Sunday, March 9, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kazan Muslims Call for ‘Exporting’ Tatar Islam

Paul Goble

Baku, March 9 – Islam, as it has developed and is practiced in the multi-ethnic and poly-confessional Republic of Tatars tan, can serve as a model for Muslim communities and for government policies toward Islam elsewhere in Russia and around the world, according to a Kazan roundtable on “The Export of Russian Islam.”
Organized by the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Tatarstan, the meeting last week included Muslim leaders, scholars, government officials and students at the Muslim higher educational institutions of Kazan, Vremya i den’gi reported on Thursday (
Participants began their deliberations with a discussion of Moscow’s efforts to ban some Islamic literature as “extremist.” Rinat Galiullin, the chairman of Tatarstan’s council on religious affairs, said that Muslims must seek to overturn court decisions on this point and provide expert advice in any future case.
Other speakers, “Vremya i den’gi” reported, agreed that there was little chance Moscow would achieve what it wants by these bans. On the one hand, they pointed out, Russian officials simply lack the capacity to check every book store and library, let alone every Muslim’s shelves at home.
And on the other, one of them said, these bans were in fact a form of advertising: “There are guys who will look only at something that is prohibited,” he noted, “so that such judicial decisions generate” more readers for what the authorities do not want people to see.
“The only reliable means of rescuing Russia’s Muslims from the ideological influence of the Wahhabis, Rafik Mukhametshin, the rector of the Russian Islamic University, told the group, is to publish the religious authors of the traditional (for Russian Islam) Hanafi rite.”
Banning books is “not acceptable” or effective, he said. Instead, any “alien influence can be blocked only by a wide assortment of the traditional works of Tatar and Central Asian theologians,” as well as “contemporary authors” who can speak to the issues of greatest immediate concern of those studying to become mullahs.
Prior to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, Mukhametshin pointed out, “up to 1,000 titles of various religious publications” were circulating in the Tatar capital alone, “of which 80 percent” had been written by theologians” living in Kazan or in other Muslim centers within the Russian Empire.
Valiulla-khazrat Yakupov, first deputy mufti of Tatarstan, seconded that view, adding that he was completely certain that the Islamic community within the Russian Federation was fully “capable of creating its own block of literature, better adapted to the mentality” of Muslims than are the works of Turkish or Arab theologians.
“We are proud that Tatarstan is a Christian-Islamic frontier region,” he continued, “where various confessions do not simply coexist but cooperate with one another, especially in the social sphere,” he continued. And because Tatars have succeeded in doing so, “our experience can and must be used in other countries.”
Unfortunately, other participants said, in the first years after the collapse of communism in 1991 and because of the “decades of atheism,” Tatarstan became an importer of Muslim literature produced abroad and of scholars trained there rather than an exporter of its own writings and its own homegrown Muslim scholars.
But now, the participants insisted, “in the majority of medressahs the situation has changed” for the better with more literature of domestic origin and most instructors with training in Tatar or Russian Muslim schools. “Only in the Al’met’yevsk medressah does a group of such [foreign] instructors remain.”
Rustam-khazrat Batyr, deputy chairman of the Kazan council of ulema, told the meeting about his new book on Abu Hanif, the 8th century imam who founded the Hanafi rite that Tatars and most other Muslims of the Russian Federation follow. (For background on Abu Hanif, see
Batyr argued that the ideas of Abu Hanif are especially relevant now. Not only did he live in a time of troubles, but he urged Muslims to focus on solving social problems rather than devoting their time to endless and fruitless debates about abstruse theological issues.
“In a poly-confessional society,” Batyr said, “such an idea is especially important. Now people talk a lot abut inter-confessional dialogue, although ordinary believers often do not react positively to such appeals. For them, [any such activity appears likely to open the way to] a revision of theology,” something most Muslims believe is wrong.
“The ideas of Abu Hanif,” the Kazan theologian argued, “allow people to avoid this problem. For centuries, our ancestors followed his injunctions and now, instead of importing alien views, we must turn back” to his ideas in order to promote moderation and cooperation, key parts of “our own traditions.”
"Our obligation,” he concluded, “is to show the entire world what Islam in Russia is and how it can solve problems.” Tatarstan is especially well-positioned to do just that. Indeed, that Middle Volga republic is today “one of the centers where the future of humanity is being decided.”

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