Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Pressure on Non-Russian Republics Contributes to Rise of Islamist Radicals, Tatar Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 25 – The unique national identity of the Tatars of the Middle Volga is currently under threat from two directions: the “unitarist tendency” of Moscow’s policies and the “supra-ethnic Islamist challenge” because both “deny Tatar language and culture and deprive them of their prospects for development,” according to a senior Muslim leader in Kazan.
And consequently, Valiulla khazrat Yakupov argues, Muslim Tatars must if their nation and its faith are to survive must launch “two mobilizations” in order to “defend their ethnic interests against the policy of unification and also against religious ‘universalization’ of Wahhabi-‘Salafite’ recipes” (www.islamrt.ru/htm/stat_20-02/stat_hansavar.htm).
Because so much has been written about Moscow’s pressure toward unitarism, Yakupov focuses on the threat to nationhood that Islamist groups pose. But his linking together of the two and his call for mobilization against both throws into high relief the problems Moscow faces not only in Tatarstan but in other Muslim republics as well.
On the one hand, Yakupov’s argument suggests that the homogenization of the population that the Russian powers that be are currently promoting could very well have the unintended consequence of making members of that population more available for mobilization by Islamist radicals.
And on the other, Yakupov’s words suggest that if Moscow has any success in mobilizing moderate Muslims against Islamist radicals, the Russian government could find that it has created a movement that will oppose not only the values of the radicals but also the policies of Moscow.
“The false internationalism professed by the Wahhabis,” Yakupov continues, “[and their] rejection of the national factor in Islam radically contradicts both Shariat law and the practice of original Islam.” For example, in all wars, the Kazan scholar says, Islamic armies have been organized into ethnically or even clan-based units.”
Other examples of this “false internationalism” of the Wahhabis, the Kazan Muslim says, include their rejection of “any national uniqueness” and their struggle “against Tatar customs and language in mosques.” Such actions, Yakupov says, contradict those of the Prophet Mohammed “who welcomed national pride and uniqueness.”
And still a third group of issues reflecting this attitude, he says, involve Wahhabi attacks on Koranic councils among the Tatars as dangerous “innovations” without “noticing the much more problematic customs of Arabic origin such as the use of pagan symbols in mosques like the half moon in memory of the lunar cults of Arabic tribes.”
Yakupov also talks about Wahhabi attacks on the celebration of birthdays, something Mohammed did but that the Wahhabis say is un-Islamic, and he points out that in this case, hostility to birthdays is something the Wahhabis borrowed from Buddhism, one of the worst charges against a nominally Muslim group another Muslim can make.
Not surprisingly, the Kazan Muslim expert focuses on the efforts of the Wahhabis to block visits to Bolghar, the site of the ancient civilization out of which modern Tatarstan sprung. He says “we must be eternally grateful to the Supreme Mufti, Sheikh ul-Islam Talgat Tajuddin for his organizing of annual pilgrimages” to that site.
If Tatars were to follow the Wahhabis and “throw this city to the winds of fate,” then, Yakupov suggests, there is every possibility that this national shrine “would be turned back into an Orthodox monastery” as has already happened with the Ryazan kremlin, even though that place too has close links to the Tatars and Islam.
Given that, Yakupov argues, Kazan Tatar Muslims must see that “the Wahhabi campaign in the Russian Federation is simply a betrayal of their own religion” and involves “the handing over to Christians” of all that is sacred to followers of Islam. And consequently, both as Tatars and as Muslims, they must struggle against it.
“Islam of the Hanafi rite is for the Tatars a traditional religion, one that includes in itself not only genetic but social memory,” the Kazan scholar says. And as such, he continues, they must recognize and insist upon the conclusion of Anton Salmin, a specialist on religion and culture in the lives of the peoples of Eurasia.
“The length of life of a people,” Salmin has written, “is equal to the length of life of its religious culture [because] when traditions and religion disappear, when a people loses its faith, then that people [is on the road to disappearing] from history.”

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