As a country with a relatively small Muslim community, Ukraine should not face the problem of mass drift towards Islam, but today's Crimea seems to be emerging as an exception from the rule. The younger generation of the Tatars of Crimea is adopting an increasingly radical world view while the influence of the traditional Majlis of the Crimean Tatar people, which used to be counted as the region's sole legitimate authority by quite a few of the local Tatars, is in fact declining, and groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, hyperactive and well-connected in the Middle East, are moving to the front stage.
At the moment both forces – the Majlis and Hizb ut-Tahrir – are noting less than staking bids to shape the future of the ethnically diverse Crimea. Established in 1953 in Jerusalem, Hizb ut-Tahrir features prominently on the majority of lists of terrorist organizations across the world and is outlawed in Russia and much of the post-Soviet Central Asia. Nevertheless, Hizb ut-Tahrir became entrenched in Ukraine in the 1990ies and meets with no resistance from the country's administration. The group enjoys full freedom to maintain its media outlets and to interact with likewise movements, and is clearly bracing for a showdown with the Majlis.
Of course, Hizb ut-Tahrir is not the only Muslim group currently seeking sway over Muslims in Ukraine. The increasingly visible ALRAID, a Muslim network spanning across Ukraine, opened centers in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, Donetsk, Vinnytsia, Zaporizhia, and Luhansk. Its stated mission is to boost the awareness of the Islamic culture, but the markedly anti-Slavic dimension of the ALRAID propaganda of Islam did not evade watchers. Whenever ALRAID materials explain the harm of alcohol or smoking, the portrayal contrasts a heavily drinking Slav and a Muslim who is in every respect an exemplary person. ALRAID also prescribes the hijab to Muslim women as a mandatory element of the attire regardless of the fact that in quite a few countries combining Muslim legacy with secular statehood – such as Turkey and Tunisia – wearing or not wearing the hijab is left to individual choice. Making inroads into the Ukrainian academia, ALRAID organizes events from the name of the Crimean branch of the Oriental Studies Institute of the Ukrainian National Academy of Science, publishes a leaflet disseminated in the Crimean Tatars' schools, fitness clubs, and cultural centers, runs Muslim summer camps for children and training courses for young women, and churns out pushily styled missionary books and videos. Money is poured into ALRAID by scores of foreign organizations including Saudi Arabia's World Assembly of Muslim Youth, the Zakat based in Kuwait and Qatar, etc. The aforementioned World Assembly of Muslim Youth counts in its ranks the notorious Muslim Brotherhood, which is widely suspected of sponsoring terrorist groups in Russia's North Caucasus and flooding other post-Soviet countries with extremist brochures.
At-Takfir wal-Hidjra, an extremist group with an agenda evidently surpassing that of Hizb ut-Tahrir in radicalism, is also hunting the younger generation of the Tatars of Crimea. The group's founder, Egyptian agricultural engineer Shukri Mustafa, espoused fighting the infidels in the name of establishing a global Muslim world order. Members of At-Takfir wal-Hidjra were charged with conspiring to kill Majlis leader Mustafa Jemilev (for his alleged departure from the “genuine” Islam). In 2009 Yuri Lutsenko, Ukraine's police master at the time, remarked that roughly a third of the group's members were Slavs and that Ukraine was unprepared to pick up the challenge.
Another group worth mentioning in the context is the Tablig Jamaat which, in contrast to its more outspoken peers, avoids public preaching and focuses on communicating privately to compact target audiences. The approach makes Tablig Jamaat, the group banned in Russia and several other countries over its involvement in terrorism, largely invisible for security services.
Due to shared opposition to Russia, Ukrainian nationalists tend to view Muslim extremists as political allies. Praising the anti-Russian faction of Crimea's political spectrum, Former Ukrainian president V. Yushchenko used to stress that the Tatars of Crimea exemplify true Ukrainians. The UNA-UNSO (Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian National Self Defense), the main Ukrainian nationalist movement, composed an anthem, part of the text being “My nation is my Islam, long live Ukraine and death to the enemies!”. Hennadiy Udovenko from the People's Rukh of Ukraine, a nationalist political party, lavishely estimated the number of Ukraine's Muslims at 1,500,000, which was an obvious overstatement considering that the Tatars of Crimea, the only traditionally Muslim ethnic group in Ukraine, number around 300,000. Ukraine's other Muslims are either immigrants, a relatively small population group, or recent converts, mostly ethnic Ukrainians or Russians, who, by the way, typically opt for the radical brands of Islam.
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The Islamic culture is an indispensable part of the global cultural legacy. We owe to it such prominent figures as Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī, Edward Wadie Saïd, Ali Shariati, and Ibn Khaldūn. It must be realized, however, to what extent envoys of radical Muslim groups manage to pervert the impressive cultural potential of Islam to promote their ruinous politicized agendas.