Musa Bigiev’s Legacy

15 November 2023

Musa Bigiev, one of the brightest representatives of the pleiad of brilliant Tatar religious thinkers of the early XX century, left atheistic Soviet Russia in 1930. The travelling route of the theologian in exile is impressive: Chinese Turkestan, Finland, Germany, Iran, Iraq, India, Indonesia, Japan, Afghanistan, Türkiye and Egypt. Each geographical point of the extensive list is connected with scientific research of Musa Jarullah (under this name Bigiev is known outside Russia) in the field of Muslim theology and missionary activity. The scholar’s life journey ended in Cairo in 1949, but the exact location of the grave itself was not known until 2022.

The burial site was discovered thanks to the assistance of the Russian Cooperation Office in Egypt and the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. In October 2022 an official ceremony of unveiling the plaque on the grave of Musa Bigiev was held with the participation of Mufti of Tatarstan Kamil Samigullin and Prince Abbas Hilmi, the grandson of the last Viceroy of the Ottoman Empire in Egypt Abbas Hilmi II. Kamil Samigullin emphasized that the establishment of the memorial sign is a tribute to the memory of the Tatar scholar, and the revival of the works of the Tatar theological heritage is among the priorities of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Republic of Tatarstan.

In his time Musa Bigiev, a brilliant scholar of the Holy Quran, who received his initial religious and secular education in Russia, and then in Bukhara and the oldest university, Al-Azhar, took the path of struggle against the dead concept of religiosity that engulfed and paralyzed the social development of the Muslim world in the early XX century. Bigiev’s work Proofs of Divine Mercy, published in 1911, contains the idea that the mercy of Almighty Allah encompasses all people and does not depend on their religious affiliation. The idea was not brank new in the history of religions, but expressed by Musa Jarullah was censured and criticized by authoritative theologians of the Near and the Middle East.

In his program work Appeal to Muslim Nations on Religious, Moral, Social and Political Problems and Actions or The Alphabet of Islam, published in 1923 in Berlin with the support of the Finnish Tatars, Musa Bigiev outlines his position on all pressing problems of our time. The scholar writes about what the policy of the Russian state towards Islam should be, about the need to renew the canons of the religion to improve the situation of both Russian and foreign Muslims.

The Alphabet of Islam’s reflections on the fate of the West and the East after World War I, as well as criticism of Karl Marx’s teachings, which incidentally served as the basis for Musa Bigiev’s arrest by the Soviet authorities, reveal the thinker as an astute political scientist and sociologist. According to Bigiev’s views, the assimilation of modern scientific and technological achievements and the comprehension of the religious doctrine of Islam should help Muslims to become civilized nations of the world.

Pursuing the goal of resurrecting the spirit of the religion for the sake of moral perfection of the individual in the era of social progress, Musa Bigiev tried to solve the problem of cultic fasting in the conditions of the North and the Arctic Circle. The work Fasting in Long Days, written in 1911, represents an innovative step of the scholar, undertaken with the aim of bringing religion and man closer together and preserving his strength for social labor. Inferences based on sacred ayats and Musa Bigiev’s personal observations during his stay in Finland offer relief to the physical condition of believing people in lands where polar day, white nights or long days naturally occur.

Musa Bigiev’s interest to the history of the Quran and Quranic studies, shown at the dawn of his literary activity, remained with him throughout his life. His first book History of the Quran and its Lists, published in St. Petersburg in 1905, was reprinted by an Egyptian magazine in Arabic, and republished in Russia in 2016. In turn, the books of ancient Muslim scientists, republished by Musa Bigiev between 1905 and 1910, found a second life in the East, where they were incomprehensibly missed. The scholar’s historical research allowed him to declare errors in the Kazan editions of the Quran concerning the graphic appearance of the holy book, namely, the lack of Arabic diacritics, which was subsequently corrected.

In Jajuj in the Light of the Miraculous Messages of the Holy Ayats of the Quran, published in Berlin in 1933, Musa Bigiev demonstrates the impossibility of another coming of the Jajuj and Majuj peoples (Gog and Magog in the Jewish and Christian scriptures) described in the fictions of medieval Muslim authors. The use of sacred sources from previous monotheistic religions in the study shows the extraordinary breadth of Bigiev’s thought. The book is a kind of manifesto of free-thinking and a call to move away from the influence of absurd conclusions of ancient scientists.

One of the criteria of a progressive society Musa Bigiev considered the position of a woman: the higher and more honorable her social status is, the more harmoniously developed and viable society is. The scientist expressed his thoughts on the issues of family, hijab, women’s rights, polygamy, marriage and divorce in his work Woman in the Light of the Holy Ayats of the Noble Quran, also published in Berlin in 1933 and dedicated to his wife Asma. According to Musa Bigiev’s assertion, which he deduced from the ayats of the Quran, the thesis about the creation of woman from the rib of man is only an artistic image, implying the refinement and tenderness of female nature. The thinker was convinced that nurture, rather than the veils and paranja commonly accepted in the Muslim world, was the best means of preserving a woman’s dignity and honor.

One of Musa Bigiev’s last works in the field of education, Islamic Scientific University, published in 1945 in Bombay (now Mumbai), proves his brilliant talent in pedagogy. The outlook formed due to his travels in exile, knowledge of world experience together with an encyclopedic mind allowed Musa Bigiev to prepare a large-scale project of a modern scientific and educational centre for training Muslim theologians of the world level, quite worthy of being called an Islamic academy.

Not all the ideas of the Russian theologian, philosopher and scholar can be fully realized today, but a separate institute should absolutely have been founded for a comprehensive and in-depth study, as well as an up-to-date rethinking of his rich heritage. Musa Bigiev is the author of more than 100 innovative and professional works written in sharp and lively language, many of which still remain undiscovered. In 2017 the Russian city of Saratov hosted the presentation of a “lost” book from 1911, an interpretation of a treatise by the medieval scholar Ibn al-Jazari, The Best Edition on the Ten Recitations of the Quran. Musa Bigiev’s little-known work Trapeza is gaining popularity among ordinary readers.



GSV "Russia - Islamic World"

Photo: Tatarica. Tatar Encyclopedia