Muslim Wire

Clinton Lauds Tolerance in Muslim Tatarstan

Posted in Politics, Society by muslimwire on October 20, 2009

KAZAN – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited on Wednesday, October 14, the predominantly Muslim former Soviet republic of Tatarstan, describing it as an example of multi-ethnic tolerance and peace.

“Tatarstan is predominantly Muslim but the people live very peacefully together in an interfaith way and I wanted to see that for myself,” Clinton told Echo of Moscow radio.

Three women in traditional costumes representing the main ethnic groups had greeted her off the plane and presented her with a local cake known as chak-chak.

Clinton visited Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, as part of her visit to Russia.

Situated on the banks of the Volga River, the city of 1.2 million famously contains a mosque an Orthodox cathedral within the walls of its Kremlin, a historic citadel declared a World Heritage Site in 2000.

“I am happy to be here in a place that models interfaith tolerance,” said Clinton.

“What is particularly attractive about Kazan is that you have a mosque and an Orthodox church side by side.”

Donning a yellow headscarf and taking off her shoes in line with Islamic custom, Clinton visited the gigantic Qul Sharif mosque inside the citadel.

The mosque was originally built in the 16th century and was named after prominent scholar Qul Sharif who died with his students while defending Kazan against the Russian forces of Ivan The Terrible who destroyed the mosque in 1552.

Rebuilding began in 1996 and the new mosque was opened on July 24, 2005 as part of celebrations dedicated to the Millennium of Kazan.

The white-and-blue mosque’s central dome stands 39 meters high and the four main minarets are each 57 meters high.

Model

President Mintimer Shaimiyev asserted that there are no interfaith problems in his country.

“We have plenty of mixed marriages,” he told visiting Clinton.

Tatars, a Muslim Turkic people, make up more than half of the population and live alongside a large ethnic Russian Orthodox Christian population and other minorities.

Clinton also heaped praise on Shaimiyev, who has ruled Tatarstan since the collapse of Communism in 1991.

“You are well known as someone who has fostered religious tolerance,” she told him during their joint visit to the mosque.

“It’s a wonderful example of what can be done if people work together,” added Washington’s top diplomat.

After the Soviet collapse Shaimiyev initially floated the idea of independence from Russia.

He can now boast the only special autonomy agreement with Moscow of any of the 89 regions that make up Russia, a fact that appears to have secured his loyalty to the Kremlin.

“You respect the past while you keep your eye firmly on the future,” Clinton told Shaimiyev after talks in his presidential palace.

Tatarstan is situated in the center of the Russian Federation on the East-European Plain at the confluence of the two greatest rivers — the Volga and the Kama.

Since the early days of Islam, individual Muslims and delegations visited the region of Volga-Bulgaria, today’s Tatarstan.

By the year 922, Islam had spread in the region and had been adopted as an official religion.

At the beginning of the 13th century, Volga-Bulgaria was captured by the Mongols and forcibly included into the Golden Horde.

By the beginning of the 15th century, the Golden Horde, which by then was a Muslim state, had broken down into several states, the strongest of which was Kazan Khanate.

In 1552, Kazan fell to the invading troops of Ivan the Terrible and Islam was persecuted until the end of the 18th century.

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