Islam comes to the classroom in Russia's Chechnya
GROZNY, Russia (Reuters) - At school No. 20 in Russia's troubled region of Chechnya, boys sit on one side of the classroom and girls in headscarves on the other. All are silent as the new teacher rises to speak.
"Do you say your morning prayers?" Islam Dzhabrailov, 21, asks, wearing a green prayer cap and a plain tunic, religious dress that is increasingly popular in the mountainous province in southern Russia's mostly Muslim Caucasus region.
"It's just as important as doing your homework," he tells the students aged 14-15.
One of 420 teachers employed from madrasas to teach history of religion, Dzhabrailov is driving efforts by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to combat Islamist insurgency by implementing his own brand of Islam. In this Kadyrov has the backing of President Vladimir Putin, though some may harbor doubts about the man.
Against a background of stricter guidance on women's dress and wider acceptance of polygamy, critics say Kadyrov is defying Russian separation of religion and state and pushing Chechnya further from Moscow only a decade after federal troops ousted a separatist leadership there to reinstate Kremlin rule.
In nearby Stavropol, part of the Russian Orthodox heartland, a school principal set off a storm when she forbade a small group of Muslim girls from wearing the hijab to class. Putin weighed in, stressing the need for secular standards in schools.
This year, Russian schools started offering courses in the history of world religions, like Orthodox Christianity and Buddhism; a course on secularism is also offered, reflecting attitudes fostered during the era of the communist Soviet Union.
In Chechnya the lines between history of religion and religious education are being blurred. Dzhabrailov, who says he is deputy director of his school's spiritual-moral department, says the programme is implemented in Chechnya with materials prepared by local religious leaders.
Although officially not mandatory, students and teachers say all pupils are obliged to take the course on Islam, which focuses on the history of Islam and how to behave as a Muslim. Russian media reported that between 99 percent and 100 percent of Chechen students are taking the class. Continued...