Muslims from all over the world to discuss in Kazan how to build a more just world after the pandemic ends

Kazan will demonstrate the possibility of peaceful living next to different civilizations — not only to the Muslims, according to the OIC

Russia, as the northernmost Muslim country, home to more than 20 million people who profess Islam, will become a venue for international Muslim events for young people from the OIC countries. This is also the merit of Kazan, which the Organization of Islamic Cooperation granted the status of “the youth capital of the Islamic world” in 2022. As representatives of the OIC told on 3 December, the capital of Tatarstan has been chosen, despite the fact that the Russian Federation is not even a member of the organisation, because it is “the cradle of civilisations with the spirit of tolerance”. They hope that Kazan will demonstrate the possibility of peaceful living alongside different civilisations — not only to Muslims, but also to other faiths. As part of the events planned to be held in 2022, the Ministry of Youth of the Republic of Tatarstan is going to arrange even a cyber tournament. The ministry hopes to hold all the planned forums offline, despite the pandemic, which young people from Islamic countries will also discuss.

Russia is the northernmost Muslim country, according to the ministry of foreign affairs

The representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called Russia, “in fact, the northernmost Muslim country”, if we talk about geography. Quite a large number of Muslims live in Russia — more than 20 million people. According to Konstantin Kolpakov, the chairman of the Council of Young Diplomats of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, this is also why the fact that the country hosts such a large event in 2022, and even in the conditions of the coronavirus pandemic, is a “great achievement”.

Commenting on the recognition of Kazan as the youth capital of the Islamic world, this status was given to the city by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which includes 56 countries with almost a billion people (600 million of which are just young people), Kolpakov drew attention to that today it is young people who are beginning to play an increasingly important role in creating the “foundation of peaceful and creative existence”. In Islamic countries, young people have also had an increasing influence in recent years. The ministry expressed hope that the events planned in Kazan within the framework of the international programme “Youth Capital of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation” in 2022 will generate a number of important initiatives that will be implemented not only simultaneously, but also in the long term for the sake of the same peaceful and creative existence.

The Russian authorities are confident that Kazan can do this: for quite a long time, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan has been providing venues for KazanSummit, Young Diplomats Forum of the OIC, becoming one of the centres of the strategic vision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Russia — Islamic World Group, headed by Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov. Nevertheless, Moscow also noted that the OIC decided to designate Kazan as the “capital of the Islamic world”, which is especially valuable, given that formally Russia is not actually a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and is just an observer, albeit with a “rich history”. This, the ministry is sure, speaks to the importance that Islamic countries attach, including to cooperation with Russia.

Capital of the Republic of Tatarstan has been providing venues for KazanSummit for quite a long time. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

The Federal Agency for Youth Affairs of Russia (Rosmolodyozh) explained the decision of the OIC not only by that 20 million Muslims live in the country and the presence of Muslim republics, but also by a large number of multinational projects carried out in the regions, each of which has its own Rosmolodyozh body responsible for youth policy.

“Especially in [Muslim] republics, in Tatarstan, in the Caucasus regions, and with the focus on projects with Muslim culture," said deputy head of the department Andrey Platonov.

Among other things, Rosmolodyozh just this year has signed several agreements with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, including on youth cooperation in the creative industry and entrepreneurship. In 2022, it is planned to sign similar agreements with Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco and other Muslim countries. Within the framework of the project office for cooperation with the OIC, which was opened about a year ago in Kazan, they have already managed — despite the pandemic — to hold about 10 events, including the Festival of Modern Muslim Culture and the Russian-Egyptian Forum (at which, among others, young people of the two countries presented projects on artificial intelligence).

Why the OIC chooses Kazan: it is “the cradle of civilizations with the spirit of tolerance”

Despite all this, the OIC itself still recognises that the decision to grant Kazan the status of the Islamic capital was not easy. The main factor influencing the decision of the representatives of the 56 OIC countries, however, was not so much the work on the Muslim direction of Rosmolodyozh, and not even the importance of foreign policy cooperation with Russia for Islamic countries, as peaceful and harmonious living in Kazan, a city with a 1000-year tradition of Islam, different peoples and faiths.

“Why Kazan? Because starting from the capital of Volga Bulgaria, it has become the cradle of civilizations. There were many of them, and today they are intertwined with each other. Kazan is a symbol of peace and the possibility of living alongside many civilizations," Taha Ayhan, the president of the OIC Youth Forum, explained at the press conference. “I would like to emphasise the reason why Kazan will become the Islamic capital in 2022: we represent Kazan as a capital and a city with a huge historical heritage, playing an important role in terms of the dialogue of civilizations. We see that the spirit of tolerance is developed in Kazan.”

Nevertheless, the OIC warned against the one-sidedness of the interpretation of both the decision of the organisation and the direction of the events that will take place in the capital of Tatarstan in 2022: they will be held not only for the Muslim Brotherhood, but also “for the whole world and different faiths”. Certainly, the OIC has a mission to serve its brothers and sisters in religion who also live in non-Muslim countries. Moreover, if we talk about the cultural context, today there are considerable differences even between those Islamic countries that are part of the OIC, not to mention the difference in income levels: according to Taha Ayhan, there are participating countries in the OIC with a large GDP per capita, and countries with very high poverty.

“Our goal is to promote a common understanding of the world, building bridges between countries and nations. And Russia represents the unique opportunity for us. Speaking of Russia, we are talking about its millions of Muslims, our brothers and sisters. We would like young people to have the opportunity to discuss the future. Perhaps, they have already faced injustice today, but it is possible that after the end of the coronavirus pandemic, it will be possible to build a more just world. Moreover, Islam does not belong to any particular country or nation, but to the whole of humanity. We hope that in Kazan we will be able to show this not only to our brothers, but also to other faiths. We are all part of humanity," the OIC representative confidently stated.

Events to be held in the capital of Tatarstan in 2022 will be held not only for the Muslim Brotherhood, but also “for the whole world and different faiths”. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Among other things, in February 2022, the OIC organises a youth forum in Kazan and, at the same time, a “global youth summit with the participation of Ministers of Youth Affairs of the OIC countries”. For cooperation between the countries in the transition to the “world of prosperity after the end of the pandemic” to continue, and Kazan, becoming the platform for the exchange of knowledge and experience of young people from 56 OIC countries (plus young people from the Russian Federation), continued the work of Istanbul, Doha (Qatar), Fez (Morocco) and other cities that became the capitals of the Islamic world in the past years.

Ministry of Youth Affairs plans to hold an Islamic cyber tournament in 2022

Finally, Tatarstan Youth Minister Timur Suleymanov, stating the symbolism of giving Kazan the status of the capital of the Islamic world, drew attention not only to that in 2022 the year marks 1100 years of the adoption of Islam by Volga Bulgaria, but also 1400 years of the resettlement of the Muslim community under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina (in 622) — the most important event for all Muslims. In addition to pure symbolism, Suleymanov believes, the forums themselves and other events of 2022 should provide new opportunities for young people both in Russia and the OIC countries, and not necessarily through the establishment of international contacts, but also in science and education.

“For example, thinkers and scientists from the OIC countries will come to us, more than 500 international participants are expected offline," said the head of the Ministry of Youth Affairs of the Republic of Tatarstan. “The representatives of the art sphere will also come, many joint collaborations of children from different countries are planned at the festival of modern Muslim culture, who will create a joint creative product for seven days within the framework of workshops. We plan to hold events in the direction of esports, which will give an additional opportunity for all of us to seriously expand the geography of participants and the audience. Despite that we are planning a cyber tournament, the point is that people physically come to us to participate — although there will be broadcasts from it.”

Most of the events will be generally open to everyone, even for those who live in countries outside the OIC, the restrictions are “very conditional”, Timur Suleymanov assures. Since the values that will be actively declared in Kazan are “general humanitarian” and relate to peace and general cultural dialogue. Moreover, Kazan, he agreed with Tahi Ayhan, is famous for the experience of “peaceful, good neighborhood” of representatives of different nationalities (representatives of more than 170 nations live in Tatarstan itself), and a mosque and a church are adjacent in the Kazan Kremlin.

“Let's hope to hold everything we planned offline”

“The experience is interesting and should be replicated all over the world. For the OIC, this is an opportunity, especially for young people, to see Islam in a new, unusual “snowy” context. Usually it is customary to see Islam under the burning sun. For the people who will come to Russia, it will be an opportunity to plunge into the Russian context and Kazan with a Muslim flavour, which, I think, should have a serious effect. Who better than the young to be the agents of ideas? They are free and interested in a more sustainable world," the minister concluded.

Timur Suleymanov is sure that the coronavirus pandemic will not confuse the plans. Although the authorities of the Republic of Tatarstan, as responsible for various events, have recently faced the need to revise them, making projects in a hybrid format (online plus offline). But precisely because the pandemic has been going on for two years, Tatarstan, he said, is quite ready for such difficulties: so, in 2021, despite the various waves of coronavirus, it was possible to hold all the international events that were on the agenda of the same Ministry of Youth Affairs of the Republic of Tatarstan. Including the First Festival of Muslim Culture and the International Muslim Camp in Kazan.

Timur Suleymanov is sure that the coronavirus pandemic will not confuse the plans. Photo: Maksim Platonov

“The issue of security remain the priority, of course. Let's hope to hold everything we planned offline. So far, we have no fears that we will not be able to implement the programme. We have formed the plan based on the current realities of the sanitary situation in Russia and the world," Suleymanov assured, adding that the very situation with the pandemic will also be discussed at forums and the summit, it would be wrong and impossible to get away from this topic.

Let us remind that “the youth capital of the OIC countries” is the status that is awarded to a city for a year, during which the winning city gets a chance to demonstrate commitment to modern youth culture, best practices for the development of social, economic, and political activity of youth. The capital of the OIC countries implements new ideas, innovative projects with the participation of young people and becomes a role model for the further development of other cities of the OIC countries. The winning city develops international cooperation and attracts partners for infrastructure development.

Sergey Afanasyev
Tatarstan