Travel Diary: Secretary of State Visits Kazan, Crossroads of East and West

Posted by Farah Pandith
October 14, 2009
Qol Sharif Mosque in Kazan, Russia

Interactive Travel Map | Text the Secretary AnswersAbout the Author: Special Representative Farah Pandith is the Special Representative to Muslim Communities.

On Wednesday, Secretary Clinton visited the ancient Kazan Kremlin in the Republic of Tatarstan, the center of Muslim education, culture and faith in Russia. She met with local officials and held discussions with religious leaders to learn more about Kazan’s experience in fostering mutual respect and promoting interfaith understanding.

With large Muslim and Orthodox Christian communities, Kazan is a model of ethnic and religious diversity and a powerful example of mutual respect among people of different backgrounds and faiths. It is home to the Russian Islamic University, the Kul Sharif Mosque, the largest in Eastern Europe, and also a 16th Century Annunciation Cathedral. The Kazan Kremlin was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible (1547-1584), and the fortress is built on an ancient site that dates from the Muslim period of the Golden Horde in the 13th Century. Legend has it that the last queen of Kazan leapt to her death from the Suyumbika Tower as Moscow’s forces retook Kazan. Today this region has become one of the most developed areas in Russia, and the Tatarstan government claims the lead in the number and diversity of religious organizations in Russia.
Many people do not realize just how diverse Muslim communities around the world are. According to a report published last week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, about one-fifth of the world’s Muslims live as religious minorities in their home countries. Russia, for example, is home to almost 16.5 million Muslims.

I spent the past week traveling through Nigeria and Kazakhstan meeting with civil society leaders, students, government leaders, journalists, and scholars. Both Nigeria and Kazakhstan are home to historic Muslim communities and a tradition of respect for religious diversity. (Muslims make up about half the population in each country.) Just this week in Astana, Kazakhstan, I saw an inter-faith center that is home to the "world’s religions," symbolizing the importance Kazakhstan places on mutual respect. Last week in Kano, Nigeria, where Islam has been part of the community since the 1400s, the people I spoke with talked about their excitement that America recognizes how critical it is that we learn from each other. In almost every meeting, we talked about the importance of building mutual respect for each other regardless of faith, ethnicity, or background. Without respect and partnership, we can’t build a strong future or inspire the next generation to work together.

The Secretary’s visit to Kazan helped highlight this important point: people of different faiths and ethnicities can cherish their heritage and still live and learn together to build a thriving economy and a bright future.

Comments

Comments

Syrian P.
|
Syria
October 15, 2009

SNP in Syria writes:

That religious harmony and tolerance in Kazan Secretary Clinton spoke about was made possible not by choice and people enlightenment, but rather due to the use force by 70 Years of Soviet rules. There was little tolerance to religious sectarianism for decades in Russia of which, now, it left an indelible mark on the society, especially in cities like Kazan, Ufa and Samara (the outline region of the Damascus based Ummayyad rule which every Shia dream about helplessly today), but that is not the case in places like Ekaterinburg, Nizhni Novgard or even Moscow to name a few, where Moslems faces daily harassment just as in any other city in America today. From firsthand experience you can note that Russian Jews, even ones that immigrated to Israel, have the same tolerance to Moslem and Christians. Rarely, for Russian Jews religion is an object of attention or discrimination, this is not the case with American Jewry and for sure not the case with the American-Western Christians who showed their true evil nature for many generation, culminating in the September 11 and fictitious war on Terror, which was nothing more than a Christian religious crusade of utmost evil and diabolic intent.

Vil M.
|
New Jersey, USA
October 16, 2009

Vil in New Jersey writes:

I found some tapes with Hillary's conversation with Shaimiev. She told that she found a good example of interconfessional peace in Tatarstan which she'll recommend to others. Taking into account that only 6-7 % of Tatars are going to Mosques for prayes how somebody can talk about these topics? Unfortunately, Tatars lost their religion passion during bolshevik's dictatorship and it is impossible to compare Tatarstan with real Muslim countries where all population is going to Mosques everyday.Right now Tatarstan is country of non-believers. By the way this Shaimiev contributed a lot to this bolshevik crusade against the Islam as a First Secretary of the Tatarstan's regional Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR. In 1989 he declared that he doesn't believe in Good. May be assistants of Ms. Clinton don't know about it but they have to.

Ron
|
New York, USA
October 16, 2009

Ron in New York writes:

Kudos for Kazan: The best way to craft the future is to revisit the past. In 1993, a young Russian near Moscow University, told me "under the Soviet system we were marching in the wrong direction for 70 years". Religion was not the only casualty. Many cultures were subordinated to a failed economic and political plan.

Jack
|
Virginia, USA
October 16, 2009

Jack in Virginia writes:

I logged on to comment the Secretary's trip, but feel compelled to address SNP's comments.

SNP, have you ever visited the United States? If so, you would have found large communities of Muslim Americans in many major cities who practice their faith, free from the type of harassment that one finds in Moscow. The way Muslims are treated in Moscow and how they are treated by their fellow citizens in the United States in incomparable.

Of course, there is discrimiation against Arabs and Muslims in the United States, but that is the exception, not the rule. Islam is one of the fasting growing religions in America, and thousands of Muslims emmigrate to this country every year because they can practice their faith in whatever way they see fit - free from harassment. If they want to wear a hijab, no problem. If they want to wear a niqab, no problem. If they want to pray five times a day, the U.S. Constitution gives Muslims - or anyone from any other faith - that right to do so during the work day. What's more, there are laws - U.S. Civil Rights laws - that protect ethnic minorities and religious minorities from discrimation in America. Does Russia offer such protections? I think not.

So, before you go spouting off the typical conspiracy theories from the Middle East about "the Great Satan," get your facts straight and spare us your commentary on things you know little about.

Best, Jack.

Joe
|
Tennessee, USA
October 16, 2009

Joe in Tennessee writes:

Looks like Dysneyland...how could there be any problems at all?..or are those ICBMs in disguise...

JOE
|
Tennessee, USA
October 16, 2009

Joe in Tennessee writes:

@ SNP in Syria: SNP is not in Syria ...get a clue

Syrian P.
|
Syria
October 18, 2009

SNP in Syria writes:

@ Joe and Jack, just out today, the U.S. list is too long but the same, guilty until proven innocent is not bad, looks like guilty proven or not is modus opri nowday.

QUOTE-The government should be spying on Muslims even if they are not suspected of committing crimes, in order to hunt down terrorists before they strike, the head of an anti-extremist thinktank has said.

Ed Husain, of the Quilliam Foundation, said it was the morally right thing to do, and that waiting until people had fallen prey to extremism and were drawn into terrorism was too late.

The foundation received $700,000 from the government for its counterterrorism work as part of a strategy called Prevent. That included $400,000 from the Office for Security and Counterterrorism, which finances projects trying to counter extremism on UK campuses and monitoring websites that appear to endorse Islamist violence- END QUOTE

Jack
|
Virginia, USA
October 18, 2009

Jack in Virginia writes:

@ SNP in Syria -- So, that's it? That's the evidence you put forth to indict the United States of America?

Listen, as I said before, America's not perfect - far from it - but what you fail to understand when you cite these things (if, indeed, they are true) is that none of it refutes the America I've described below. A tolerant country that is welcoming of Muslims. Yes, America has sometimes treated it's Muslim citizens with less respect than they deserve - I readily admit this. This is not only regrettable, it's down right wrong. However, there are millions of Muslim Americans that have chose to live in the United States, raise their children here, and strive for a better life because this is a damn good place to live.

Frankly speaking, if you were to compare the freedoms we enjoy here in America to the police state you claim to hail from, I'll pick Denver over Damascus any day of the week.

SNP, I know there is racism and discrimiation in America. I know it because, as an African American, I have experienced it first hand. I'm not a Muslim, but many of my closest friends are and I have seen the discrimination they face. It angers me, and I wish it did not exist in America. But, even with the discrimiation that still remains in our society, I still believe that America is a great nation and a place that still greets the world with "an open hand."

I realize that I may not be able to change your view of my country, but I hope someday you'll be able to see the greatness of America. I hope you will come to understand that a nation that elected a man named Barack Hussein Obama is a nation with a good heart and an open hand. That our imperfections don't cast a shadow over the aspirations of America and Americans.

Sincerely,

Jack

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