Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tatar Historian hasn’t Changed but Islam in Tatarstan Has

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 22 – Rafael Khakimov, vice president of Tatarstan’s Academy of Sciences, former advisor to that republic’s first president Mintimir Shaimiyev, and a leading advocate of Euro-Islam, is being attacked for his latest comments about Islam, with the explicit claim that he has departed from the world of the faithful altogether.


            But it isn’t so much that Khakimov has changed -- his ideas about society and religion remain the same – but rather that the new spokesman for Islam in the Middle Volga and more generally have adopted a harder and one might say Islamist line that does not allow for the diversity of opinion which had been characteristic of Islam in Tatarstan in the past.


            And consequently, the attack on the noted historian deserves attention not for its intellectual contribution but rather for what it says about the ways in which Islamic discourse have been changing and about how those changes are likely to exacerbate the divide between Muslims and others in the Russian Federation now and in the future.


            In an article in Kazan’s “Biznes-Online” portal yesterday, Khakimov argues as he has many times that “culture is more important than economics and politics” because it shapes both of these spheres of human activity and that the Tatars should draw on their own national traditions rather than “imitate” those of the Arabs (


            “The extent to which culture influences business,” he writes, “can be seen by examining the development of various countries and regions: the Protestant north of Europe is the most developed, the least harmed by corruption, the least wasteful, and the most supportive of the norms of social justice.”


            “The Catholic south of Europe lags” in each of these “although it is distinguished by a high artistic taste and the best services sphere in the world. The Orthodox countries compete among themselves in terms of backwardness, corruption and internal divisions, but Muslim countries … not only are backward but consider this a good thing.”


            “For them,” Khakimov writes, “the symbol of success has become luxury, inactivity,and military victories over their fellow Muslims.”


            According to the Kazan scholar, “Islam in no way restrains corruption, does not support the obtaining of education, the development of science and the successful conduct of business … In the Islamic world, there is not one normal university. Kazan with its higher education institutions is in comparison with Muslim countries the greatest of civilizations.”


            Islam teaches people not to rely on their own abilities but on the will of Allah, he continues, even though Muslims in fact seem ready to take certain things into their own hands. “In recent decades, not one war and not one conflict has occurred without the participation of Muslims.”


            But they have not taken action in the economy, Khakimov says, in sharp contrast to the Tatars before 1917.  “If the Tatars were successful entrepreneurs before the revolution, then the unique cause of this was the reformation of Islam and the rejection of the shariat in favor of secular laws.”


            Again today, “the more quickly we get out from the shackles of the Hanafi rite, which the clericals seek to impose on us, the more quickly will develop the economy,” the historian says.


            “It is indicative that from the beginning of ‘perestroika’ when the rebirth of religion was declared, not a single work of Tatar theologians was published at the initiative of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of the Republic of Tatarstan.” Instead, that body published Tatar translations of Arab works, some of which are banned in Russia as extremist.


            The message was and is clear, Khakimov says. From the point of view of the Islamic clericals, “Russia is an incorrect country because it does not follow the shariat and it must follow the canons of the Hanafi rite.” Moreover, those people “gave the impression” that the Tatars do not have their own proud national traditions in Islam.


            “Today in Kazan the Arab Middle Ages is being introduced,” but those who are doing so forget that “even in the Middle Ages there existed a ‘Tatar fashion’ as an element of the highest civilization at that time.” It wasn’t the hijab or the burqa but rather women’s boots, which were then borrowed first by the Russians, then by the French and then by the world.


            “Any flowering begins with respect for oneself, for one’s history, culture and traditions. Stop imitating the Arabs,” Khakimov says. “For the successful conduct of business and the flourishing of the republic, it must return to the traditions of jadidism having turned away any influence of Muslim theologians who call for a militant Medievalism instead.”


            On the very same day Khakimov’s article appeared, attacks on him began and from the usual sector: Muslims who remain Arab-centric and believe that the Arab understanding of Islam is the only possible one, the result of the influx of Arab money, Arab missionaries and Arab-trained mullahs and imams into the Middle Volga.


             In the words of one, the Kazan historian’s latest article shows that his “ideological evolution as ‘a religious intellectual’” has ended with “open attacks on Islam,” the inevitable result of Khakimov’s attachment to Euro-Islam rather than to the true Arabic Islam of the Prophet (


            What is especially tragic about all this is that some of the best allies the Arabic Islamists have are secular figures in the Russian Federation and the West who have not been willing to support the republication of the works of the jadids out of the mistaken belief that any greater attention to Islam necessarily will lead to extremism.


            As Khakimov shows, in fact, familiarity with the works of Tatar theologians of the 19th and early 20th century provide the very best form of immunity to precisely that danger.   

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