Muslim Councils in Britain and Russia : challenges of cooperation and representation in contrasting institutional contexts
Over the past two decades, both the British and Russian states have sought to institutionalise relations with their Muslim communities through Muslim councils. However, such attempts at institutionalisation raise challenges for these organisations, which need to balance state demands for incorporation into religious governance and Muslim community expectations for more inclusive representation. Challenges of integration and representation have received considerable coverage in Western and Russian studies. However, little comparative research has focused on the behaviour of Muslim councils and how this is affected by different institutional settings. In particular, theories of social movements and interest groups suggest that strategies for dealing with this tension between integration and representation vary between more corporatist and pluralist state-religion relations. Russia and Britain are taken as exemplars of the two traditions, and thus help us to understand how these tensions manifest themselves and are responded to in the two different contexts. The project provides a comparative analysis of the strategies and discourses used by the Muslim Council of Britain and the Russia Council of Muftis in 1997-2013. It explores the conditions under which the councils engage with or disengage from the state. It also examines how the two organisations respond to criticisms from Muslim communities and undertake internal reforms to improve their legitimacy. A detailed analysis of the councils’ engagement with state authorities and Muslim communities is used to unpack the challenges of Muslim collective representation. The thesis contributes to research by providing new empirical data and theoretical insights on Muslim national organisations. It offers an innovative analytical framework by revisiting the concepts of pluralism and corporatism and applying them to the institutional context of state-religion relations in Britain and Russia. It draws on social movement theories and institutionalist approaches to understand how Muslim organisations deal with the dual pressure of co-optation and representation. It examines how Muslim councils behave like interest group organisations and offers theoretical insights that can be extrapolated to other kinds of institutions. Finally, the thesis integrates Western and Russian scholarship on the role of interest groups in general and religious institutions in particular.