Tatarstan, an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation, has acquired its first privately funded higher educational institution -- the Muhammadia Islamic University, based in the capital, Kazan.
According to rector Gusman-Harat Iskhalov, the university will give preference in enrolment to Muslims with a knowledge of Arabic and other languages. Dr Iskhakov said all courses in the humanities and social sciences, will be "based on the philosophy and practice of Islam". Since many lecturers have been recruited from Egypt and Turkey, which are among the most secularised states in the Muslim world, tuition is not expected to take a fundamentalist line.
The university has only four faculties -- religious studies, theology, pedagogics and foreign languages. This suggests that, at least for the immediate future, the main emphasis will be to train clerics and school teachers.
The Tatars are, by tradition, an Islamic people and while not wishing to transform the republic into a theocracy, the government sees a revival of that tradition as an important factor in the rebuilding of the Tatar nation.
Three years ago, when the Soviet Union fell apart, Tatarstan expressed a desire to leave the Russian Federation and become a fully independent state. The outcry from the Russians made it clear that Kazan was the oldest and brightest jewel in their former imperial crown, and as such not to be relinquished.
Opening just when Tatarstan's leaders were sharply critical of Russia's military intervention in Chechnia, the Muhammadia university has a separatist subtext for Russians, fuelled by the range of language skills students will acquire in addition to Tatar such as Arabic, Turkish and English -- but not a mention of Russian.