Russian cult of Islam kept children underground for years

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Seventy members of an Islamic cult who have been living in an underground bunker without heat or sunlight for nearly a decade have been discovered living on the outskirts of the city of Kazan in Russia, local media reported.

Reuters says

The sect members included 20 children, the youngest of whom had just turned 18 months. Many of them were born underground and had never seen daylight until the prosecutors discovered their dwelling on August 1 and sent them for health checks.

A 17-year-old girl turned out to be pregnant.

Religion was suppressed in the Soviet Union which collapsed in 1991, prompting various cults and sects to flourish in the vacuum that opened up.

The group – known as the “Fayzarahmanist” sect – was named after its 83-year-old organiser Fayzrahman Satarov, who declared himself a prophet and his house an independent Islamic state, according to a report by state TV channel Vesti.

The Associated Press writes that

He ordered some 70 followers to live in cells they dug under the three-storey building topped by a small minaret with a tin crescent moon.
Only a few sect members were allowed to leave the premises to work as traders at a local market, local media reported. […]

In a 2008 interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily, Mr Satarov said that he fell out with other clerics and authorities in the Communist era, when the KGB allegedly sent him to Muslim countries with stories about religious freedom in the officially atheist Soviet Union.

Government-approved Orthodox Christian and Muslim clerics routinely travel abroad on Soviet publicity trips.

“That’s how I became Satan’s servant, a traitor,” the white-bearded and turbaned man was quoted as saying.

“When I understood that, I repented and started preaching.”

Muslim leaders in Tatarstan said Mr Satarov’s views contradict their dogma.

Islam postulates that there are no other prophets after Mohammad,” Kazan-based theologian Rais Suleimanov told the Gazeta.ru online publication.

“The teachings of Satarov, who declared himself a prophet, have been rejected by traditional Muslims.”

The BBC says

According to the Russian website Islam News, Mr Sattarov, 83, declared himself an Islamic prophet in the mid-1960s after interpreting sparks from a trolleybus cable as a divine light from God.

He and his followers began to shun the outside world in the early part of this century.

The sect, dubbed Faizrakhmanists after their founder, reportedly do not recognise Russian state laws or the authority of mainstream Muslim leaders in Tatarstan.

Only a few sect members were allowed to leave the community to work as traders at a local market, local media report.

The cramped cells descend on eight levels under a decrepit, three-storey brick house on a 700 sq m (7,530 sq ft) plot of land, the Associated Press reports.

The house was built illegally and will be demolished, local police were quoted as saying.

In a later report the Associated Press said

The children were examined at hospitals and will temporarily live in an orphanage, pediatrician Tatyana Moroz said. “They looked nourished but dirty, so we had to wash them,” she said in televised remarks.

Their parents expressed concern about the children’s medical treatment.

Doctors “can do anything to them,” Fana Sayanova, a woman wearing a long white dress with her face veiled, told local television.

Ria Novosti writes

“Unfortunately the victims of the sect will need professional rehabilitation over a fairly long period,” [Russian presidential children’s rights ombudsman Pavel] Astakhov said, noting that the underage sect members have all been placed in orphanages.

“The sect-member parents must first undergo treatment before they are reunited with the children,” he said.

Faizrakhman Sattarov, 83, the leader of the unregistered religious organization, has been charged with “taking the law into his own hands,” assistant prosecutor Irina Petrova said. The parents of the children have been charged with neglecting their parental obligations.

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This post was last updated: Aug. 9, 2012