MOSCOW - The highest Muslim religious authority in Russia has criticized prominent scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi over his criticism of Moscow for supporting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's crackdown on anti-regime protestors.
"Unfortunately, some claim today that Russia is the number one enemy of the Muslims," Ravil Gainutdih, the head of the Russian Council of Muftis, told the European Islamic Council in Istanbul, Interfax news agency reported.
Qaradawi, the president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS), criticized Moscow earlier this month for supporting the Assad's regime.
Russia has become the first enemy of Islam and Muslims because it has stood against the Syrian people, he said.
The prominent Muslim scholar said that Assad's forces were killing people with the military aircraft supplied by Russia.
More than 30,000 Syrians have been killed by the weapons supplied by Russia, he said, calling for Arab countries to impose political and economic boycott of Moscow and Iran for supporting the Syrian regime.
More than 36,000 people have been killed in Syria's 19-month revolution against Assad's regime.
The revolt against Assad began as peaceful protests calling for democracy and greater rights, but gradually turned to an armed struggle, pitting the Sunni majority against the president and his minority Alawite sect.
Russia and China have repeatedly vetoed Western- and Arab-driven resolutions at the UN Security Council to condemn Assad's deadly crackdown on protestors.
Qaradawi, one of the most influential scholars in the world, is known for his moderate views and is widely respected around the world.
He is also the chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research and a trustee of the Oxford University Center for Islamic Studies.
He has published dozens of books, chiefly The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam.
He has vehemently condemned all terrorist attacks in the West, including the 9/11, Madrid and London, as well as the Bali bombing that targeted foreign tourists in Indonesia.
Moreover, he backed Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and has launched a fund-raising effort for the Syrian opposition.
Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone has described Qaradawi as a "leading progressive Muslim" and likened him to reformist Pope John XXIII.
He praised Qaradawi's staunch support to democracy and efforts to bridge the gap between Muslims and the West.
Gainutdih insisted that Muslims are enjoying full religious freedoms in Russia.
"Whereas Europe is curtailing religious freedoms, Russia, on the contrary, is making consistent steps to defend believers' rights and feelings," he said.
He argued that Moscow has repeatedly reiterated that Russian Muslims are part of the Muslim world.
"I am convinced that claims Russia is hostile to Islam does not reflect the actual state of affairs," the mufti said.
Gainutdin said that the large-scale renaissance of Islam in Russia in the past two decades has become a visual implementation of these words.
He insisted that Muslim organizations get a wide range of state support for such things as Islamic education or the financing of projects by Muslim communities.
Dozens of mosques, madrasahs, Muslim cultural centers and universities are built and opened in Russia every year, he said.
I'm confident the statement regarding [Russia's] hostility towards Islam doesn't reflect reality.
Though he acknowledges that Russian Muslims are facing problems, Gainutdin insists that such problems are normal in democratic societies.
Problems are inevitable when democratic institutions are being put in place in a country that was under totalitarian pressure for seventy years.
The Russian Federation is home to some 23 million Muslims in the north of the Caucasus and southern republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.Islam is Russia's second-largest religion representing roughly 15 percent of its 145 million predominantly Orthodox population.