Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Window on Eurasia: As Koran Ban Protests Spread, Moscow Scholar Urges Russia’s Muslims to Remain Calm

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 2 – As protests against the Novorossiisk court’s decision to declare a translation of the Koran extremist continue to spread, Russia’s leading academic specialist on Islamic law is appealing for calm, pointing out that the court’s action is far from the last word in this case and that even if it is upheld on appeal, no one need “throw away” the translation.

            Demonstrations and petition campaigns continue to spread across the Russian Federation about the September 17 decision of a district court on a translation of the Koran prepared by an Azerbaijani scholar and published by the Saudi authorities (,, and

            Commenting on the case Leonid Syukiyainen, a specialist on Islam and especially Islamic law at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics says that Muslims should not allow themselves to become agitated about the Novorossiisk decision because it has not yet entered into force (

            Appeals are certain, and even if superior courts overrule the court of first instance, Syukiyainen says, it won’t be necessary for anyone to “throw away” the Kuliyev translation.  It will only be necessary for those who own one to be careful about sharing it with others or displaying it in public.

Because appeals have not been exhausted, the scholar says, the fact is that this translation has not been “prohibited.” Moreover, and this is a point few have made in the course of the discussion about this decision, he argues that this prohibition is not just about a book but about “a specific publication of a specific publishing house in a particular year.”

Remembering that is important, Syukiyainen continues, because there are other editions of the same translation issued by other publishing houses. He notes that he has one of these at home and says that “this translation has not been prohibited.”  And he suggests he has no plans to get rid of it.

But what if the court’s decision is confirmed?  What should a Muslim who has a copy of the Kuliyev translation as published in 2002 in Saudi Arabia worry about?  According to Muslim leaders, the Moscow specialist says, no one has the right to “throw away the Koran.” Indeed, that is “a sin before the Creator and a crime.”

Syukiyainen cites the words of Sheikh Abdulkhay, one of the senior parishioners of Moscow’s Cathedral Mosque, on this point.  Abdulkhay says that he would go to prison before he would throw away the Kuliyev or any other translation of the Koran (
Theoretically, of course, the Moscow scholar acknowledges, all Muslims who do retain the specific translation that the Novorossiisk court has declared extremist if that decision is confirmed could face charges of preserving or disseminating extremist materials, but that is not going to happen.

Muslims who do own a copy of this particular edition can avoid problems simply by not showing it to others, he suggests.  They can “buy another edition and use it,” even as they keep this edition on their bookshelves. “Try not to take it out of the house in order that one not generate an unnecessary reaction and thus avoid having to show that you are not a camel.”

“I don’t see any problems here,” Syukiyainen says.  And he refers to his own experience: As a scholar he has various books that have been declared “extremist” by Russian courts.” What was he supposed to do with them? “Go out and burn them? I am a researcher, I use these books for research purposes, and no one can prohibit me from doing so.”

“There are research goals and other goals. But if people have serious doubts, let them go to a lawyer and receive qualified legal guidance,” the scholar says. “Or, I repeat, let them buy another edition of this translation since it is not the Kuliyev translatin but this specific edition” that the Novorossiisk court declared extremist.

            As “NG-Religii” reports today, there are at least two appeals in the works, one by the lawyer who represented Kuliyev’s interests in the Novorossiisk trial who points, as Syukiyainen does, to numerous errors of fact and reason in the decision and another by a Muslim activist who believes politics are behind the court’s action (

            In her article in the weekly, Lidiya Orlova points to two problems that this case has highlighted: differences of opinion among Muslims over whether a translation of the Koran is a Koran – many believe that that text exists only in Arabic – and the lack of “a single canonical translation” of the Koran or its meanings into Russian.

            Many countries, including post-Soviet states like Uzbekistan, have prepared such translations, and Orlova suggests that the appearance of such a translation would end challenges to the holy text of Islam or of any other religion as manifestations of extremism even under the terms of existing Russian law.

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