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Fight over Islam, money and power brings violence to Volga
- Not far from glitzy boulevards where an oil boom has sent up stadiums and high-rises overlooking the Volga River, women in headscarves wander through Islamic bookstores selling pamphlets on the institution of sharia in Russia.
Kazan, capital of Russia's mainly-Muslim Tatarstan region, has long had an image as a showcase of religious tolerance. But that reputation was shattered last week by car bomb and shooting attacks carried out only hours before the start of the holy (to Muslims) month of Ramadan.
On the wall outside the bookshop, a flyer in the local Tatar language calls Muslims to unite against the region's top religious leader, Mufti Ildus Faizov, who was wounded in the attacks which also killed his deputy. The attacks came against a background of anger among many Muslims who complain that the authorities in Tatarstan are restricting Islam in the name of fighting radicalism. It is a dispute that also involves a struggle for money and influence in the increasingly prosperous oil-producing region.
But booming Tatarstan - 2000 km (1,200 miles) away from the war zones - had largely avoided unrest until now. Moderate Muslims in Tatarstan blame the violence on the arrival of radical groups, such as followers of Sunni Islam's strict Salafi movement and the outlawed organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir which seeks an Islamic caliphate.
Last week's attack resembles strikes against moderate muftis in places like the Caucasus region of Dagestan next door to Chechnya. Kazan is now on increased alert for more attacks. Outside of mosques, police rifle through the belongings and bags of the faithful, who line up in front of metal detectors.
"Today Islam is growing strongly in Kazan... But there are different sects and movements that you simply cannot control," said Ramil Mingarayev, an imam at the al Marjani Mosque.
Russia's most wanted man, Chechen Islamist guerrilla leader Doku Umarov, called for an uprising among Russia's Muslims last year, mentioning Tatarstan by name. "I want to appeal to the Muslim brothers who live on Russian-occupied Muslim land... I call on you to destroy the enemies of Allah wherever you are. I call on you to destroy them where your hand reaches and to open fronts of jihad," he said in a video posted on insurgency-affiliated website Kavkaz Centre.
Beneath the 18th century al Marjani mosque a dark tunnel leads from the room for prayer to the Islamic school across the street. Five times a day the dozens of students make their way through the stone entrance, perform ablutions, pray and return.
For those who experience Russia's failing social welfare programmes and chronically corrupt court system and police force, stricter versions of Islam hold out the hope for a more just society. Zakhid Anovarov, a burly 20-year-old student with a thin black beard (said) "But it's not a just system, because it's a man-made system. If we were governed by shariah, then life would be better, more just," he said of the Islamic law code.
Muslims in Kazan say Faizov also launched a bid to take over leadership at the Kul Sharif Mosque, a visual symbol of the renaissance of Islam in Kazan. Completed in 2005, it sits on the site of a medieval mosque destroyed in the 16th century by Ivan the Terrible, who conquered the Kazan Khanate, a Tatar state ruled by descendents of Genghis Khan.
In his battle with radical Islam, perhaps none of Faizov's efforts were as divisive as his demand that imams of all mosques undergo a course in traditional Hanafi Islam, the movement traditionally associated with Tatarstan. In December, angry Muslims stormed the main mosque in the town of Almetevsk, 270 km (170 miles) and for hours refused to let local religious authorities enter. The confrontation was eventually defused by Faizov, but resentment still burns.
Near Almetevsk, in the village of Novoye Nadyrovo authorities removed the local imam, Ilnar Kharisov, from his post a few months ago. Friends say he was detained on Friday night, the day after the explosions in Kazan.
Kharisov, a young scholar who had studied abroad and taken the name Abdulmalik, (a new Arabic name is never a good sign) still has a religious following in the village and his sacking as imam split the community. Neighbours say a former communist functionary has been placed in charge of the village mosque. They speak darkly of Kharisov's arrest.
"They've taken all the good imams away and they've replaced them with clowns in their places, and they protect them there with police. People are very unhappy here," said a neighbour of Kharisov who gave his name only as Ramil