Welcome speech of the President of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiev at the third meeting of Group of strategic vision “Russia – Islamic World” that took place in Istanbul on 1-2 February 2007.
Dear participants of the forum of International Group of strategic vision “Russia – Islamic world”!
I’m glad to meet you again. We saw each other in Moscow, then in Kazan, discussed many important issues on development of Islamic world, and became acquainted with the experience of Tatarstan, with processes taking place in Russia in terms of revival of Islam.
Istanbul is not just a beautiful city, but it also combines in its appearance several symbols. In the era of the Byzantine Empire here was the heart of Orthodoxy and Russia asserted their hierarchs in Constantinople. Even the Patriarchs were sent to Russia from Byzantium.
The founder of Great Bulgaria one of the forefathers of modern Tatarstan Kubrat Khan was brought up here.
There are common Abrahamic roots of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in Istanbul, but without the contradictions that take place in Jerusalem.
There were difficult historical situations in relations between Russia and Turkey. Due to multilateral cooperation of the leaders of both countries, the understanding is growing, especially in the present time.
Many things connect Tatars with Turkey. Not only closeness of language and culture. A number of political figures, unwanted in the tsarist regime in Russia, came to Istanbul and have contributed to the affairs of Ataturk. I mean, the advisers of the first President of Turkey Yusuf Akcura , Sadri Maksudi, and other our compatriots. They felt the winds of change, and they wanted to implement in Turkey something that they could not implement in Russia at that time.
The irony is that one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century Bigiyev Musa has been convicted by the Ottoman Empire for his work. His translation of the Qur’an, which was banned at the time in Russia, will be released soon on the old Tatarian language. And now it is Turkey which stimulates conferences and publication of works of Musa Bigiyev, watching his tomb in Cairo. We are grateful for that.
Perhaps Istanbul embodies all the vicissitudes of Islamic world. Istanbul was the capital of the last Caliphate, and then it was a place of separation of religion from the state of the Turkish Republic in the days of Kemal Ataturk. And now the spirituality is being revived again. This is not a judgment or glorification. It is destiny.
Society cannot live without religion, even if it is written in the Constitution. In Russia, the religion was banned for over 70 years. Imams were repressed, mosques were demolished and people were taught atheism. But the epoch of perestroika came; democracy and religion came back because it is beyond time and personal preferences of the rulers.
Many countries have tried to follow the path of secularization, but the nation became divided in this case. The divided society is unstable. There is an ideological civil war. Some people are atheists, others are closed in fundamentalism.
Tatars have avoided this fate because have reformed Islam in due time. Not in the sense that they refused the canons of Islam, but rather, on the contrary, returned to them. They returned to their roots, but not in the sense of radical fundamentalists, but to the understanding of the early Muslims.
When Islam was born, there were very few Muslims, not like today. There were no such financial resources, but, nevertheless, Islam has conquered half a world by knowledge, coupled with the will. There were no other resources. Knowledge plus political will are the engines of progress.
We are closely following the ongoing processes in Europe. There are different languages, each nation has an ancient culture, it is very difficult historical relationship, it is enough to remember Germany and France. But everyone integrates. There are more similarities in the Islamic world. Even in the Tatar language it is impossible to talk without Qur’anic terminology. Not to mention that there are a dozen Arab countries which are very close in language and culture. I don’t like to look as a Eurocentric. We see all the processes that occur in the world, with which Islamic world must not break away, resist or fall behind.
Such words as Muslim ummah, Turkish ummah, Egyption, Jordan, and so on are quite popular in our lexicon. In Russia they say about the country’s Muslim ummah or Tatarstan. And there is integration in the world. There is globalization in nominal sense, but there is integration on the basis of real interests. Globalization also has benefits for those who know how to use it. Why not to announce Islamic globalization, not against the West, but in cooperation with the West. There is money, there is intellectual power. Thousands and thousands of Muslims are working in the best universities of the West. Now let them work for Islamic world.
There are many Islamic sites on the Internet. They repeat the verses of the Quran and Hadith. We need another site that would combine the outstanding minds of Islamic world. We could undertake this task.
Europe offers many themes to think about. Generally speaking Europe began in Andalusia. Europe, at first glance, is the Catholic-Protestant area. But where Europe has appeared? Is it possible to understand it without Andalusia, the University of Cordova, and the culture of Granada? It is Impossible. Muslims have returned the ancient philosophers to the world, and at the same time they stimulated the Renaissance. Then the concept of the West has appeared. They do not like to remember this in Europe, but it’s true. I say well known things.
Europe used to learn from Muslims, but we must learn from Europe too. There is a famous hadith: “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave. Seek knowledge even as far as China. Who wants to bliss in this world, let him be engaged in trade, and who wants to bliss in the other world, let him look for abstinence and piety. Who wants happiness of both worlds – let him seek it in the learning and knowledge.” Wonderful words of the Prophet. It is necessary to study both in the East and the West.
Islam could play a huge role in Europe’s renewal, not in terms of technology and scientific knowledge, but in the moral principles and justice.
All human beings are born free and equal. Physiology or origin, race or language, religion or country do not matter. The Prophet said: “A day of a just sultan is more honorable than the religious service of seventy years.” We must remember this.
A man intervenes in the course of history, and in this sense he creates it. Truth is not frozen absolute, it depends on us. The problem is not only how much and what we learn from Islam. The question is what we bring to it. And how our contribution is able to change the face of Islam?
There is no ban on the progress in the Quran. But there are outdated traditions in life. Is it bad that airplanes of Boeing type are being manufactured in Tatarstan? Is it bad that heavy trucks of KAMAZ win first places in the Paris-Dakar races? Is it bad that Tatarstan helicopters fly over Turkey’s peaceful sky? Is it bad if the peaceful atom of Arab countries will begin to serve the interests of their population?
Progress in knowledge, as it was in medieval Andalusia, should lead to a comprehensive harmonious development. It is Necessary to live not only by oil, but primarily by the knowledge. The next our meeting should be organized in cooperation with outstanding Muslim scientists. After all, there are Muslims among the Nobel Prize winners. There is the Islamic Academy of Sciences. It is necessary to connect politicians and scientists.
In Turkey, in the district of Antalya, in the mountains there is an observatory of Tatarstan. Last year, a new galaxy has been discovered with the help of this telescope. The discovery was confirmed by the observatory at Princeton, Cambridge. In the past Muslims were mainly engaged in astronomy. The universe is not a frozen cluster of planets and stars, it develops, new stars and planets appear, and some of them extinct. Astronomers have proved that the universe is expanding. Is this not what is said in the Quran: “So verily, I swear by the planets that recede. And by the planets that move swiftly and hide themselves.” I understand that it is easier to find new oil field than the galaxy, and it is more profitable. However, the intellectual potential is worth more than oil.
We need technologies which will enable a breakthrough in all scientific fields, Islamic world must take its rightful place in the field of knowledge, and there are real opportunities for this.
Russia has always been occupied a special place in Islamic world. World’s problems have not been solved without Russia during the Soviet period. Today the situation has changed, and it is necessary manage affairs not only by force of arms, as it was, but by mind. Tatars have a proverb that says: “Who is strong will win one, and who is smart will win a thousand.” Our century is the era of competition of minds and modern technologies.
In the years of perestroika Russia considerably weakened its positions in Islamic world. Russia’s role is being increased significantly, which will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the influence of the Islamic factor in world politics.
Policy is decided not only by force but also by wisdom. Our constant Group, which analyzes and as a result has its own vision, could unite the efforts with European and US centers who want to find common ground with the Muslim world.
Russia has experience of cooperation of different confessions. We must say that the clash of civilizations will not work. In Palestine could not be a military victory, but may be a victory of reason. In Iraq, may not be the victory of the armed forces, but it may be the victory of good will. Trying to impose something that is contrary to the interests of the country is pointless in Iran. Double standards will not work! We need a different policy based on justice.
Russia has joined the OIC as an observer and should have its place in Islamic world, not just to participate in the meetings but take part of the responsibility. Russian experience is a political resource. Tatarstan is ready to participate in this mission in the best of its ability.