Monday, August 23, 2021

When Islam Returned to Tatarstan after 1991, It wasn’t the Advanced Form that had Existed before 1917 but a Medieval One, Khakimov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 21 – In soon to be released memoirs, Rafael Khakimov, the former advisor of Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaymiyev and leader of the republic’s Institute of History, says that when Islam developed in Tatarstan after the fall of communism, it wasn’t the advanced form that had existed before Bolshevik times but a medieval and obscurantist one.

            These comments, consistent with his controversial 2003 pamphlet, Where is Our Mecca? are likely to spark a new firestorm of criticism from the Islamic establishment both in Kazan and more generally but help explain why Khakimov despite a traditional upbringing has broken not only with Islam but with religion as such (

            Among the excerpts of his memoirs Business-Gazeta has chosen to publish, those having to do with his relationship to Tatar identity and Islam are perhaps the most generally important. Khakimov recalls that his grandmother, who was considered illiterate because she found it difficult to read Russian, nonetheless knew “besides Tatar, Arabic and Ottoman Turkish.”
            She was a committed believer but she did not pass on her faith to her grandson although she did her love of Tatars and their land, the historian, now memoirist, suggests.  After Islam began to make a comeback in Tatarstan, Khakimov says he was horrified by its departure from the traditions of Tatar Islam before the revolution.

            That is when he decided to write his pamphlet, Where is Our Mecca?  He was attacked by Muslim leaders although no fetwa was issued about him. These leaders chose not to debate him but rather to turn to Vladimir Putin and Mintimir Shaymiyev in an effort to use the power of the state to silence him. It didn’t work, but he did decide to stop writing about the subject.

            “Before the revolution, Tatar theology was the most advanced in the world,” the historian says. Compared to them, present-day Muslim theologians are “illiterate” children. But the 1917 revolution choked off Tatar Islam and when its successor returned after perestroika it was “medievalism in full.”

            There are a few moderate and sincere Hanafi rite believers, but many were “real obscurantists,” Khakimov says.  That shouldn’t have surprised anyone because most of Russia’s new generation of Muslim leaders were trained in the most reactionary centers of Islam in the Arab world.

            But it is a tragedy for Muslims and for Tatars like himself who don’t believe because it means they are deprived of the insights that the jadids of the 19th and early 20th century offered the world.

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