Ilya Ber, RIA Novosti analyst
News of Dagir Khasavov’s outrageous call for Russia to officially recognize Sharia law on its territory is spreading like wildfire. The Russian Interior Ministry is evaluating the lawyer’s remarks for evidence of extremism. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor General's Office has already announced that, with the help of experts from the Russian Institute of Cultural Studies, it has determined that Khasavov's comments indeed showed signs of extremism. Alexander Ordzhonikidze, director general of the REN TV network, which aired Khasavov's remarks, has been issued an official warning.
The Federal Chamber of Lawyers, of which Khasavov is a member, immediately moved to revoke their garrulous member's license over his violation of the Federal Law “On Advocacy and the Bar in the Russian Federation” and the Lawyer's Code of Professional Ethics.
Many of the major Muslim organizations and leaders were unanimous in their more or less harsh condemnation of Khasavov.
Khasavov, convinced that he could not expect support from anyone, chose to leave Russia. According to some Russian political refugee society, he received a number of threats and left Russia for “a country in Europe.”
But what is behind this rare moment of unanimity of government and society, coupled with the rapid response of law enforcement officials? How many Muslims in Russia, in fact, share Khasavov's views and aspirations? And could Sharia courts appear in Russia? Experts point out that such courts have, in fact, existed in the North Caucasus for a long time, and their significance is growing.
Should Khasavov be tried for extremism?
In order to understand what punishment fits the crime, we must first understand the crime. So let's look at Dagir Khasavov's quote in full. He explains that Sharia law is needed in Russia, because “Muslims do not want to get involved in a multi-stage court system.” But the main seditious statement came in response to a comment made by a journalist (the conversation was about the Muslim community in Moscow) that “one should not go into someone else's monastery with his own charter.”
“We are home. Maybe you are the foreigners,” said Khasavov. “We will establish the rules that suit us, whether you like it or not. Any attempt to change this will lead to bloodshed. There will be a second Dead Sea here. We will fill the city with blood.”
This does not sound entirely natural in Russian. But the point is clear and, indeed, is hard to interpret as anything other than a blatant threat of violence. So the application of Article 282 of the Criminal Code on extremism does not seem frivolous or excessive in this case.
Beyond extremism, Khasavov's remarks can be interpreted as incitement to the violent overthrow of the constitutional order in Russia, which is also punishable under criminal law (Article 280). Khasavov cited the example of the Arab Caliphate, and declared that all Muslims of the world should be united, and a unified system created, and that Russia should give them that opportunity. I'm afraid that this idea is completely incompatible with Russia’s survival as a sovereign state, which is a pillar of the constitutional system.
However, strange as it may seem, the Russian nationalist Vladimir Tor does not believe that the state should punish Khasavov.
“The barbarian, the savage spoke frankly,” he said. “Now everybody knows what the lawyer Khasavov and his allies want.”
Here Tor is consistent, because nationalists have long advocated the abolition of Articles 280 and 282 of the Criminal Code. They believe that you cannot punish people for thoughts or speech.
Tor would not even oppose the formal introduction of Sharia courts in Russia.
“Let those who want to sue each other under Sharia law,” he argues. “Accordingly, they will undergo a change in legal status. The laws of the Russian Federation would not apply to them, including the rights and freedoms."
Tor said that, in this case, a special court would hear cases between people with this new status and ordinary Russian citizens. Tor proposes setting up special reservations [read ghettos - Ed.] for people who want to live under Sharia law.
Nevertheless, whether nationalists like it or not, the Criminal Code is in effect in Russia, and Khasavov's statements fall under its jurisdiction. Khasavov's decision to flee the country shows that he also understands this.
Who is Khasavov and why did he say what he said?
Dagir Khasavov is not some random person or fringe figure. He is a respected lawyer, a graduate of Kiev's Higher School under the USSR Interior Ministry, holds a Ph.D. and heads the Moscow law office Dagir Khasavov and Partners – Drakonta. Khasavov has worked on many major cases, including Ilyas Tazhiyev and Alexei Kolenteyev's winning lawsuit against the Spiritual Board of Muslims of European Russia for violations in the construction of the Moscow Cathedral Mosque.
Six months ago, Khasavov announced plans to create the Council of Imams of Russia and the Union of Muslims of Russia, apparently in opposition to the Council of Muftis. Not surprisingly, when Khasavov made his controversial remarks, the muftis attacked their old enemy.
There is something else that is more unpleasant, however. The muftis, among others, fell back on the shrill rhetoric about provocations against Russian Muslims by forces hostile to Islam and Russia in general. Abdul-Wahed Niyazov, adviser to the Chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, and Ismail Berdiyev, Chairman of the Coordinating Center of Muslims of Northern Caucasus, have spoken out about this.
“This is just some kind of planned action, and I think that some kind of directive of political forces hostile to Russia itself, Muslims and inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony in this country is behind this,” said the quite secular Ruslan Kurbanov, senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Akhmad Kadyrov, head of Khasavov's homeland of Chechnya, also called Khasavov's statements a provocation.
Nevertheless, the ill-fated Ren-TV footage and numerous interviews with Khasavov do not provide substantial grounds for believing his remarks were a deliberate provocation. Over the past three months, Khasavov spoke to reporters from various media about the need to introduce Sharia courts. Many articles were published, but there were no lurid details and, therefore, they did not elicit much response.
The video clearly shows that the journalist just threw Khasavov off guard, and his remarks were offhand and were stated in poorly worded Russian. That is not the way to orchestrate provocations.
The fairest trial
“There are already de facto Sharia courts in Russia, and Muslim legal experts and scholars have been trying to win formal legal recognition for them for a long time,” said Alexei Malashenko, an expert on Islam with the Moscow Carnegie Center.
“Shariatization has been in progress for a long time in the North Caucasus, in Dagestan and Chechnya,” he said. “This process is normal because, on the one hand, the level of Islamic self-awareness and Islamic identity has been rising; on the other, because the federal courts do not work or work poorly. And there needs to be some way to mediate property and other types of disputes.”
Perhaps from the perspective of the evolution of Islamic society, this process is normal. But how normal is it in terms of the Russian state and Russian law?
“The possible application of Sharia law that would not be inconsistent with the laws of Russia is a big problem,” said Malashenko. “Sharia is something sacred to a Muslim. Following Sharia is the Islamic way of life. It is important that, where Sharia law is in force, it does not contradict the laws of the Russian Federation. Finding a consensus between federal law and what is happening in the North Caucasus is necessary. It's inevitable. We need to hurry to do this, we need to use our brains.”
Of course, the experts know best, but the idea of marrying Sharia with federal laws seems unfeasible. Take marriage (excuse the pun). A devout Muslim can have up to four wives, while the Criminal Code prohibits having even two at the same time. Among the possible punishments under Sharia are flagellation, stoning and the amputation of hands. In the latter case, whoever metes out this Sharia justice in Russia will face criminal charges for causing grievous bodily harm.
For example, a Muslim steals from another Muslim. The Sharia court rules that the thief must pay a fine. But after paying the fine, the thief remains at large and continues to be a public danger, and both the “faithful” and non-Muslims could suffer from his actions in the future. There would be many such contradictions if Sharia were legally recognized in Russia.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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