Saturday, January 14, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Tatarstan Ulema Head Equates Islamic Modernists with Wahhabis

Paul Goble

Staunton, January 13 – Rustam Batrov, the chairman of the Ulema Council of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of the Republic of Tatarstan, says that that Islamic modernism in the form of the jadids opened the way to widespread atheis there and that, in the words of one commentator, “the jadids are the same as the Wahhabis who are the same as the godless ones.”

Batrov’s attack on jadidism, the modernist form of Islam developed in the Middle Volga at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, came in the course of his review of a play about Mukhlisi Bubi, the first female Kazi in the world who was shot by Stalin in 1937 because of her work with Muslim women (

But as Tatar historian Aydar Khabutdinov points out in a commentary today, Batrov’s “strange equation” reflects the Tatarstan MSD’s increasing tilt, backed by Moscow, toward “the rural Kadamist [traditionalist] and Soviet model” of Islam, one that “does not allow the restoration of the urban jadid model” (

“With the dying out of the last students of the jadids,” Khabutdinov says, “ever more recedes into the past the model ofTatar urban development.” In its place is “the so-called ‘shyrygdan’ (that is, rural Kadaist) model” whose adoption will “only push away the urban Tatar majority from national-religious tradition.”

That is precisely why the Kadamist model is supported by the Russian Orthodox Church, Russian officials, and Russian writers like Roman Silantyev, the Tatar professor says. Such people do not want any part of “an attractive model for the teaching of the Tatar language, literature, and history of the Tatars in the predominantly Russian-language milieu of Tatarstan.”

This veritable campaign against jadidism and the kind of Islamic modernism that attracts the young far more than radicalism does, Khabutdinov continues, has won several victories in Tatarstan recently, most prominently in the decision of the new mufti, Ildus Fayzov, to pull his MSD out of the more modernist Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR).

Weakening the SMR has been a major goal of Silantyev and the Moscow Patriarchate with which he has long enjoyed close ties. And promoting the kadamist, as opposed to the jadid positions has been taken up as well by Rais Suleyanov, the director of the Volga Center for Regional and Ethno-Religious Research of the Russian Institute of Strategic Investigations.

Clearly, Batrov and his supporters believe that any increase in the influence of jadidism among the Tatars would lead to an increase in the number of convinced Muslims there and that defeating jadidism will prevent that, a calculation which parallels the one that Soviet anti-religious activists made during the last century.

But as Khabutdinov suggests and as historical experience confirms, attacking modernist Islam may not cause people in historically Muslim regions to turn from religion. Instead, it will likely open the way to  growth in underground radicalism, just as in late Soviet times -- precisely the outcome those attacking Islamic modernism say they want to avoid.

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