Ukraine’s Muslims: where do they stand on the crisis?

Observers say a Russia-leaning swing in politics could be “totally suicidal” for Ukrainian Muslims

Paul Crompton

Published: Updated:

For Ukraine’s Muslims, the ongoing political crisis should not directly affect their 500,000 member community, according to the country’s grand mufti. However, according to observers, a Russia-leaning swing in politics could be “totally suicidal” for Ukrainian Muslims.

The crisis in Ukraine, which reflects the conflict between those who want the country to remain aligned with Russia and those who want closer integration with western Europe, could threaten to split the public over the contentious issue. Such a division would “not [be] in the interests” of the nation, Europe, its neighbor Russia, or the United States, said U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice earlier this week.

Such a split, which could see areas of the country be lapped up by Russia, would be “totally suicidal” for the country’s Crimean Tatar Muslim minority, said Hakan Kirimli, an international affairs advisor in the Crimean Tatar National Movement. Many Muslims, he added, were expelled by the Soviet Union in 1944 under the pretext of allegedly collaborating with occupying Nazi Germany.

“They are for (pro) staying in Ukraine and by no means [wish to go to] Russia,” he said

However, the county’s grand mufti is cautious about the protests’ effects on Ukraine’s Islamic community.

“The recent events will not affect the Muslims of Ukraine differently than any other component of Ukrainian society,” said Grand Mufti Ahmed Tamim to Al Arabiya News. “The government and political positions in Ukraine aren’t divided on religious grounds,” he added.

Tamim said that the Muslim community – largely made up of members of the Tatar ethnic group residing in the Crimean region – will support any legitimate new leader, regardless of the official’s religious convictions.

“We will support anyone who will work for the welfare and prosperity of Ukraine and its people,” he said.

Marc Schneier, a New York-based rabbi who has worked with the Ukrainian Jewish Committee to fight against both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the country, said that “it’s too early to tell” whether the unrest will have a negative effect on the country’s Muslims.

“We have to be vigilant and monitor the situation, so that Muslims – particularly in the Crimea – will not be targeted in any xenophobic or any negative way,” he said.