ICYMI: Liberal mosque opens in Berlin – The Washington Post

Interesting example of how Islam can evolve in the West:

Inside the red-brick building that now houses the German capital’s newest and perhaps most unusual mosque, Seyran Ates is staging a feminist revolution of the Muslim faith.

“Allahu akbar,” chanted a female voice, uttering the Arabic expression “God is great,” as a woman with two-toned hair issued the Muslim call to prayer. In another major break with tradition, men and women — typically segregated during worship — heeded the call by sitting side by side on the carpeted floor.

Ates, a self-proclaimed Muslim feminist and founder of the new mosque, then stepped onto the cream-colored carpet and delivered a stirring sermon. Two imams — a woman and a man — later took turns leading the Friday prayers in Arabic. The service ended with the congregation joining two visiting rabbis in singing a Hebrew song of friendship.

And just like that, the inaugural Friday prayers at Berlin’s Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque came to a close — offering a different vision of Islam on a continent that is locked in a bitter culture war over how and whether to welcome the faith. Toxic ills like radicalization, Ates and her supporters argue, have a potentially easy fix: the introduction of a more progressive, even feminist brand of the faith.

“The intention is to give liberal Islam a sacred space,” Ates said. “I feel very discriminated by regular mosques where women have to pray in ugly backrooms.”

The subject of withering criticism as well as hopeful support, the house of worship is part of a small but growing number of liberal mosques founded all or in part by women.
Seen by their backers as an antidote to gender bias that often leaves Muslim women praying in smaller spaces, the new kind of “feminist mosques” amount to a rallying cry for change, observers say.

In London, for instance, the female-founded Inclusive Mosque Initiative opened its doors in 2012. Female imams routinely lead prayers in spaces that welcome male and female Muslims of any sect — gays and lesbians included. More recently, mixed-gender or all-female prayers have spread to boutique mosques from California to Switzerland to Denmark.

Women and men traditionally pray separately in mosques for reasons of modesty. Some argue that the Koran does not explicitly call for separation, but others say that female voices should not be heard during prayer.

Source: Liberal mosque opens in Berlin – The Washington Post

As homelands devastated, Indonesian tribe turns to Islam – The Jakarta Post

Parallels with Canadian Indigenous peoples and Christianity?

Indonesian tribesman Muhammad Yusuf believes his conversion from animism to Islam in a government-supported program will eventually make his life easier.

“Thank God, the government now pays attention to us; before our conversion they didn’t care,” says Yusuf, the Islamic name he has adopted.

Yusuf is a member of the “Orang Rimba” tribe. His small community now gathers around a stilt-mounted wooden hut, while children inside wearing Islamic skullcaps and hijabs enthusiastically recite the Koran.

Not far away, other members of the tribe who remain faithful to the old ways stalk through palm oil trees in a desperate hunt for prey in an area that was once lush Sumatran rainforest.

Stick-thin and wearing only loincloths over their weather-beaten skin, they brandish homemade rifles as they search for their next meal.

Yusuf’s group converted to Islam, the predominant faith in Indonesia, and gave up their nomadic ways in January in a bid to improve livelihoods that have been devastated by the expansion of palm oil plantations and coal mines into their forest homelands.

Authorities insist the move is positive but critics say it amounts to a last throw of the dice for indigenous groups driven to desperation by the government’s failure to properly defend their rights against rapid commercial expansion.

Indonesia is home to an estimated 70 million tribespeople, more than a quarter of the total 255-million population, from the heavily tattooed Dayaks of Borneo island to the Mentawai who are famed for sharpening their teeth as they believe it makes them more beautiful.

But as a nomadic group, the Orang Rimba — whose name translates as “jungle people” — are a rarity.

Source: As homelands devastated, Indonesian tribe turns to Islam – National – The Jakarta Post

To escape abusive marriages, many Christians in Pakistan convert to Islam | Religion News Service

Interesting:

For a Pakistani Christian like Shameela Masih, divorcing her abusive husband meant two choices — both nearly as bad as staying in the marriage.

“I have to prove adultery allegations against him,” said Masih, a 34-year-old mother of two. “The other option I have is to convert to Islam.”

Masih recently filed for divorce from a husband she said “frequently beats me up” and a mother-in-law who she said burned her leg with coal.

But under the majority-Muslim country’s laws, she must produce a witness who would testify to committing adultery with her husband. As a result, she’s now reluctantly planning to renounce her faith.

“Converting is the easiest way out,” she said. “My family tells me that they will disown me as a Muslim, but I don’t have a choice.”

Now Pakistani officials are considering revising the law to make it easier for couples to part ways.

“There are so many things in the existing 19th-century Christian Marriage Act that need to be revised and updated to stop the exploitation of people and protect the human rights,” said Kamran Michael, the federal minister for human rights who is spearheading the drive for the legislation.

The law grants divorces to Christian couples on four grounds: adultery, conversion, marriage to another or cruelty. But proving adultery or cruelty is tough, especially in Pakistan, where adultery is a crime, and the stigma against domestic violence is weak in many parts of the country. Christians comprise less than 2 percent of Pakistan’s population of 189 million.

Muslims, on the other hand, can easily obtain a divorce for a variety of reasons, including irreconcilable differences.

Formerly, Pakistan’s laws on divorce mirrored those in Britain. But in the early 1980s, then-military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq restored older laws from the colonial period that applied to Christians divorcing. For Muslims, he left revised laws from the 1960s intact.

“The current law on Christian divorce undermines the dignity of women,” said Fauzia Viqar, who chairs the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women. “Many Christian women are left in marriages where they are suffering cruelty by husbands without any relief from the state.”

Source: To escape abusive marriages, many Christians in Pakistan convert to Islam | Religion News Service

Taliban Target: Scholars of Islam – The New York Times

Taliban mentality and reminder of one of the battles within Islam:

A lone grave, its dirt mound shaded under the drooping branches of a mulberry tree and kept adorned with flowers, has become a daily stop for seminary students and staff members near Togh-Bairdi, in northern Afghanistan.

It is the burial site of Mawlawi Shah Agha Hanafi, a revered religious scholar who founded the seminary about two decades ago and helped it grow into a thriving school for 1,300 students, including 160 girls. This month, the Taliban planted a bomb that killed him as he conducted a discussion about the Prophet Muhammad’s traditions, and his grave, at a corner of the seminary grounds, has become a gathering place for prayer and grief.

“When I come to work, the first thing I do is recite a verse of the Quran at his grave,” said Jan Agha, the headmaster of the seminary, in Parwan Province. “Then I weep, and then I go to my office.”

Mawlawi Hanafi joined a rapidly growing list of Islamic religious scholars who have become casualties of the Afghan war.

The scholars have long been targets, of one kind or another, in Afghanistan. Their words carry weight across many parts of society, and they are assiduously courted for their support — and frequently killed for their criticism.

Hundreds are believed to have been killed over the past 16 years of war, and not always by the Taliban. But there has been a definite uptick in the targeted killing of scholars — widely known as ulema — as the Taliban have intensified their offensives in the past two years, officials say.

It is being taken as a clear reminder of the weight the insurgents give not just to military victories but also to religious influence in their campaign to disrupt the government and seize territory.

“The reason the Taliban resort to such acts is that they want to make sure their legitimacy is not questioned by the sermons of these ulema,” said Mohammad Moheq, a noted Afghan scholar of religion who also serves as an adviser to President Ashraf Ghani.

New Jersey Town Used Zoning to Discriminate Against Islam – The New York Times

Courts worked:

At issue was an official demand that the mosque provide 107 parking spots for its 150 worshipers, instead of the ratio of one spot for every three users required of the township’s churches, synagogues, restaurants and auditoriums.

The Planning Board’s parking requirement for the mosque set off an avalanche: If the Islamic Society were to devote as much of its land to parking as the board demanded, it would not be able to comply with mandates for drainage and lighting.

“Are both synagogues and mosques considered churches under the definitions that the township operates under?” Judge Shipp asked.

Photo

Mohammad Ali Chaudry, president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, at the site of the proposed mosque last year. CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

Mr. Mankoff: “No.”

Judge Shipp: “Is a mosque considered a church?”

Mr. Mankoff: “No.”

Judge Shipp: “So it is different?”

Mr. Mankoff: “Yes, your Honor.”

How so, the judge wanted to know. Mr. Mankoff said that mosques were busy on Friday evenings, rather than on Sundays.

Judge Shipp probed the implications of that answer.

“Is the board, in essence, adopting a policy that expressly applies different standards based on religion?” he asked.

“It’s not based on religion,” Mr. Mankoff said. “It’s based simply on the parking needs of the applicants.”

The judge did not accept that. “Counsel, you just stood there and told me that when you look at a mosque, you’re looking at a Friday worship,” Judge Shipp said. “When you look at Christian churches, you’re looking at a weekend worship.”

A lawyer for the Islamic Society, Adeel A. Mangi of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, pointed out that the township’s synagogues did not have the same severe parking requirements. “They pray on a Friday, too,” Mr. Mangi said.

Over nearly four years, the proposed mosque was the subject of 39 hearings. Beneath the technical land-use discussions in public, a sulfurous tone was captured in emails that the Justice Department uncovered.

“As a religion, Islam owes its size and influence to a tradition from Day 1 of forced conversions through violent means,” wrote John Malay, who served on both the Planning Board and the Township Committee. Members of the two bodies discussed ways to exclude the president of the Islamic Society, Mohammad Ali Chaudry, a former mayor of the township, from a Sept. 11 commemoration. John Carpenter, a member of the Township Committee, wrote of President Obama: “Man child. The product of fools, raised by idiots and coddled by affirmative action. Behold the beast.”

None of these materials were part of Judge Shipp’s decision, which was based entirely on the filings made by the township itself.

Michael Turner, a spokesman for the township, said that many people served their township without compensation. They have the power and responsibility to shape the place where they live. In the case of Bernards Township, Judge Shipp found, it was too much.

“The Parking Ordinance unambiguously provides the Planning Board with unbridled and unconstitutional discretion,” he wrote.

Ken Ward: Indonesia lacks answers to rise of political Islam- Nikkei Asian Review

More on Indonesia and the challenge of Islamic fundamentalists:

Purnama’s defeat and imprisonment also pose questions for Indonesia’s future as a country reputed for pluralism and tolerance, as well as for the “moderate” orientation of most of its Muslims. As happened in many Middle Eastern countries in recent decades, secular nationalism appears to be weakening in Indonesia and a less tolerant form of Islam seems to be consolidating itself. Secular nationalism in Indonesia has never found an eloquent and effective champion since President Sukarno, who died 47 years ago.

The tens of thousands of Indonesians who participated in the rallies held over the last six months were by no means all followers of HTI, the Islamic Defenders’ Front (IDF) or other radical Muslim groups. According to Greg Fealy, also of the Australian National University, and an astute observer of Indonesia’s Muslim politics, many of the participants saw the demonstrations as a legitimate form of religious activity and did not support radical political objectives such as the nationwide adoption of Islamic law.

Those rallies were usually termed actions “to defend Islam,” echoing the IDF’s name. This highlights an advantage that Muslim activists have over secularist or other opponents. It is much easier to “prove” that Islam is under attack than to show that, for example, secular nationalism is under threat. This is partly because the endless wars taking place throughout the Muslim world, largely waged by the U.S. with its local allies against various Muslim opponents, give an international dimension to claims that Islam is under threat.

Moreover, as Islam is by far Indonesia’s majority religion, it is easy to mount the case that Muslims are somehow under-represented. For example, if the governor of the capital city of a Muslim-majority nation like Indonesia is a non-Muslim, it is easy to argue that Muslims are obviously being denied their appropriate place. This is leading to a de facto redefinition, if not abandonment, of Indonesia’s longstanding national motto, Unity in Diversity: Non-Muslims may be elected to govern in non-Muslim-majority regions or cities, but not in Muslim-majority ones, according to such a redefinition.

The ideological counterpoint to Islam in Indonesia is Pancasila, the national doctrine or ideology. But its lofty if essentially generic principles lack an emotional pull. They do not lend themselves to being turned into catchy slogans for mass rallies. Nor does Pancasila have any international connection. A massacre of Christians in Egypt, for example, will not be seen to threaten Pancasila or bring pro-Pancasila demonstrators into the streets.

…HTI is a non-violent organization, however, and a court may refuse to ban it merely on the grounds of its long-term objectives. As pointed out by a former justice and human rights minister, the government has so far ignored the complex procedures it should follow before asking a court to ban HTI. The full legal process can take up to a year.

Such a long period will give Muslim organizations ample opportunity to combat what they will condemn as a new threat to Islam. The attempt to put HTI on trial cannot be blamed on Purnama. Instead Widodo will, correctly, be held responsible. He risks being targeted as anti-Muslim if HTI is banned, and as incompetent if it is not. In any case, Widodo has unintentionally offered his Muslim opponents a platform that will allow them to maintain their recent high level of activism.

Indonesia needs to develop an effective strategy for containing hardline currents of Islam, but the Widodo government has none. Focused primarily on securing investment for infrastructure and increasing gross domestic product, Widodo lacks the vision needed to reverse the trend toward intolerance.

Muslim influence from abroad, particularly the increasing spread of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Islam, threatens Indonesia’s traditions, which urgently require revitalization. Lately, however, the main vehicles for moderate Islam, Nahdatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, have allowed themselves to be upstaged by their radical counterparts. As for Widodo, whether or not he is re-elected in 2019, he does not seem to be a leader capable of restoring balance between political Islam and nationalism, or of inspiring a restoration of traditional Indonesian Muslim values of tolerance and respect for other religions.

Source: Ken Ward: Indonesia lacks answers to rise of political Islam- Nikkei Asian Review

How the hijab has grown into a fashion industry

Interesting analysis by , University of Texas at Austin, on the Islamic fashion industry:

This growth has had its share of controversies: Many designers use the term “Islamic” for their clothing. Religious conservatives and Muslim scholars have raised questions about what types of apparel would fit that category and whether defining clothing as “Islamic” was even permitted or lawful by Islamic principles – a concept known as “halal.”

In particular, critics have objected to the fashion catwalk presentations, which actually draw the gaze and attention of spectators to the bodies of models, while the purpose of a hijab is to distract and move the gaze away from the body. In Iran, for example, Islamic fashion is viewed by the ulama (religious scholars) as another Western influence and referred to as “Western Hijab.”

Defining clothing as Islamic has been controversial. karmakazesal, CC BY

Nonetheless, the Islamic fashion industry has managed to initiate marketing campaigns that capitalize on the very core of Islamic precepts: Sharia, or the Islamic religious law. A Malaysian apparel company, Kivitz, for example, uses the phrase “Syar’i and Stylish.” In Malay, Syar’i is the same as Sharia.

In establishing a nominally Islamic brand, marketers make every effort to align their products with the core value of Islam. So, even when following the trendy fashionable seasonal colors and materials, clothing styles would include some sort of head covering.

Who are the consumers?

The question still remains: What led to such a rapid growth over a span of just three years?

My research has demonstrated that Muslims are more brand aware than the general population. However, in the past they were largely ignored by the fashion industry, perhaps, due to misconceptions that being a Muslim restricted people’s lifestyle.

And now, with a growing Muslim population, there is an increased demand for modest but also fashionable clothing for the youth, who have significant spending power. At the same time, traditional elite and wealthy Middle Eastern consumers who used to shop for fashionable clothing from European nations now prefer to shop from homegrown Muslim fashion designers.

Indeed, the halal logo on food and other products in addition to modesty in clothing has proved to be an effective strategy in creating a global Islamic identity.

As I have seen in my research, consumerism is changing what is means to be modern and Muslim today. As Vali Nasr, a Middle Eastern scholar, explains,

“The great battle for the soul of the Muslim world will be fought not over religion but over market capitalism.”

Source: How the hijab has grown into a fashion industry

Should France Have Its Own Version of Islam? – The Atlantic

Interesting in depth interview – worth reading:

With France’s first round of voting complete, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is among the final two contenders for the presidency, along with centrist Emmanuel Macron. Given how often Le Pen invoked the specter of Islamic fundamentalism throughout her campaign, one might expect French Muslims to be worried about the potential for her to win the May 7 runoff.

But Tareq Oubrou, the popular imam of Bordeaux’s Grand Mosque and a prominent theologian, told me he is not concerned. Nor does he blame those elements in French society that harbor fears of Islam. The morning after the results were announced, he spoke about “legitimate fears” among the French, and seemed to put the burden on Muslims to make Islam more compatible with France and its strong flavor of state secularism, known as laïcité.

Oubrou, who was born in Morocco, is a leading advocate of progressive Islam. Beloved among France’s political elite, he preaches in French as well as in Arabic, critiques the veil or headscarf, insists that Islam is compatible with French ideals at the deepest level, and shrugs off the death threats he gets from radicals.

“It’s religion’s job to institute reform and to respect the laws of the republic,” Oubrou told me, before going on to explain how he and other imams are working to create a new French Islam. This reformed religion, complete with what he calls a “preventive theology,” is meant to be, if not terrorist-proof, at least resistant to being coopted by fundamentalists. Our conversation, which I translated from the French, has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Samuel: In your opinion, what should France’s Muslim leaders be doing to fight radicalization?
Oubrou: We need to pay attention to the training of imams. The terrorist acts have been a shock for imams, and they are starting to take this very seriously. There’s already an intense crisis of conscience: We can’t let our children keep getting seduced online and elsewhere, we have to make an effort to prevent radicalization. Many imams are trying to better explain the Islamic texts that the terrorists use to recruit youth. They’re mobilizing to respond to these interpretations. There’s a theological response underway.
Samuel: Do you think most French people know that imams are fighting this way?
Oubrou: They have no idea. Because there’s no information. Mass media only covers things that aren’t working. And we all know how politicians exploit and aggravate problems so they can propose the solution.Samuel: How are you personally working to make Islam more compatible with the secular values of France?

Oubrou: I myself am working on [an intellectual framework that I call] “the sharia of the minority”—how to adapt Islam, theologically speaking. Muslim theology in France must do the work of acculturating Islam, adapting it to French culture. It’s possible to simplify Islam and preserve what’s important to the Muslim tradition and respect French law and culture. There are a number of Muslims working on a theology of adaptation, to adapt Islam to the West in general and to France in particular.

I am also working on a “preventive theology”—how to elaborate a religious discourse that won’t lend itself to terrorism or fundamentalism.

Samuel: Would it be fair to call your project a reformation?

Oubrou: Yes, it’s a reformation. But it’s always been like this: Every time Islam found itself in a new historical context, it adapted. All religions adapt. Why not Islam?

We need to take into consideration how long it takes to integrate, though. It doesn’t happen in an instant. Islam is a religion that has only relatively recently established itself in France. Simply adapting the theology won’t make people adapt—you need time, too.

Source: Should France Have Its Own Version of Islam? – The Atlantic

Unfettered hate speech fuels Chinese fear of Islam | The Japan Times

Of interest:

A flood of angry anti-Muslim rhetoric on social media was the first sign of how fiercely suburban middle-class homeowners in the central Chinese city of Hefei opposed a planned mosque in their neighborhood. It quickly escalated into something more sinister.

Soon a pig’s head was buried in the ground at the future Nangang mosque, the culmination of a rally in which dozens of residents hoisted banners and circled the planned building site.

Then the mosque’s imam received a text message carrying a death threat: “In case someone in your family dies, I have a coffin for you — and more than one, if necessary.”

“How did things get stirred up to this point?” the imam, Tao Yingsheng, said in a recent interview. “Who had even heard of the Nangang mosque before?”

On the dusty plains of the Chinese heartland, the bitter fight over the mosque exemplifies how a surge in anti-Muslim sentiment online is spreading into communities across China, exacerbating ethnic and religious tensions that have in the past erupted in bloodshed. It is also posing a dilemma for the ruling Communist Party, which has allowed Islamophobia to fester online for years as part of its campaign to justify security crackdowns in the restive region of Xinjiang.

“It has let the genie out of the bottle,” said James Leibold, a professor at La Trobe University in Australia who has tracked the growth of anti-Muslim hate speech on China’s internet.

Interviews with residents and an examination of social media show how a few disparate online complaints by local homeowners evolved into a concerted campaign to spread hate.

Key to it was an unexpected yet influential backer: a Chinese propaganda official, 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) away in Xinjiang, whose inflammatory social media posts helped draw people into the streets on New Year’s Day, resulting in a police crackdown.

First mosque in 1780s

A stone inscription outside its gate shows the original Nangang mosque was established in the 1780s by members of the Hui minority, the descendants of Silk Road traders who settled across China centuries ago. In its present form, the mosque has served the area’s 4,500 Hui for decades, its domed silhouette partially hidden by overgrown shrubs in the countryside beyond Hefei’s last paved boulevards.

Over the past 10 years urbanization has come to Hefei, with sprawling development reconfiguring the landscape and its demographic flavor, and Hui leaders had been pushing for years to relocate their mosque to a more convenient urban location.

City planners in November finally selected a site adjacent to the newly built Hangkong New City condominiums, with its $200,000 two-bedroom units, faux-Mediterranean styling and a Volvo dealership across the street.

The project’s homeowners — overwhelmingly members of China’s ethnic Han majority — began complaining on China’s popular microblog Weibo. Some complained the mosque would occupy space promised for a park. Others warned that safety in the area would be compromised.

Others were more blunt: Han residents were uncomfortable that a center for Hui community life would be less than 100 meters from their building, a homeowner who later identified himself in messages to the AP by his surname, Cheng, wrote in a petition posted in December. “And the less said about what happens on Eid al-Adha, the better,” Cheng wrote, referring to the Islamic holiday in which animals are slaughtered for a sacrificial feast. “It’s absolutely shocking.”

Source: Unfettered hate speech fuels Chinese fear of Islam | The Japan Times

After St. Petersburg bombing, a notable absence: Russian anti-Islam backlash – CSMonitor.com

Interesting take:

Russia has been at war with Islamic enemies for over 500 years. Over the centuries, it fought long battles to subdue Tatars and other Muslim tribes who are now part of Russia. It also waged wars against the Persian and Turkish empires, incorporating many of their former territories into Imperial Russia.

Today, some of Russia’s most “troublesome” minorities are traditionally Muslim people with long histories of conflict with Russia, such as Chechens and Crimean Tatars. But so are some of its most successful and prosperous regions, especially Tatarstan, which has found its own formula for quelling internal Islamist extremism and co-existing, sometimes uneasily, with Moscow.

That’s one reason why most Russians don’t see Muslims as a faceless “other,” but are able to differentiate between different groups of them, says Alexey Malashenko, an Islam specialist with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

“We’ve been living among and, yes, sometimes fighting these people for hundreds of years. We know them,” he says. “The average Russian can tell the difference between a Chechen, a Tatar, an Uzbek, and a Tajik and, believe me, there are big differences. There is a great deal of xenophobia under the surface in Russia, and sometimes it comes out,” as it has in occasional urban race riots between Russians and migrant laborers – who are especially numerous in big cities like Moscow.

“But overt anti-Muslim political appeals, such as you do see in some Western countries, are absolutely impossible in Russia. Our authorities do not need or want the instability that could result from playing that card,” he says.

Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders have been very careful to separate Islam from terrorism, and to make that a frequent public message.

Two years ago Mr. Putin presided, alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, at the inauguration of the $170 million new Moscow Cathedral Mosque, a huge downtown temple that can accommodate 10,000 worshipers. With an eye both to Russia’s millions of Muslims and Russia’s growing role in the Middle East, he used the occasion to condemn Islamist extremism.

“We see what’s happening in the Middle East where terrorists of the so-called Islamic State discredit a great world religion, discredit Islam by sowing hate, killing people, and destroying the world’s cultural heritage in a barbaric way. Their ideology is built on lies, on open perversion of Islam. They are trying to recruit followers in our country as well,” he said.

The powerful Orthodox Church has also walked a cautious line. When Russia intervened in Syria almost two years ago, church officials hailed it in potentially inflammatory terms as a “holy war.” But the church, too, has been at pains to stress that it is a fight against “terrorism,” not Islam, and has repeatedly called for an alliance between moderate Christians and Muslims to combat extremism.

Familiar suspicions

Still, a more familiar Islamophobia bubbles not far beneath the surface. While Russia’s authoritarian political culture keeps it mostly bottled up for now, any survey of the country’s freewheeling social media will turn up plenty of small but clearly active groups who express the kind of militant anti-immigration, anti-foreigner, and anti-Muslim views that are familiar in the West.

“Potentially, any foreign citizen coming here is a threat,” says Valentina Bobrova, a leader of the National Conservative Movement, a small group in the central Russian city of Podolsk. “Islam … is an aggressive religion. We feel that it is attacking, trying to seize territories, minds, and souls in Russia, just as it is in Europe.”

And the story of Ilyas Nikitin, a Russian Muslim whose photograph was mistakenly circulated as a suspect in the St. Petersburg bombing, is a cautionary signal of how quickly grassroots suspicion and ill-will can erupt. Despite being cleared by police, he was subsequently forced off an airplane when terrified passengers complained, and arrived at his home in the west Siberian city of  Nizhnevartovsk to find he’d been fired from his job.

“You can’t say there is Islamophobia in Russia,” says Rais Suleymanov, an expert with the security services-linked Institute of National Strategy. “But when some act of terrorism is committed by radical Islamists, average people are quick to project all of their underlying fears onto that [Islamic] doctrine.”

Source: After St. Petersburg bombing, a notable absence: Russian anti-Islam backlash (+video) – CSMonitor.com