modern history (Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Khomeini, all very popular among the first wave), with preference for heroes from the first centuries of Islam.
The last paragraphs are devoted to the role played by debates within the Islamic Committee of Russia, under Jemal’s guidance, and within the National Organisation of Russian Muslims, in the growing differentiation between Russian Sunnis and Shiites. The enlargement of these organisations’ audience, notably under guidance of young neo-Shiite specialist of Oriental languages and translator of religious literature Taras (Abdulkarim) Chernienko, or of Orenburg Tatar neo-Shiite publicist Daniial Tulenkov has allowed the conversion of a new generation of neo-Muslims without influence of Jemal’s thought.
As in many writings of apologetic character by neo-Muslims, especially those of Russian background, on modern-day Islam in Russia, the role of more traditional institutions like mosques and madrasas is excessively donwplayed, when not totally forgotten, and the personnel of central and regional Muftiyyats appear as a mere ghost, a symbol of collusion with power and of failure to act. Moreover, among the factors of adoption of Islam by Christians, only dissatisfaction with the Bible is mentioned, which is a little bit short, and a very nice way to draw a discreet veil over a complex set of social and psychological factors. Part of the interest of the present, sometimes extremely polemic publication comes from its unsaid autobiographical character, and the first-hand sources of assertions that it conveys on Heydar Jemal and on his personal influence, direct or indirect, till now in Russia.