The Russian Republic of Tatarstan and its capital city of Kazan are known as culturally diverse and historically rich places where a plurality of Turkic Sunni Muslim Tatars live happily with ethnic Russians including both Orthodox Christians and secularists/agnostics. The Kazan Kremlin is famously home to both Orthodox churches and the Qolşärif Mosque which re-opened in 2005 after its predecessor was destroyed in the 16th century.
But apart from just being one of Russia’s largest cities and an important centre of culture, China’s decision to open an official consulate in Kazan marks an important moment where China is openly and directly engaging in positive relations with Muslims who live in states that are on incredibly friendly terms with China.
The timing of the consulate’s opening could not be more crucial as it comes at a time when pro-Washington media outlets have run multiple stories claiming that the condition of Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province is somehow torturous. The amateurish nature of many of these stories has not prohibited them from being taken seriously both by Sinophobic secular westerners as well as Muslims throughout the wider Ummah (global community of Muslims). The level of absurdity in many of the Sinophobic stories aimed at a Muslim audience reached critical mass when the ultra-liberal Independent newspaper of London wrote a story claiming that Muslims are “forced” to drink alcohol and eat pork by Chinese government officials in Xinjiang. Furthermore, as the US is attempting to not to subtly blame China for violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, it is clear that in spite of invading and occupying more Muslim majority nations in the 21st century than any other state, the US is trying to proverbially wrap itself in the Quran as a means of promulgating a multi-layered infowar against China directed at Muslims across the world.
Recently, Pakistani author S M Hali wrote about his first hand experiences in Xinjiang and studies of Xinjiang’s Muslim population. Hali concluded that under President Xi Jinping, Xinjiang’s Muslims are not only living in a place where their material and security conditions have improved dramatically over the last several years but one in which Islamic culture flourishes openly.
Hali’s deeply important piece led me to propose that more and more Pakistanis should be invited to Xinjiang for the purpose of showing Muslim men and women the first hand realities in China’s north-western province. As a large Muslim majority nation that has been a consummate partner of China, Pakistan’s populace are well placed to deliver an honest assessment of Xinjiang as Pakistanis generally have the opposite of a prejudice against China, while clearly no patriotic Pakistani could reasonably endorse any social environment that clamps down on the expression of Islam among the devout.
While Russia is not a Muslim majority nation, Russia’s Muslim regions have become increasingly religious in recent years. While Europe seems unable to live with both Islam and secularism, in places like Tatarstan secularists, Muslims, Orthodox Christians and smaller minorities of Catholics and Jews all live in peace and increasingly also in prosperity.
In this sense, Russia’s Muslim population whether those in Tatarstan, the Tartars of Crimea or the Muslims of Chechnya and Dagestan are equally well placed as Pakistanis to visit Xinjiang with an open mind and report to their fellow Muslims with honesty and objectivity. In this sense, a Chinese consulate in Kazan can help local Tatar Muslims to learn more about China, understand more about the life of Muslims in China and ideally arrange to visit multiple parts of China including Xinjiang.
Thus, China’s new consulate in Russia’s Tatarstan represents a window of opportunity for China and Russia’s Muslims to connect at a more direct cultural level. The result of this can be one where pious Russian Muslims can learn that their co-religionists in China are living with peace and prosperity, thus helping to dispel the vile fables spun by agitators in western liberal media.