Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Tatar Jadids Believe the Koran Encourages the Diversity Fundamentalists Deny, Kazan Historian Argues

Paul Goble

Staunton, December 15 – Because of its poetic language and imagery, the Koran is read and meant to be read differently by everyone who comes to it, thus being a source of pluralism among believers as the Tatar Jadids understood rather than a dry “criminal code” with only one possible set of meanings as the fundamentalists insist, according to a leading Kazan historian.
And that understanding of the Jadids, Rafael Khakimov argues in a new book, “Jadidism (Reformed Islam),” not only has helped the Tatars to survive and prosper under often difficult conditions but restores the earliest understandings of the faith and serves as a bridge between the world of Islam and the West (
Beginning with Gabdennasyr Kursavi in 1804 and continuing for more than a century, the Islamic thinkers of the Middle Volga who are collectively called the Jadids, sought to restore the traditions “which existed [in the Islamic world] until the gates of Ijtihad were closed in the 12th and 13th centuries,” the director of the Kazan Institute of History says.
Both the Jadids and the early Islamic thinkers on whom they drew such as Ibn-Arabi and Al-Gazali understood full well that while Islam is a single faith, it has never been united on all issues at all times. Not only are there the divisions between Shiia and Sunni but also among the four historical schools of Sunni Islam, Sufism and much else.
But while many Muslims in each of these trends seeks to make its version of Islam into a Procrustean bed on which all of the faithful must fit or else, the Tatar Jadids, Khakimov says, recognized that this diversity was both inherent to Islam and useful to its various followers because it allowed them to draw on various traditions, including their own national ones.
Tatar Islam, he continues, is the realization of the Jadid idea because it has allowed the Tatars to live under special and often difficult conditions, to build on their own traditions, and to exclude many of the Arabisms which all too many Muslims conflate or confuse with Islamic principles.
A close examination of Jadid texts, he continues, shows that there is no single Jadid view. No two Jadids think exactly alike. Some identify themselves one way, others attach themselves to a different trend in Islam, but all insist on the right of individual believers to use their own reason and to interpret the Koran and other Islamic sources independently.
Because of the discourse of many fundamentalists, Khakimov points out, it is important to understand that this “’opening of the gates of ijtihad’ has nothing in come with Salafiism.” Many Salafis fail to understand that the early Muslims lived according to their own Arab traditions but that these traditions are not in fact part of Islam and can be dispensed with.
Moreover, Khakimov continues, the traditions that the fundamentalists say they are engaged in restoring are in fact an invention, themselves transformed over time and at best a re-imagining of a world that no longer exists. That history may be “instructive,” he writes, “but it remains in the past, [and] analogies are not always appropriate.”
The works of the Jadid writers unfortunately are not readily available, Khakimov points out, but he notes that his institute now is currently engaged in publishing an anthology of the works of some of them with commentaries, an effort that he suggests will lead to an intellectual flowering among contemporary Tatars.
When the Jadids first emerged in Tatarstan, Khakimov notes, they were opposed by the traditionalists or “kadimists.” But the latter are “simply not interesting.” They didn’t even criticize “Jadidism as such. They simply denied it and wrote denunciations. They occupied themselves with denunciations to the authorities. A shameful page of our history.”
But with the passage of time, the opponents of the Jadids changed. They were no longer supporters of traditionalism for the sake of supporting the traditionalism. They began to work up a defense of their positions, a situation that Khakimov suggests compared to the Counter-Reformation in Europe, when Catholics spoke out against Protestants but at the same time were themselves modernized by this process.”
At the present time, the Jadidist trend is informing the broader trend of Euro-Islam, a term that Khakimov introduced and that he believes could, like Jadidism itself, help overcome “the new ‘Berlin Wall” between the West and the Islamic world” by promoting more a more rationalist discourse in the latter.
In today’s world that is absolutely essential, Khakimov says because “one must not consider the planet as divided into isolated civilizations.” And consequently, “such expressions as the territory of war [dar ul-harb] and the territory of peace [dar ul-Islam] already have no meaning.”
Euro-Islam among other things promotes the idea that each people should draw on its own national traditions rather than on Arab ones. Many things, like the hijab, are Arabic and thus have no necessary function as such in Islam now, Khakimov says. Likewise, mullahs need not wear Arab-style dress. And most important, he says, the Koran can be read “in any language.”
Such views are anathema to many Muslims who would not consider themselves fundamentalists, but they are evidence of the vital and innovative potential of Islam among the Tatars who not for the first time have been a bridge between the world of Europe and the world of Islam.

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