Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Traditional Tatar Muslims Said Putting Up New Years’ Trees to Oppose Wahhabis

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 1 – Because some Muslims argue that celebrating the new year holiday according to the  international calendar is sinful, several Muslim communities in the North Caucasus and Middle Volga have decided not to mark the day in any way resembling the celebrations of their Christian or secular neighbors.

            But according to one source, “over the last several years, the New Year has been transformed into a symbol even for those Tatars who are believers … [and] even those who earlier did not put up a tree now do so as a matter of principle: If the Wahhabis oppose the New Year, then [we] will celebrate it” (www.rosbalt.ru/federal/2012/12/28/1077286.html).

            The celebration of the New Years’ holiday seems to be most at risk in Daghestan. Last year nearly 70 percent of the schools there in that most Islamic of the republics inside the Russian Federation did not mark the holiday, even though republic leader said residents should because the republic has a secular government (www.rus-obr.ru/ru-web/22054).

            Daghestani head Magomedsalam Magomedov has announced that this year the celebrations will proceed because Daghestan as part of the Russian Federation is a secular republic but “for many local residents,” according to a recent analysis, his words still “remain unconvincing” (www.bigcaucasus.com/events/topday/29-12-2012/81987-dagestan_ng-0/).

            Magomedrasud Omarov, the press secretary of the republic’s Muslim Spiritual Directory, said that “according to Islam, one must not celebrate” New Year’s and that he personally doesn’t, but he added that  for many years, “people in Daghestan have celebrated many dates which do not correspond to Islam” (publicpost.ru/theme/id/2899/_ng_v_shkolah_dagestana/).

            He suggested that “Daghestani Muslims have many more important issues” to deal with than whether to celebrate this particular holiday.  And he argued that the only reason some Muslims raise the issue about New Years is that it is guaranteed to attract the greatest possible attention to their cause.
            Ruslan Gereyev, the head of the Makhachkala Center for Islamic Research, said that New Year’s “isn’t Islamic,” but “the older generation has simply become accustomed to it.” Younger believers in contrast “don’t accept it.”  But they don’t accept it because the Salafis are against it: They don’t because neither do the Sunnis or Shiia or Sufis.

            The Salafis are usually blamed, the researcher said, because “they are more active.” He did not say but it is certainly the case that they are a group that government officials in Moscow and elsewhere are happy to target. That is clear if one considers what one student of developments in Tatarstan says.

            According to Rais Suleymanov, the head of the Volga Center for Regional and Ethno-Religious Studies of the Russian Institute for Strategic Research, told “Nezavisimaya gazeta” that “the popularity of the anti-New Years’ calls” in Tatarstan reflects the efforts of the Salafis to promote “the Caucasization of the umma” there (www.ng.ru/regions/2012-12-28/6_shariat.html).

            There have been cases in that Middle Volga republic, Suleymanov continues, when Muslims in charge of companies have “demanded from their subordinates, including non-Muslims, that the latter not decorate their desks ‘in a New Year’s style’ with small trees” and the like lest they offend “religious feelings.”

            But most Muslims in Tatarstan appear to be less agitated by this than Suleymanov’s words suggest.  Rafik Islamgaliyev, a Muslim theologian, told the Moscow paper that “Muslims are accustomed to using” the calendar based on the birth of Christ and that this doesn’t cause them any problems.

             After all, he observed, “New Year’s in general is something completely voluntary: No one forces anyone to have a tree or to listen to the speech of the president” and there is no harm for any Muslims “who do agree to meet the New Year” in a celebratory fashion just as their Christian or secular neighbors do.

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