2006-03-13 12:59:00

An Orthodox priest is ready to come in any secular door accessible to him today together with a Muslim mullah

The other day the Council of Muftis in Russia came out with a critical comment on the bill On Army Chaplains drafted by the Chief Army Prosecutor’s Office and the idea of teaching Basic Orthodox Culture in school. Deacon Andrey Kurayev, professor at Moscow Theological Academy, commensd on the latest statements made by the Council in an interview to Interfax-Religion.

- Father Andrey, what do you think of the critical remarks made by the Council of Muftis on the teaching Basic Orthodox Culture in school and the bill On Army Chaplains?

- I think in this case the Council of Muftis became a toy in the hands of radical liberal forces. I am not quite sure it is their well-considered stand. Reasoning from the fact that the stand the Council of Muftis held earlier, which was close to that of the Russian Orthodox Church, and that they have now changed it, I also assume that it may mean one of the two things: either the Council of Muftis believes its position in society has become much stronger, though there are no reasons to believe so, or, which is more probable, it is a chess game in which anti-Christian forces seek to ensure their interests by Muslims’ hands. The forces the Council of Muftis have come into alliance with in this case would hardly concur with muftis on other issues.

In this case the Council of Muftis plays the strange role of a dog in the manger who will not crunch a bone and does not give it to others. It is not a creative position. It advocates the values of not Islam but Marxism-Leninism.

The most important things however is that all these protests grow from personal grievances and the muftis’ personal fault. In fact, they have failed to use the last fifteen years to cultivate a generation of their own preachers who could come in school and army. They have stuck in their carrier and financial strife within the Muslim umma, which is described, in particular, in the book by Roman Silantyev. As a result, when Muslim educators are called to school and army, it turns out that they have nobody to send! I sympathize with them. But they should not give their own impotence for commitment to democratic values. Indeed, the Union of the Disabled in Russia would not demand that the Russian football championship be cancelled!

- What do you think of the proposal of the Council of Muftis to give knowledge of all the traditional Russian religions in school as History of Traditional Religions?

- It should be taken into account that teaching a history of religions in school will only be destructive because the teachers of this discipline will be hardly able to speak about all the world religions with love. They will hardly be able to tell children about Christianity in the way that would make it clear what inspired Christian martyrs or about Buddhism in the way that would make understandable the joy a Buddhist monk or a yogi feels on his journey. And a story a secular teacher will tell them about Islam in teaching a general course of history of world religions will hardly provoke in children a desire to identify with the Islamic world.

As far as Basic Orthodox Culture is concerned, it is a discipline not about religion but culture. To protest against teaching it is the same as to protest against teaching Russian literature or Russian language. I believe no Russian citizen would be hurt by introduction to either Russian Language or Basic Orthodox Culture. Indeed, if you study Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy in school you do not have to agree with them. Similarly, if you study Basic Orthodox Culture you are not obliged to pronounce the Orthodox Creed at the end of the lesson. The point is to study the matrix of Orthodox culture.

At the same time, we do not object to teaching Basic Muslim Culture or both disciplines in schools or regions with predominant Muslim presence. In general, when we come to school or army we say: we are delighted to be accompanied by Muslim preachers. We are not going to shut the door behind us and isolate ourselves from the Muslims. We are always ready to act together.

- Do you agree with the Council of Muftis’ statement that the introduction of an institution of army chaplains will break the interconfessional peace in the army because soldiers will “project ‘the enemy image’ to their barrack-mates”?

- I would like to hear representatives of the Council of Muftis citing at least one case where an Orthodox priest coming to an army unit would set Christianity against Islam, denouncing Islam on top of that. Even if our preachers are allowed to get involved in any interreligious polemic, it is a polemic with non-traditional religions or sectarians but never with Muslims. Nevertheless, I believe it fundamentally important that priests should be present in barracks precisely because this presence may become a pillar for consolidation of Russian soldiers in face of the well-known ‘friendly associations’ of other ethnicities.

I will remind you again that Muslim preachers are awaited with joy in any military unit, so that they, among other things, may explain to other ‘friendly ethnic associations’ that they should not be parasitic on the domestic toil of their Russian fellow-soldiers. So, the Council of Muftis could render a real assistance to the army by issuing a fatwa explaining that a Muslim has the right to peel potatoes, and the Koran does not list as sins such things as washing floors and dishes and cleaning the loo.

- What do you think of the Council of Muftis’ statement that their concern ‘is shared by all religious denominations including Christian ones except for the ROC‘?

- I can congratulate the Council of Muftis on the fact that they themselves seem to abandon the status of traditional religion in Russia and want to become yes-men in the chorus of all kinds of sectarians. This is their free choice and self-identification. We however offer them relations of open, comprehensive and equitable cooperation. An Orthodox priest is ready to come in any secular place accessible to him together with a Muslim mullah.