Staunton, September 3 – Post-Soviet officials and commentators often express their preference for what they call “moderate Islam,” a term that typically means little more than a kind of Islam like that permitted in Soviet times confined to the mosque and not posing any challenge to the powers that be.
But Kyrgyz sociologist Mukanmediy Asanbekov argues that moderate Islam in fact has deep roots within the Islamic tradition, reflecting the ideas and values of the Hanafi rite, the largest of the four legal schools of Sunni Islam (easttime.ru/analytics/raznoe/umerennyi-islam-kak-relig-organ-ispoved-islam-khanafitskogo-tolka/13493).
Muslims of the Hanafi rite are the most numerous and widespread of all Sunni religious communities, numbering more than 750 million across the world and dominating the Islamic parts of all the post-Soviet states except Azerbaijan, which at least traditionally is two-thirds Shiia.
Asanbekov points to five things which he suggests characterize Muslims of the Hanafi rite: they are conscious of their dominant position in Islam, they typically enjoy good relations with the government under which they live, they do not impose a requirement for social action on their members, relations between believers and mosques are relatively free form, and hierarchy is largely absent in their practices.
Because they generally avoid political action, the Hanafis are a source of political stability in the societies where they are predominant. Thus, they appear to others and are in fact genuinely “moderate” at least in comparison to the three other legal schools of Sunni Islam, Salafism and Shiite Islam.
Because of their freer and more tolerant approach, Hanafi Muslims tend to be less religiously active than other Muslim trends. That is, those who identify as such, including the majority in Russia and all other post-Soviet states except Azerbaijan, take an active role in religious life far less often than do those who follow stricter trends.
Another important characteristic of this trend in Islam, the sociologist continues, is that there is little internal organization of the mosque to promote the spread of Islam, to get involved with specific social conflicts, or to take part in the politics of the country in which its members find themselves.
“Consequently,” Asanbekov says, “the activity of a religious organization of Hanafis is limited to the fulfillment of spiritual functions alone, the satisfaction of religious requirements or believers and the maximum distancing from political processes. That is why when people speak about moderate Islam, they have in mind above all this Muslim religious organization.”