Islam in Russia: the search for ways of regeneration

16 April 2019

The continuation. The beginning: Islam and Russia: Muslims are the part of the Russian state


As far as the processes within the Muslim Ummah are concerned, one should mention the fact that it was the 18th century which became a starting point for the Muslim society in Russia for its modern development. Structural changes within the society, which were connected with the penetration of bourgeois relations into the territory of Russia, led to a general direction of socio-economic development following the capitalistic path. That process, in its turn, caused significant changes in public consciousness. Religious and political reaction of Muslims in Russia at the beginning of the 19th century took two main forms: traditionalism and religious reformation.


Until the middle of the 18th century those two directions had been preceded by mass popular movements, which were permeated by “tsarist illusions” and idealization of community-based democracy or hope for a leader who would be able to establish “the kingdom of justice”. The activity of Mullah Murad, Batyrsha who is well known among Tatars, Sheikh Mansur, Imam Shamil and Kunta-haji Kishiev in the North Caucasus are good examples of various aspects of those processes.  


The Muslim society of that period needed both religious and moral revival and socio-economic regeneration. It needed bolder ideas which would be able to revive the Muslim society and offer ways of its comprehensive renewal.


Gabdennasir Kursavi, Kayum Nasyri, Ismail Bey Gasprinski, Shigabutdin Marjani were the founders of that new movement among Russian Muslims. In the North Caucasus the Jadidism movement became active already at the end of 1990-s-early 1910-s. The most active participants of the reformation were Islamic leaders from Dagestan: Gasan Alkadari, Ali Kayaev, Magomed-Kadi Dibirov, Nukhay Batyrmurzaev, Magomed-Mirza Mavraev, Abusufian Akaev. Among them there were the following deputies of the State Duma from Dagestan: I. Gaydarov and M. Dalgat


Islam in Russia: the search for ways of regeneration


Jadidism, which defined one of the main tendencies of the Muslim reformatory thought in the second half of the 19th- early 20th centuries and which emerged as a reform of the religious education system, was originally designed to carry out broader tasks, far beyond the system.


The Muslim society of Russia needed new values. The old Muslim school provided the knowledge consisting of religious and moral values, which were considered to be eternal and self-sufficient. Other forms of knowledge, even those which would be useful for practical purposes, received little attention in old madrasas. Jadid educational institutions were designed to make great effort in order to build bridges between modern (including Western) knowledge and Muslim culture, and to implement modern sciences in the system of Muslim knowledge.


It meant introducing elements of secular perception of the world based on principles of rationality. That approach caused fierce debates among the Muslim intelligentsia as it involved the use of two cultural concepts of knowledge. The supporters of the old method (kadimists) were harshly against Jadidism, because they considered it as a threat to Muslim culture and worldview.


Muslim religious reformers paid more and more attention to the national issues, especially in the second half of the 19th century. The formation of the ideology of the national liberal movement, inherent to that period, began with appeal to the national culture and the revival of interest in the national language, with the reminder of the former greatness of the people, their “Golden Age”, with the instilling patriotism and the formation of national consciousness. 


From the second half of the 19th century culture and education of Muslims in Russia were developing under the predominant influence of Islam, but they gradually acquired secular components as well. Book publishing became especially popular. The number of History, Philosophy, Folklore books increased. Educational and fiction literature was printed in large numbers. In the second half of the 19th century the total circulation of books printed in Russian cities in the languages of Muslim peoples was 27 million copies, including more than 3 thousand titles. During 1901-1917 there were published about 47 million copies, including no less than 6,2 thousand titles. By 1913 Muslim peoples had earned the second place in the Russian Empire in terms of national books circulation.


After the revolution in 1905-1907 Russian Muslins made an attempt of ideological and political consolidation. They sought to develop their own vision of Russia’s development prospects and propose their own political projects to the government. The first Congress of Russian Muslims took place in August of the year 1905 at Volga near Nizhniy Novgorod. Ismail Bey Gasprinski was a Chairman, whose thoughts of bringing together all the Turkic Muslims of Russia into one organization for the successful protection of their interests, were supported by all the Congress members.


There was made a decision to create the party “Ittifaq al-Muslimin” (“The Union of the Muslims), which was to fight by all the legal means for the abolition of “all the restrictions imposed on Muslims by existing governmental orders and administrative practices and for the full equation of Muslims in all the rights: political, civil and religious”. The Duma activity provided representatives of Muslim peoples with an opportunity to express publicly their own attitude to the national policy of the Russian government and protect interests of the Muslim population in the field of education and culture. It became an effective channel of the democratic influence on the foreign policy of Russia.


Russian Muslims reached the peak of their political activity in 1917. It was the very that year, during which there took place a great number of congresses among the Muslim clergy, teachers, military people. The approaches of the Muslim social movements to domestic political issues were clearly defined by the All-Russian Muslim Congress in May of the year 1917 in Moscow. 777 delegates represented communities of the Volga Region, Central European provinces, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Siberia. Such a wide representation allowed the congress to reflect in its decisions all the main wishes of Russian Muslims in the sphere of religious, cultural and political life.


Almost all the prominent political leaders among Russian Muslims took part in the congress work: Musa Bigiev, Zeki Velidi, Gayaz Ishaki, Shakir Mukhamedyarov, Gumer Teregulov, Alimardan Tobchubashov, Ubaydulla Khodja, and Ahmed Tsalikov. The main purpose of the congress was to find a formula for self-identity of Muslim peoples. The congress made a compromise decision by recognizing the fact that “the form of the state structure, which would better meet the interests of Muslim peoples, was a people’s federative republic based on territorial autonomy; for the peoples, which did not have their own territories – national and cultural autonomy”.


At the same time Muslims attempted to revive their statehood. Thus, on the 22nd of July Kazan hosted the General Muslim Congress, which proclaimed “National and Cultural Autonomy of the Turkic Tatars of Inner Russia and Siberia”. The proclamation of Idel-Ural State was set for the 1st of March in 1918. In December of the year 1917 there was held a discussion of the State Constitution project. In parallel, there was carried out the work to harmonize its territorial boundaries. However, the Soviet authorities did not allow creating national state formations, which refused to recognize the new power and socialistic ideology. In April of the year 1918 the activities of that organization were forbidden…


Raphik Mukhametshin. “Spiritual Heritage of Russian Muslims”