Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Russia’s Muslims Should Call the Divinity ‘God’ Not ‘Allah,’ Tatar Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 28 – Russian government proposals that from now on the word “God” is to be written only with a capital letter ( are sparking a broader discussion of how the peoples of Russia should refer to their divinities.

            Tatar commentator Rustam Batrov says that in fact Moscow is only codifying existing practice but has not addressed the far more sensitive issue of how Russian-speaking Muslims refer to the divinity, by using the Russian word “God” or by using the Arabic one, “Allah” (

            This is no small issue, he suggests, because behind it lies a difference in how Russian-speaking Muslims view themselves and how other Russian speakers view them. If Russian-speaking Muslims use the term Allah, other Russian speakers will conclude that they are speaking of a different god, thus setting themselves apart.

            But if Russian-speaking Muslims use the word God to refer to the divinity they worship, they will be declaring themselves part of the broader linguistic and hence social and political communities of which they are a part. Batrov favors the second course; but his suggestion is certain to spark far more anger than the proposal to write “God” with a capital “g.”

            For many Muslims, the Arab language used by the Prophet Mohammed is at the center of their faith. They believe that the Koran exists only in Arabic and that any translation is from the outset only “an interpretation.” Moreover, they believe that their leaders must know Arabic in order to study the key texts of the faith.

            The modernist tradition of Islam, jadidism, which remains centered in Tatarstan takes a different view.  Batrov’s argument is part of that tradition, but it is one that not even all jadids or jaded-influenced Muslims will be ready to accept. But it is intriguing as an indication of the possible direction of Islamic thought in Russia.

            From the perspective of other non-Muslim Russians, what he is calling for is both attractive and potentially dangerous. It is attractive because those who follow his path will be declaring their national linguistic identity as more important than the Arab language milieu out of which their faith arose.

            But it is at least potentially dangerous because it means that Russians will need to accept Islam as part and parcel of Russian culture and language, an acceptance many will find it difficult to agree to given the current Orthodox Christian centricity of Putin’s vision of what Russia and Russians are.

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