Speech of the President of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiev at the first meeting of Group of strategic vision “Russia – Islamic World” that took place in Moscow on March, 27-28, 2006.
Dear participants of the meeting!
The Russian Federation has held various conferences and meetings devoted to religious issues in recent years, including Islam. I think this is great progress. Today, as the President of the Republic, located on the northernmost border of the Islamic world, I would like to inform you – famous national and international public figures, what steps to combat extremism and intolerance are undertaken in Tatarstan. In order to feel how strong faith is it was necessary to live for seventy years in an atheistic society. It appeared so that religion was actually banned in the country, but faith remained deep in the souls of men. And the emergence of opportunities to fully realize the right to religion, it is registered in the Constitution of the Russian Federation and the Constitution of the Republic of Tatarstan, greatly stirred up the religious feelings of our citizens. Therefore, we must treat them with special care, respect, and create all the conditions for the adherents of different religions in order to live in peace and harmony. Islam in the Russian Federation – is a fundamental, basic religion. The ancestors of the Tatars voluntarily adopted Islam in the town of Bulgar near Kazan in the tenth century, more precisely 16 May 922 year. The Tatars were northern outpost of the Islamic world and remains as such until today. Islam came to Dagestan before that in the VII century, along with the Arab conquests. As it is known, Orthodoxy was brought to Russia in 988. Thus, the history of the country was originally based on two source of civilization – Islam and Orthodoxy. In an interview with TV channel “Al Jazeera”, Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin said: “Our Russian Orthodox Church does not just coexist with Islam together for a thousand years, these religions are in contact with each other and they enrich each other. I honestly don’t even know such an example of interaction between faiths, like the one we have in Russia.” This is true, and these words reflect the official policy of the Russian Federation today.
These days the exhibition “Golden Horde” is being held in Kazan, organized by the State Hermitage Museum. There is a curious Orthodox icon of “Our Lady Milkgiver”. The icon itself was written in Italy, on gold frame on the perimeter repeatedly stamped the word “Allah” – a unique phenomenon. Even in the middle ages, there was an understanding that God is one and there are different religions. People themselves invented barriers between civilizations; it means that we ourselves have to adjust them.
In the history of our country were gloomy pages of persecution of Muslims, but after the decree of Catherine II on religious tolerance attitude of the Orthodox and Muslims has been steadily strengthened. Over a century of cohabitation with the Orthodox, we have acquired not only the culture of tolerance but mutual understanding and mutual support. We don’t even reflect on the value of interfaith relations achieved in the Republic of Tatarstan. Fortunately, they have become habitual to us. This is a great achievement. I’m sure we must strive to such an ideal, although, unfortunately, there are ethno-confessional conflicts in many regions of the world.
According to our experience, I can say that we cannot rely only on traditions, although this is very important. We should always take the adjusted weighted policy decisions, based on a balance of interests and mutual consent of the people. In the Kazan Kremlin tower there is Orthodox Cathedral near Kul Sharif mosque. They symbolize the existing understanding. Archbishop and Mufti of Tatarstan visit all celebrations together; the rabbi and Catholic and Lutheran priests join them if necessary. I should note that in Moscow don’t always pay attention to such details. But people, especially in the current environment, watch who and how acts in different situations. This affects, I know this from personal experience, the credibility of political leaders. It would seem, little things, but they cannot be ignored.
Democracy must take into account the interests of minorities, not be just a voting machine. Sometimes it seems that it is easier to solve the problem by the majority of votes, but in the ethno-confessional relations the way to achieve the greatest possible consensus is much more effective. In recent years, the common values of the multinational people of Tatarstan were formed in the republic. We reject extremism, whether in the form of nationalism or chauvinism, fascism, or wahhabism. Any fact manifestations of such moments we do not leave without attention, which is perceived by our citizens with a great understanding and appreciation. We must always take this into account. It is no accident that in the Report of the Council of Europe Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles it is noted that Tatarstan is one of the examples to follow. This is a high valuation, which obliges us to much. I should note that Mr Gil-Robles has been in our country twice and recently with his future successor.
Because of the media Islam has acquired an image of something frozen, hard, and even cruel in the world including Russia. In fact, Islam is characterized by pluralism. There are Sunnis and Shiites, supporters of different schools of thought. For many hundreds of years there was a living thought throbbing in Islam. Prior to the XVII century, Islam was the most advanced in the world, because it was absorbing the best of knowledge and was spreading it. European revival began with the great scholars such as Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina and others. Certainly our task now is to continue these traditions.
Islam among the Tatars has its own characteristics. 200 years ago, the reformation of Islam has begun in Russia. This phenomenon is called Jadidism (from the Arabic word al-Jadid – reform, renewal). Tatar theologians proclaimed openness to other cultures, primarily to Russian and European. It is openness creates mutual understanding between people. The merit of jadidism lies in the fact that it put at the forefront knowledge, education, science, religious tolerance, it emancipated women, gave to young people not only morality but also the competitiveness, which is important for today’s world. It is no accident that all progressive Tatar intellectuals, writers, eminent politicians, the best entrepreneurs came out of Jadid madrassas. Jadidism has created a tolerant, moderate, enlightened Islam. Russian Islamic University in Kazan, as well as the system of Islamic education in Tatarstan designed to continue this wonderful tradition. The Prophet said: “Everything has its own way. Way to paradise is opened by knowledge.” Not Islam, but the ignorance blows up the world and makes it dangerous. And ignorance can only be fought through education.
Islam is not frozen religion; it can find answers to the challenges of time. It is inherently flexible; it perceives ideas of democracy and liberalism well. By studying the experience of Islam in Volga-Ural region, you can find answers for many of today’s issues. I believe that this is our contribution to the mutual understanding of peoples and civilizations. Our fate, for all of us – representatives of different religions is to live in peace and harmony, as it was for many centuries.
Anyone who imagines Islam as a militant religion doesn’t understand the Quran well. It is said in the Quran: “Those who believe, and those who are Jewish, and the Christians, and the Sabeans-any who believe in God and the Last Day, and act righteously-will have their reward with their Lord; they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” Muslim greeting itself – Assalamu alaikum – means “peace be with you.” The Prophet said: “The best of you is he who establishes peace between people.” The highest form of Jihad, which carried out in numerous disputes, – the fight against unbelief inside yourself, not against the infidels, as it is often interpreted in the media. You can take a weapon in your hands only in order to protect yourself. Tolerance and understanding are the heart of preventing the clash of civilizations, because the Lord himself has created different people who speak many languages. It is forbidden in Islam to impose your views by force. It was understood well by the Great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, who wrote in “Imitations of the Quran”:
From the heavenly book list is given
For you, the prophet, not for the obstinate;
Calmly proclaim the Quran,
Do not force the wicked!
Tolerance applies to all, not just Muslims. When in Denmark caricatures of Prophet were drew (Muslims of Tatarstan, and I personally condemned their publication), they were not guided by good intentions. Freedom of expression must be combined with respect for the spiritual values. It cannot be unlimited, immoral. In our life there are holy things, which cannot be touched with impunity, among them – the prophets, from Moses, Christ and ending with Mohammed and Buddha.
Muslims should be able to defend their interests properly. Of course, without causing inconvenience to others, without fanaticism and threats, even after a great insult. The international community has developed mechanisms to protect human rights, but at the same time the rights of Muslims need to be protected, otherwise one injustice will spawn another. The great theologian Al-Ghazali said: “One hour of justice is equal to a hundred prayers.”
Muslims of the Russian Federation often have problems today. For example, in land acquisition for the construction of the mosque, in some cases due to the unfair accusations of Wahhabism or, for example, when trying to enter the lessons of Orthodoxy in schools. Unfortunately, many politicians are in favor of studying Orthodoxy for students in the classroom. We are strongly opposed to such innovation. We cannot shatter with our hands the prosperity and harmony which are so dear for us. We need to be able to persuade the relevant authorities of the correctness of our beliefs for the benefit of people of all faiths. And we are acting using the leverage that we have. It is necessary to participate more actively in political processes at the local and federal level. Otherwise it turns out that on the one hand terrorists use the slogan of Islam, and on the other hand the interests of Muslims are not fully protected. In my opinion, this is the situation in the Russian Federation now.
Spiritual leaders, with the help of regional and local authorities were largely engaged in the construction of mosques until the recent time. That’s right. Now there are more than 6000 mosques in Russia, 1100 of which – in Tatarstan. The period of rapid appearance of temples, apparently passed, and now we need to use other means – newspapers and magazines, radio and television more actively. There is a huge amount of work. Today, Muslim publications are seriously inferior to the leading Russian newspapers in the level of print run, not to mention radio and television. No one is guilty here, but it all takes time. There is a process of revival that requires the materialization of many ideas, many concrete steps. It is important to be able to combine all the factors reasonably – construction, media, training of religious personnel, and so on. You know it well.
Islam has become an integral part of Europe. Children of Muslim parents who were born in Europe – not migrants and their number is steadily growing. There are already 1600 mosques in England, 1500 in France, in Germany – more than 1,000 and 2,000 places of worship, 450 mosques in the Netherlands, 12 in Spain. There are Islamic schools across Europe. The Islamization of Europe will grow. You know, today in Europe 14 million Muslims. There are ethnic Germans and French among them. European States actually become multicultural communities, although they often don’t want to admit that, however, this only reinforces this factor. One of the objectives in Europe is the perception of Islamic culture not as a stranger and inorganic, but as part of the European way of life.
Today, all over the world are concerned about the tension created in relations between the West and Islamic world. Islamophobia pays dividends for nobody; it will only aggravate the situation. The Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who visited Tatarstan many times, truly noticed: “Any conflict arising out of the relations between Islam and the West, it is not a conflict between religions and cultures, it is conflict between political motives and economic interests. The latter can be changed, while religion and culture are eternal.” Today, there are 1.3 billion Muslims – almost 20 percent of the world’s population. They are the majority in 50 countries. According to forecasts, by 2025 the number of Muslims will reach 30%, exceeding the number of Christians. This confirms once again the urgent need of learning how to live in harmony and mutual understanding for the benefit of all peoples.
Certainly the Russian Federation’s (the authority which is listened to all over the world) joining to the Organization of the Islamic Conference it is a chance to build bridges between East and West. This is openly supported by the President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin. Tatarstan, using its experience and good relations with the OIC is ready to contribute its mite to the assertion of modern values.
Dear participants of the meeting!
Taking this opportunity, I invite you to visit Tatarstan and its capital Kazan, which brilliantly celebrated its 1000th anniversary last year. You will be able to get to know to our multinational people, to see firsthand the positivity of processes which we have and which are largely symptomatic for the Russian Federation and as a whole.