Ismail Gasprinsky: “The noblest cause is the cause of science and education”

20 February


Gayaz Iskhaki, Gabdulla Tuqay, Ismail Gasprinsky, Musa Bigiev, Kayum Nasyri, Shigabutdin Marjani are just a small number of prominent Tatar theologians and enlighteners who made history with their works in the field of religious and philosophical thought. This list can be continued endlessly. Someone will recognize the names above; others will discover new personalities, who played a special role in the dissemination of Islam in the territory of the Volga region. We are introducing a new rubric devoted to life and activities of outstanding Russian theologians, who gained popularity and recognition not only within the territory of Russia, but also all around the world. The first our guest is Ismail Gasprinsky.


A glimpse into history


“My dear friends, the noblest cause for us should be the cause of science and education, while the most sacred aspiration is the pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment. If you ask what to do, the answer is the same – to study, know and develop your mind”. These are the words of Ismail Gasprinsky, a prominent Crimean Tatar enlightener, publicist and man of the pen, whose ideas revolutionized the Muslim environment.


Gasprinsky’s ideas significantly transformed the image of Muslim intellectualism throughout the Russian Empire. It was thanks to his ability to combine work for the benefit of the state with the interests of his fellow believers that Muslims of the Russian Empire first asserted themselves as the mature cultural force. Crimean Tatars consider this personality as the founder of everything, as the “teacher of teachers”. His words that dependence on the teacher hinders progress are universally known.


The main important thing for Gasprinsky throughout his lifetime was to create a new concept of education. He saw the most effective means of cultural transformation in the radical modernization of education and in the renewal of the composition and focus of the curriculum. Ismail Gasprinsky was dissatisfied with the intellectual image of modern Muslims and the general state of the Muslim civilization, so he devoted his life to the implementation of his project for the renewal of Muslimism.


In 1888, the first Muslim newspaper was published in Russia. Gasprinsky became the editor-in-chief of “Translator”. “The “Translator” will serve as a conductor of sober, useful information from cultural life into the environment of Muslims and back. It will introduce the Russian environment with their life, views and needs” – this is what the editor-in-chief said about his brainchild. The newspaper immediately took a leading position in the modernization of Muslim education in Crimea, the Volga region and Turkestan. Simultaneously the publicist and religious figure created new textbooks and curricula and founded “new-methodical schools”, which subsequently became widespread in the Russian Muslim territories. 


Ismail was very concerned that despite the unity of East and West, Europe and Asia in the territory of Bakhchisaray, Muslim culture was very much lagging behind European civilization. He believed that it was important to move forward and develop. However, thanks to those “new-methodical” schools, a new generation of Muslims intellectuals emerged, European educated but not losing their “Muslim” identity, in the first decade and a half of the XX century. Gasprinsky managed to develop the program of unification of Russian Muslims as a way to integrate Muslim society and the Russian Empire in the new times. Gasprinsky was the first in the Russian-speaking Muslim environment to convert the ideas of his predecessors into quite tangible and functional forms – to define the content and methodology of new education (usul-i jaded, which subsequently became known as “jadidism”) and to test it in practice.


It is worth noting that it was Ismail who originated the idea of Pan-Turkism – the cultural and political unification of the Turkic peoples bound by the common language and relate historical destinies. “Unity of language, deeds and thoughts”. According to Gasprinsky, the Turkic peoples inhabiting Russia were to create together new forms of sociality and cultural existence by virtue of their cultural proximity and common Muslim identity. At the same time, the modern knowledge of the world and modern technologies were to be adopted by the Russian Turks from Europe, in particular from Russia. The combination of traditional piety, new education and advanced technocratism was to open the door to the future for the Turks. Unfortunately, the publicist’s idea failed to come true: the Turkic peoples chose independent ways of development.


In 1905, with the support of his associates, Ismail Gasprinsky created a Muslim liberal organization “All Russian Muslim Union” and headed its Crimean branch. Two years later Ismail proposed to convene the World Muslim Congress in Cairo in order to unite the progressive forces of the East on the path of reform and transformation.


The Crimean Tatar enlightener was one of the founders of the All-Russian Professional Union of printing workers. He promoted the idea of organizing numerous “Help Societies for Poor Muslims” and “Library Societies” and took part in the work of many of them.


Gasprinsky’s worldview principles and ideas were based on liberal ideology, progressive development of society, friendship of Slavic and Turkic peoples, confessional tolerance of Christians and Muslims and rejection of radical demands of socialists. He advocated evolutionary forms of social development.


The representative of the Crimean Tatar people has several literary works: the novel “French Letters”, a part of which is the utopian story “Muslims of Doru-Rohat”; the story “African Letters – the Country of Amazons”; the story “Arslan Kyz”, novella “Grief of the East”, essay “Russian Muslimism. Thoughts, Notes and Wishes” and many other works. Thus, we can see that Gasprinsky became the founder of many literary and journalistic genres not only among the Crimean Tatars but also among other Turkic peoples.


What did Gasprinsky bequeath to us?


“Allah gave the man, his beloved creature, a great power, so that people can dominate much; create and destroy much. This is mind…But mind should be enriched with knowledge”.


“It is known that unity is power and discord is people’s undoing in general and in all spheres of life”.


“Until people are well literate, until they begin to think and awaken “self-activity” in them, all other measures will not be used by them to their fullest extent”.


“In our enlightened times, the right of nationality, the right to have and cherish one’s historical and cultural nationality is as a natural and inalienable human right as any other “droits de l’homme” (human rights)”.


“Europeans are the most civilized people of our times. Their teachers were Muslims. By the confession of European scholars themselves, the political, physical, mathematical, medical sciences and many other arts of our century retain clear traces of the labors and experiences of Muslims”.


“Solidly educated Muslims attach a wider, more humane view of things to the good qualities of the commonplace; science and knowledge, without shaking Muslim bases and sympathies, illuminate and humanize their outlook, destroying, of course, prejudices and superstitions. But those Muslims who, by the will of fate, in one way or another, master some foreign language and acquire the external gloss of Europeanism, without a solid scientific basis, alas, these people are almost lost for useful and active life. They are people who have lost good qualities of their own tribe and who have assimilated the bad qualities of another one”.


“The more learned and educated a woman is, the more useful she will be as daughter, sister, wife and mother. Just think that we are all born of a woman; we grow up and begin to speak in the arms of a woman; we live, and work with a woman. And finally we die near a woman – wife or mother, receiving our last relief from them. It is sinful to leave them as animals”.


“The paper written in Kazan is intelligible in Orenburg, Shaki and Bakhchisaray. The literary turn of Bakhchisaray is applicable everywhere with the same elegance. However, we are neither willing to write nor to read!”


“Knowledge is something so powerful that with the help of it a weak human being can become the lord or the sultan of the world…”


“Brothers, take up seriously the cause of public education…To educate oneself is dignity, but to impart one’s knowledge to the ignorant is an even greater dignity and a good and holy cause”.


“I do not think that school is the panacea for all our ills and evils. Especially I do not think this of the people’s school. There are countless schools in Korea and Bukhara, and ordinary people in these countries are almost all literate. Bad school and silly literature are probably the worst of ignorance. It is not any kind of education that enlightens people, but only a higher and moreover universal education”.



Ilmira Gafiyatullina

Photo: Creative Commons