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.