Monday, April 25, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Soviet-Era Russian Translation of Koran Basis for New Sect in Islam

Paul Goble

Staunton, April 25 – A 1963 Russian translation of the Koran has become the basis for a new sect in Islam across the former Soviet space, a sect whose members reject both the view that the Koran exists only in its original Arabic form and the notion that the sunna and hadith are necessary for understanding the text of the Koran itself.

Known as the Krachkovtsy, in reference to Ignaty Krachkovsky, the Soviet orientalist who prepared the translation, its followers believe that “a literal understanding of the translation of the Koran is sufficient,” according to an analysis of this group in the current issue of the Daghestani journal “Nastoyashcheye vremya” (

In this, the Krachkovtsy resemble the early Protestant denominations in the West who relied on a literal reading of the new translations of the Bible into German and English. But the Krachkovtsy resemble these sects in another way as well: they have been subject to intense persecution by other Muslim groups, both Sunni and Salafi.

The sect emerged “little more than 12 years ago” in Western Kazakhstan, the Daghestani journal notes, but as a result of active missionary work, “it has quickly found numerous followers … across the entire space of the CIS,” most often in the outskirts of cities “of this onetime enormous country.”

A Krachkovsky congregation has now appeared in Daghestan. Initially, it included “about 20 people, largely residents of the Makhachkala districts of Novy Taryky and Pyaty poselok.” And while few members of the community are prepared to talk to the media, one agreed, on the basis of a promise of anonymity, to discuss the Krachkovtsy there.

He told the Daghestani weekly that the followers of this trend in Islam “do not consider it necessary to study Arabic, believing that if that language is not one’s native tongu, “there is no sense in studying it since this will not give the possibility for as deep an understanding as making use of the text in one’s language of everyday conversation.”

“I don’t want to offend you,’ “Ibragim” said. “Simply look around soberly and without prejudice, drop the chains of Sunnism and the hadith and look at the Koran with clear eyes. Here we are called Koranites, are subject to persecution, and my bothers and ssisters in the faith are insulted at eat step. Can this be what Islam is about?”

The Krachkovets continued, “Honestly speaking, I am glad I am a Koranite and not a Sunni,” considering what has happened in Daghestan. “Calling yourselves Sunnis,” he added, “you stress that you follow only the Sunna and not the Koran.”

Challenged by his interviewer that there are passages in the Koran that can be understood only with the assistance of the hadith and sunna, “Ibragim” responded that Allah has made out religion sufficiently easy so that only someone full of pride or mentally ill cannot understand it. Allah the Most High said: ‘The writing is for all who believe in it.’”

According to “Ibragim,” the Krachkovtsy attend regular mosques, say the prayers required by the Koran, “but read [the Koran] in Russian … and refuse to follow practices” required by the sunna but not found in the Koran itself.

The Makhachkala parish of Krachkovtsy now numbers “more than 175 people,” but in addition, representatives of this group are found “in all the cities of Daghestan.” And the followers of this trend believe that “the expansion of their ranks is only a matter of time” even though they are often subject to attack by other Muslims, both traditional and radical.

One of the conflicts “Ibragim” described involved a funeral when Krachkovtsy opposed reading a prayer over a dead man in Arabic, as both Sunni and Salafi Islam require. “What is important is the language in which you think,” “Ibragim” said. “What good is reproducing a set of words which you do not understand?”

In the view of many Muslims, using Russian or any other language besides Arabic in Islam is prohibited as an innovation. But that is simply wrong, “Ibragim” said. Using a language people understand “must not be considered an innovation in Islam.” And it is time to stop struggling over which language to use.

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