Accepted paper:

Polar Islam: Muslim Communities in Russia's Arctic Cities


Marlene Laruelle (George Washington University)

Paper abstract:

This presentation advances the notion of "Polar Islam" to describe the birth and structuring of Muslim communities in Russia's Arctic cities. It does not assert that Arctic conditions have created an entirely specific Islam; most of the features attributed here to "Polar Islam" can easily be found in other regions of Russia. Yet the climatic conditions, remoteness, and heavy industrial character of these cities contribute to accentuating certain characteristics that mold the social landscape in which Muslims live, thereby offering a fascinating regional case study of the development of Islam. This article first explores the emergence of Islamic symbols—mosques—on the Arctic urban landscape and the institutional struggles going on around the "grip" of this Polar Islam. It then delves into Muslim communities' cultural adaptation to their new Arctic identity. The blossoming of this Polar Islam confirms that Islam is no longer geographically segregated in its traditional regions, such as the North Caucasus and the Volga-Urals; it has spread to all the country's big cities. In this respect, Arctic cities are at the forefront of Russia's societal transformations. This research is based on fieldwork conducted in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 in Russia's main Arctic cities (Murmansk and the surrounding Kola Peninsula mining cities, Arkhangelsk, Severodvinsk, Naryan Mar, Vorkuta, Salekhard, Norilsk, Dudinka, Yakutsk, and Mirnyi). It draws on primary data on migration and mosque construction; secondary sources such as local newspapers; and semi-structured interviews with local experts, officials (city council MPs, Federal Migration Services and Department of Interethnic Relations representatives), imams, and communities of believers, as well as with migrants and their associations.

panel REL-05
Religion, Morality and Values in Eurasia