Sunday, November 19, 2023

Muslims, Not Russian State, Source of Present-Day MSD System, Tatarstan Mufti Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 16 – Some Muslims in Russia favor doing away with the Muslim Spiritual Directorate system arguing that it was created by the tsars and maintained by the Soviets and the Russians as a means of controlling Muslims. But in fact, from the dawn of Soviet times, Muslims in Russia have wanted MSDs and if possible a single one, Mufti Kamil Samigullin says.

            But this is not the case, the Tatarstan religious leader says. In fact, the current muftiates trace their origins not to the tsarist model but to a decision of an all-Russian Muslim congress that assembled in Moscow in 1917 (

            That assembly, which took place after the Provisional Government had annulled all tsarist orders regarding religion, voted to form a new MSD system in order to protect the rights and freedoms of Muslims. Its members believed, rightfully in the view of Samigullin, that a single MSD like the Moscow Patriarchate for the Orthodox was the best means to protect believers.

            The mufti’s words came at a conference in Kazan on Islamic Education and Enlightenment in the USSR. Among other noteworthy comments from that meeting are the following:

·       A Chechen mullah told the group that he had heard from relatives that when Stalin summoned the former mufti of Central Asia to the Kremlin in 1943 and asked him why Central Asian Muslims weren’t fighting enthusiastically for Soviet power, Mufti Babakhan replied with a question: “How can I go to Muslims and ask them to fight for those who have taken away our mosques?”

·       Askar Gatin, religious affairs advisor to the head of Tatarstan, said Muslims in the USSR in Soviet times displayed incredible resourcefulness in keeping Islam alive and pointed to the work of Franco-Russian scholar Alexandre Bennigsen who had documented so much of this.

·       Makhmudapandi Dumalayev, a representative of the Daghestan muftiate, says he studied in a small underground medressah in Soviet times. It was only five square meters in size and located literally in the basement of an apartment building. But such was the demand for knowledge that believers flocked to it.


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