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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Meet The Mufti Of Ukraine, From Friday Prayers To The Front Line

Russia has a complicated history with Islam, often built on Moscow's repression of the religious minority. Now, Muslims in Ukraine are ever more committed to a project for a multi-religious society that Kyiv espouses. Ukrainian Mufti Said Ismagilov has taken up arms for that cause, and to defend his nation.

Meet The Mufti Of Ukraine, From Friday Prayers To The Front Line

Ismagilov's photographed on the street by Yevhen Titov

Yevhen Rudenko

BAKHMUT — Before Feb. 24, Said Ismagilov dedicated his service to the Muslims of Ukraine. Since Feb. 24, his service has shifted to the front line.

A native of Donetsk, Ismagilov was the Mufti of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine (UMMA). His decision to volunteer at the front, currently fighting in one of the paramedic brigades in Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, is connected to his roots.

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"Russians have been coming to my family for a century, destroying and taking away everything we own, everything we value," says the 44-year-old.

Recently, a video appeared on social networks of Said reading out Sura 48 of Al-Fath, one of the chapters of the Quran dedicated to victory. The clip showed the ruins of Bakhmut, against the background of the unfinished mosque, delayed due to the full-scale invasion.

Among the many motives for Ismagilov to take up arms is a personal one that embodies the history of Ukraine.

"In 2014, the same Muscovites came to Donbas and persecuted me," Ismagilov recalled. "I had to go to Kyiv to settle in Bucha. But the Muscovites came there in 2022 and robbed my apartment. Honestly, I'm getting sick of them. We have to destroy this empire."

In an interview with Ukrainian outlet Pravda, Said Ismagilov spoke about the spiritual emptiness of Russia, the motivation of Ukrainians in this war, and the most potent human weapon.

Ismagilov talking to his congregation

Ismagilov's Facebook

Russian spirituality

“Before the war, I was a mufti [Islamic legal jurist], you know? I met with kings, presidents, ministers, and deputies. Now, I can live in the cold, without heating or electricity, in the mud up to my knees.

I have never been in such a meat grinder. It is difficult to predict how you will behave when you get to war. Many people panic. Someone is confused. Others, on the contrary, are highly concentrated and do their job well.

They say Putin promised to take Bakhmut by the New Year. They threw all their forces and resources there. They are pushing like crazy, not counting the losses. He has a fanatical desire to capture Bakhmut as the Crusaders were constantly sailing from Europe to the Middle East to capture Jerusalem for the sake of some idea.

The spirituality of Russians is empty.

I have no sympathy for the enemy. I see with my own eyes how inhumanly they act. It is a shock for Ukrainians and all normal people. And for the Russians themselves, it is the norm. They have such a pathetic level of morality that they commit terrible crimes and do not care about them.

When they talk about Russian spirituality, it is the same myth as the myths about the "second army of the world" and "Russian culture."

In religious studies, there is a term — "ritualism," when a person believes not in God, moral virtues, or values; but when the most important thing is to perform the rite correctly. He hung a cross on himself, came to the church, lit a candle, and donated something — done! All so spiritual.

But all these rites do not add up to humanity. And the same person in life can behave like the worst criminal and sinner. The spirituality of Russians is empty.

Back to Ivan the Terrible

I have many personal motives in this war. The main one is that the Muslims of Ukraine do not want Russian occupation. Russia is not friendly or tolerant of Islam.

Since Ivan the Terrible's time, Muslims have suffered great losses from Muscovites. He arranged a massacre in Kazan and ordered the killing of all men and even boys. Since then, Muslims have been exterminated all over Russia. In Ukraine, this is seen in the history of the Crimean Tatars. Now Muscovites in the occupied Crimea continue the same repression.

Muslims of Ukraine know that all our rights, freedoms, religious life and spiritual revival will be finished if Russia comes here.

Most Muslims in modern Russia, no matter what is done to them or how their language, culture, and religion are destroyed, swallow everything. They have no will.

After the victory, we need a national dialogue.

Only the Muslims of the North Caucasus, who constantly opposed slavery, Russification, and the destruction of national identity, differ from this mass. In the Caucasus, consciousness is higher. In other regions of the Russian Federation, it is terrible. We see that some have become more Russian than the Russians themselves.

Ismagilov laughing with his army comrades

Ismagilov's Facebook

Unity is victory

We must all understand: Ukraine will win only in the unity and awareness of who we are and what we are fighting for. This spirit of brotherhood, values of democratic freedoms and moral principles must remain after the war.

There can be no reconciliation with collaborators who worked with Russia in the occupied territories. After the war, we will have to live with what we have overcome for a long time. The main thing is that these contradictions do not become a pretext for internal conflicts. Therefore, after the victory, we need a national dialogue.

I do not doubt our victory. To all soldiers, defenders, volunteers, and those who work for Ukraine in one way or another, victory does not begin with weapons. It always starts in the head and heart.

When you are confident in yourself and your country, understand what you are fighting for, and do not complain about the lack of light, you are already a winner."

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The "Swedish Dream" Under Assault, At Home And Abroad

Reverberations of the war in Ukraine is just one factor forcing Sweden to reinvent its identity as a nation in a destabilized world order which puts into question the values the country had long stood for, including non-alignment, free trade and market liberalism.

Photo of someone walking through a town in Sweden

View of a street in Gothenburg, Sweden

Amélie Reichmuth


STOCKHOLM — Sweden is making international headlines again, after a new turn in the country's NATO application, which has become more like a political thriller novel with each dramatic turn.

On January 21st, far-right politician Rasmus Paludan burned copies of the Koran during a demonstration outside of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm. The stunt outraged many Muslims in Sweden and around the world.

Although Swedish government officials distanced themselves from the action, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will veto Sweden's NATO application as long as protests desecrating the Islamic holy book are allowed to take place. Turkey also canceled the Swedish defense minister's scheduled visit to Ankara.

Swedish authorities seem to have learned from this experience, and earlier this month issued a rare ban of a rally protesting the NATO membership bid, which had been expected to include another Koran burning. "The burning of the Koran outside Turkey embassy in January 2023 can be determined to have increased threats against both the Swedish society at large, but also against Sweden, Swedish interests abroad and Swedes abroad," Swedish police said in a statement.

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