MOSCOW – One year after a controversial ban on classic Hadith collections and books on the Seerah (biography) of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), a Russian court has ordered the destruction of an interpretive translation of Qur’an, inviting a storm of fury from Russian Muslims.
"Russian Muslims are very strongly indignant over such an outrageous decision," Rushan Abbyasov, the deputy head of the Russian Council of Muftis, which has close ties with the Kremlin, told Reuters on Saturday, September 21.
If the ruling is acted on, the scholar warned: "There will be unrest ... not only in Russia but all over the world, we are talking about the destruction of the Qur’an."
A court in Novorossiysk, a city in southern Russia, ordered last Tuesday the widely read translation of the noble Qur’an by Azeri theologian Elmir Kuliyev.
The court said that the text was outlawed under a Russian anti-extremism law that rights activists say has been abused by local officials out of prejudice or to persecute groups frowned upon by the dominant Russian Orthodox Church.
Since Russia's anti-extremism law was passed in 2002, with the purpose of curbing potential militant threats, over 2,000 publications have been placed on a blacklist posted on the Justice Ministry's website.
The inclusion of some texts, such as the Russian edition of the diaries of Nazi Germany's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf", has won praise from human rights campaigners.
But critics say too many innocuous works have been added, threatening the rights of minority groups.
Once a court anywhere in Russia judges a text extremist, it is automatically added to the nationwide blacklist.
In the letter to Putin, the council drew a parallel with violence in the Middle East and Afghanistan over the actions of an American pastor, Terry Jones, who threatened to burn the Koran on Sept. 11, 2010.
"Is it necessary to discuss how the destruction of books, especially sacred religious books, has been received in Russia in the past?" it said.
"We recall how the burning of just a few copies of the Holy Koran by a crazy American pastor elicited a firm protest not just from Russian Muslims but from our entire society, in solidarity with the stormy and long-lasting anger of the global Muslim community and all people of goodwill," it added.
Experts stressed that the more than decade-old translation by Kuliyev is a respected scholarly work, one of four translations of the Qur’an into Russian.
"This is one step away from banning the Koran," said Akhmed Yarlikapov, an expert on Islam with the Russian Academy of Sciences.
"This is a very high quality translation," he said.
"The banning of Kuliyev's translation is utterly unprofessional, you could ban the Bible just as easily because it also has passages that talk about the spilling of blood."
A lawyer representing the text's author said he will appeal the ruling, which calls for the text to be banned and copies of it "destroyed".
"This is pure idiocy. Some local prosecutor sent this material to a local court and they together decided to ban a holy book," lawyer Murat Musayev, who has one month to appeal the ruling, said.
"On the one hand there is freedom of religion in Russia, on the other they are banning fundamental religious texts."
Analysts say the abuse stems from vague wording in the law and procedures that empower local officials in a flawed justice system.
A similar ban in June 2012 included the ban of 65 Islamic books which were deemed extremist literature by the court.
The list of these books includes such famous titles like Riyadh as-Salihin and Forty Hadiths of Imam an-Nawawi, Prophetic Seerah of Ibn Hisham and al-Mubarakfury, Fortress of the Muslim by al-Qahtani, Criterion of Action of Imam al-Ghazali, and History of Prophets from Adam to Muhammad.
Moreover, this list includes books of Turkish thinkers such as Said Nursi, Fethullah Gulen, Osman Nuri Topbash, Omer Chelika, Mustapha Ozturk, and even modern post-Soviet Muslim authors like the book of the most popular Moscow Imam Shamil Alyautdinov “The Path to Faith and Perfection” and Azerbaijan translator of Quran Elmir Kuliev’s “On the Way to Quran.”
"The way that the extremism law works is this kind of unstoppable mechanism that allows very junior courts to ban what they like," said Geraldine Fagan, an expert and author of a book on Russian religious policy.
"This is quite a momentous case. It could be the case that turns everything around and triggers a reversal of the general tendency, although that would surprise me," Fagan said.
"There doesn't seem to be any political will whatsoever to stop this from happening despite very high level criticism."
The Russian Federation is home to some 23 million Muslims in the north of the Caucasus and southern republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.
Islam is Russia's second-largest religion representing roughly 15 percent of its 145 million predominantly Orthodox population.
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