Saturday, November 17, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Islam and National Identity Need Not Conflict, Nalchik Conference Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 17 – An international conference on “Muslims and National Culture in a Civil Society” that took place in Nalchik on Thursday was unanimous in insisting that Islam does not undermine the traditions and cultures of nations and ethnic groups except in those cases where these contradict the shariat.

            In Soviet times, communist officials sought to play national identities against Islam in order to weaken attachments to that faith. But since the fall of the USSR, many Islamist activists have insisted that a commitment to Islam requires that members of this or that ethnic community subordinate their values to religion alone.

            But over the last several years, an increasing number of Muslims, from moderate to Islamist, in the North Caucasus have re-affirmed the declaration of the Koran that ethnicity is something God created; and ever more North Caucasians have accepted the idea that a greater attachment to Islam supports rather than undermines their national identities.

            That creates new problems for those seeking to counter such combined religious and ethnic identifications, but it is a welcome development, the participants in the Nalchik conference said, adding that it should be promoted by more such meetings across the North Caucasus (

            The Muslim leaders from the region and abroad said that finding points of contact between “religion and ethno-cultures” is critically important so that the two do not come into conflict either by accident or through the work of those who wish one or the other of these two value systems ill.

            Among those insisting on that point were Issa Khamkhoyev, the head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Ingushetia, Khazhimurat Gatsalov, the head of the MSD of North Osetia-Alania, Zulfagar Farzaliyev, the chief editor of the Azerbaijani paper “Svet istini,” and Kennan Kosak, the official representative of the Turkish ministry for religious affairs.

            They and their colleagues said that “Islam for the peoples of Kabardio-Balkarai had become a culture-forming factor and never was the cause” of divisions and conflict. “But with the change of the state formation, the situation changed, and ideas promoting the radicalization of particular groups began to penetrate.”
            In contrast to what those bearing these ideas said, the participants pointed out, “Islam has never denied self-identification on the basis of nationality. In the Koran it is stated that the All High created man from one man and one woman but made us peoples and nations so that we should recognize one another.”

            From that ayat alone, the participants suggested, “it is obvious that ethnic identification in Islam is not denied.”

            Often views on this question follow generational lines, Mufti Gatsalov said, nothing that “the roots of the conflict between generations lies in distinctions between the worldview of young people and their parents. We grew up under conditions of Soviet atheism, but the present young were raised knowing the fundamentals of Islam.” 

          Nonetheless, he said, the two have more in common more than many believe.

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