Creating such a system is seen as part of an effort to contain religious extremism, experts say, referring to the absence of a single higher education system for Muslims in Russia. This prompts young people to go to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even Kosovo in a bid to get higher education there. It is open secret that apart from knowledge, these people also gain radical views there, says Moscow-based Islam expert Georgy Engelgardt.
"Many of those who graduate from Islamic universities in Saudi Arabia and Egypt face problems," Engelgardt says. "They get education in the spirit of radical Islam or in the spirit of those Islamic branches that are out of line with forms of religions adopted on Russian territory. Consequently, they seek to give their disciples a vision of the religion and its political supplements that they studied in other countries. This leads to radicalization of certain groups of believers and may culminate in armed clashes, something that is currently in place in North Caucasus and the Volga Region in Russia. The authorities have already admitted that this problem poses a threat."
A plan on preparing Islam experts has been carried out in Russia since 2007. These experts are trained both at secular higher education establishments, such as the Kazan University, and religious education establishments, including the Moscow Islamic University, the Russian Islamic Institute in Ufa and others. With a unified higher education system for Muslims yet to be mapped out, training Islamic experts in Russia is still an issue, says Denga Khalidov, head of the Center for Islam Ethnopolitics Studies in Moscow.
"What we currently see in Russia are Islamic secondary schools, or medreses, rather than academies or universities, where students should get more knowledge regarding theological subjects, Muslim law and history."
According to Khalidov, aside from creating a unified higher education system for Muslims, it is also necessary to reform the Islam teaching system on the whole. The administration of many education establishments still plays down scientific work in the sphere of theology, Khalidov says.
Experts underscore the necessity of reviving long-standing traditions of national Islamic theology, a task that may be fulfilled with the help of a single higher education system for Muslims. In this regard, the Russian President’s decision on the matter can be called a landmark move, believes Damir Gizatullin, first deputy head of the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of European Russia and Siberia.
"Students will study for three or five years without going abroad, Gizatullin says. Namely, they will get education that will be in line with our long-standing principles of peaceful coexistence, something that remains our cherished dream."
Last week, it was announced about the launch of a global initiative on developing a system of Islamic universities. The project envisages establishing the world’s first Virtual Islamic University under the aegis of the Federation of Universities of Islamic World. More than 250 universities from over 50 member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation are due to take part in the project.