Muslim Migrants as Russia’s ‘Other’: Islam’s Role in Cultural Assimilation and Adaptation of Central Asian Migrants in Russia
There are about 5 million Central Asian migrant workers in Russia, most of them concentrating in Moscow, Saint-Petersburg and other large Russian cities . Fears of rising crime and rising nationalist sentiment among Russians have resulted in negative attitude towards migrants. Initially popular among the uneducated Russian youth, xenophobia is now permeating the higher social strata. Interestingly, anger of public opinion in Russia is directed at non-Slavic people; an average white Russian is quite tolerant of a Ukrainian rather than a Chechen though the latter is a Russian citizen.
Muslims, especially those from Central Asia, are regarded as a potential threat for Russian/Orthodox identity of the local population. Reading the Russian news media for the last several years, one frequently encounters the fear of Russia becoming a Muslim state in the future. Ethnic tension is so ripe that ordinary quarrels often grow into inter-ethnic clashes . These developments have been contributing to rise of calls for mass deportations of labour migrants, most of whom come from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Opinion polls show that majority of Russians have negative attitudes towards migrants from Central Asia .
The overwhelming majority of migrants in Russia now observe social distance with the local people for safety and security reasons. They tend to live in their in-closed communities. Migrants remain closed in their ethnic/regional social network and live a largely isolated lifestyle. What is interesting, when faced with this xenophobic aggression, migrants often turn to Islam as a consoling and comforting identity, a unifying and distinguishing factor. Mosques and other religious institutes have become part of the integration mechanism for migrants. For the majority of migrants, that faith provides them with moral support and social bonds with co-believers.
The paradox is that most Central Asian migrants not always consider themselves overly Muslim (or act as devout Muslims) when at home, but faced with adversity in the new surroundings (in Russia), their Muslim identity comes to the fore. Islam serves as the foil for the Other (infidel, kafir, etc.) identity of Russians. Migrants consider an appeal to Islam as consolidation in ethno-social level and as a tool to counteract local nationalism - in general, as a means for reassurance of moral high ground. Moreover, some migrants from Central Asia often encounter with local people in Russia who find themselves in chronic alcoholism and/or laziness; and many Muslim migrants feel moral superiority towards them. On the other hand, this ill-feeling is mutual: many Russians consider Central Asians to be boorish and undereducated. In this situation the intensity of animosity towards Russia’s Other manifests itself more openly.
Many sociologists in Russia have come to...