Monday, June 17, 2019

Their Language Under Attack, Tatars Turn to Islam to Defend Their Nation’s Future

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 16 – One of the unintended and certainly unwelcome consequences of Vladimir Putin’s assault on the languages of the non-Russian peoples of the Russian Federation is that some of them, the Tatars of the Middle Volga most prominently, are now looking to religion and especially Islam to serve as the defense of their nations’ futures.

             This week, 1137 delegates from 70 regions of the Russian Federation assembled in Kazan for the tenth All-Russia Forum of Tatar Religious Leaders. The meeting dealt with a variety of issues ranging from the role of Tatar imams far beyond the borders of the republic to the role of Islam in saving the Tatar nation (

            In many places, delegates said, the mosque is the only remaining place where Tatar is being actively used and taught. With the closure of Tatar-language schools, only the imams are now teaching the language. Saratov Mufti Mukkadas Bibarsov said that Islam must thus be part of the Strategy for the Development of the Tatar Nation, something that is not now the case.

            Rinat Zakirov, president of the executive committee of the World Tatar Congress told the group that everyone should remember that “before the revolution, the word ‘Tatar’ was a synonym for ‘Muslim.’ Therefore, excluding this important point from the strategy is simply nonsense,” especially now that the Tatar language is under attack.

            Other participants echoed this argument, but the most important support came from Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov.  He reminded the delegates that “for more than a thousand years, the Tatar people has been an important part of the Muslim world, has supported the development of multi-national Russia and made possible the strengthening of our common statehood, cultural and spiritual traditions.”

            Most significantly, he declared that “the main strength of our national rebirth [in the 19th century] was Islam” when the great jadid theologians Marjani, Musa Bigiy, and Kusavi showed he way forward. That tradition needs to be revived and there are great hopes that the Bulgar Islamic Academy will help promote that end.

            “One of our basic obligations is the preservation of the Tatar nation, our native language, culture and traditions,” the president said. “In today’s complicated situations, one of the important factors for the preservation and strengthening of national self-consciousness is religion. It gives us spiritual strength to counter various problems.”

            Minnikhanov expressed the hope that the congress would stress this in its concluding documents and added that he hoped it would lend its support to ensuring the unity and vitality of the Tatar nation, especially “in the context of the next census of the population, which will occur in Russia in 2020.”

            Other speakers developed these points. Kamil Samigullin, the mufti of Tatarstan, said that Muslims needed to dispense with the misguided notion that “there is no such thing as the nation” in Islamic thought and practice. The Koran clearly indicates that the preservation of national identity is something Allah supports.

            “Not for nothing did the great Tatar enlightener and encyclopedist Shigabutdin Marjani write: “In religion three things do not exist but these things preserve it: national language, national dress and national customs.”  Islam and the Tatar nation are thus not competitors but necessary and mutually supportive friends.

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