Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- There are around 47 million Muslims in Russia, which means that Muslims make up around one third of Russia’s overall population. This figure is expected to rise to 50 percent by 2050 due to the high birth rate among the Muslim community, the decrease in the non-Muslim Russian population which is decreasing at a rate of 1 million people per year, as well as the immigrations of Muslims from central Asia into the Russian Federation. The Islamic presence in Russia is centered in the Caucasus, Siberia, and Moscow. Russian Muslims heaved a sigh of relief at the collapse of the Soviet Union; they reaffirmed their identity and began to practice their religion openly once more without fear or shame. In 1990 there were as few as 98 mosques in Russia, however today there are more than 7200 mosques throughout Russia. This is something that characterizes the Muslim zeal for their religion, and the [Russian] Muslims desire to follow the tenets and teachings of their religion, something which they were prevented from doing under the former Soviet regime.
This is something that makes the Muslims in Russia eager to apply Islam to all aspects of their life, including Islamic Shariaa Law. Therefore the [Russian] Muslims are in dire need of all types of Islamic financial institutes, such as Islamic banking, investment, and insurance institutions that meet with their [religious] requirements. Only one bank offering Islamic financial services is operating in Russia, and this is the “Badr Forte Bank.” This bank was instituted in 1997 by the Forte Bank to offer Shariaa-compliant financial services to Muslims [in Russia]. As for Shariaa-compliant insurance services, a Russian – Tatarstani insurance company sought to establish an Islamic Takaful Insurance company, and in 2004 an agreement was concluded with the Dubai Islamic Insurance and Reinsurance Company [AMAN] to study the possibility of establishing a Takaful Insurance company in Russia. However this agreement was terminated in 2005 and no Takaful insurance company has yet to come into existence in Russia.
There can be no doubt that Russia represents one of the major markets for Islamic finance due to the existence of a large Muslim population that – as I mentioned above – is eager to follow the tenets of Islam. In addition to this, the Russian Muslim community enjoys an annual growth rate of more than 6 percent, and Russia has enormous oil and natural gas resources.
Following the outbreak of the global financial crisis, the Russian market – in the same manner as other international markets – opened up to Islamic finance, and Vice-Speaker of the upper chamber of the [Russian] Federal Assembly called for effective ties to be established with the Islamic Banking system in order to allow Russia long-term access to Islamic financial resources. Torshen also did not rule out the Central Bank of Russia amending its rules to allow Islamic banks to open in Russia, despite admitting the disparity between the operational mechanism of Islamic finance and the Russian banking system. Russia’s largest financial companies are seeking to take advantage of the [financial] liquidity of Islamic banking at a time when there is a lack of financial liquidity in the global financial system.
This is why FDP Capital, one of the leading financial companies in Russia, is seeking to introduce Islamic financial services in its operations in collaboration with the Liquidity Management House which is affiliated to the Kuwait Finance House, with memorandums of understanding being signed by the two parties to this effect. I therefore call on the Islamic Development Bank, the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the General Council for Islamic Banks and Financial Institutes to take advantage of this opportunity [in Russia] by inviting the heads of major Islamic financial institutes to meet and draw up a unified strategy to seize this opportunity, as it is one that will not recur.
The Islamic financial industry has a great opportunity to serve itself [in a unified manner], rather than waiting for individual institutes to take the initiative separately. The financial crisis proved that many major Islamic financial institutes lack the human and financial potential to develop long-term strategies, alternate plans, and ambitious visions, from in-depth study of market research. Initiating this [unified] strategy will allow the Islamic financial industry to seize opportunities as they arise, rather than wasting time considering opportunities and drawing up plans, as ultimately this may result in the opportunity going to waste.