Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Preparation of New Encyclopedic Dictionary on ‘Islam in the Russian Federation’ Delayed by Gaps, Controversies

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 28 – A new encyclopedic dictionary on “Islam in the Russian Federation” which was supposed to appear this year won’t come out until 2020 at the earliest because of serious gaps in the historical record, problems with access to key documents, and intensifying controversies among various Muslim groups.

            Damir Mukhetdinov, the first deputy head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Russia, made that announcement at an international conference in Kazan on “Islam in a Multi-Cultural World” which ended yesterday. He and other scholars explained this delay was more or less inevitable (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/340631/).

                Among the serious problems that have interfered are longstanding and even intensifying conflicts in interpretation among various ethnic groups within the region and between Muslim scholars and Russian ones and the fact that politicians routinely put out stories that come to be accepted as fact because they circulate on the Internet but have no historical basis at all. 

            Perhaps not surprisingly, the description of the state of Islam and Muslim organizations since 1991 has been especially difficult because so many different Muslim institutions have arisen and so many articles and books have been published.  As a result, Mukhetdinov says, the encyclopedia even when it does appear will limit its biographic articles to only a few people.

            Entire historical eras and large regions in many cases remain completely unstudied, historian Akhmad Makarov, who is on the editorial board of the new encyclopedia.  In the Volgograd region, for example, there is almost nothing about the Muslim community there between the end of the 15th century and the 1970s. 

            The situation with regard to the mountain peoples of the North Caucasus is better, but there are many controversies among peoples and Muslim groups who are often fighting not over facts but over the historical myths they believe to be true.  And there are important figures and movements that have not received proper historical study.

            Among the most important of these, Aleksandr Yalbulganov of the Higher School of Economics says is the jaded movement at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.  In many cases, its key works remain unstudied because they are in Arabic script which many scholars cannot read.

            Arabist Yefim Rezvan, the deputy director of the Kunstkamera, adds that an increasing problem is that many people believe what they read on the Internet and fight hard for positions that are simply not true.  They do not have the time or resources to gain access to better historical treatments and distrust those who use them.

            He notes that the current project is the third such enterprise in the last 30 years. The two earlier ones were the encyclopedic dictionary Islam issued at the end of Soviet times, and the series, “Islam on the Territory of the Former Russian Empire” which has been published by the St. Petersburg Institute of Eastern Manuscripts under the direction of Stanislav Prozorov.

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