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OnIslam.net

Tatarstan: Smooth Islamization Splashed with Blood

(12 votes, average 4.50 out of 5)
By Ruslan Kurbanov
Director of Al-Tair Foundation — Russia
Kazan Masjid Tatarstan - Reuters
Predicting the decline of Russian nation, some experts say that Tatars will succeed the Russian state in the future. (Reuters)
Tatarstan:Smooth Islamization Sprinkled with Blood

The group of people in the Muslim world addressed in this article is often confused with the Mongols and unfairly considered descendants of the destroyers of Baghdad. However, in the history of the Islamic world, this nation has played a unique role.

These are the people to whom the Russian state owes much to its rise and becoming. In fact, these people laid the foundation of the Russian state union of Christians and Muslims.

Predicting the decline of Russian nation, some experts say that these people will succeed the Russian state in the future. This nation faces a lot of difficult challenges nowadays in its attempt to maintain its Muslim identity within 500 years of the Russian state’s attempts to dissolve it in a non-Muslim culture. The name of these people is “Tatars.”

Unique Role

Tatars are a very unique Muslim group among those existing around the world. First, the Tatars and their Khanates (realms ruled by Khans) during long period of time were the world's northernmost Muslim peoples and states. Secondly, Tatars accepted Islam voluntarily without any military maneuvers of Muslim troops in their lands.

Third, Tatars are one of the first Muslim people who were almost entirely included in the large non-Muslim state of Russia. Despite the long existence inside the non-Muslim state — about 500 years — and despite all attempts to Christianize Tatar Muslims, they survived as one of Russia's largest Muslim nation.

Fourth, the Tatars are today one of the most educated Muslim nations, widely represented among the political and intellectual elites in the countries of their residence.

The number of their population in Russia is 5.5 million people, making up about 4 percent of the population of Russia. Tatars are the second largest nation in Russia after the Russian. Besides Russia, Tatars live in Poland, Finland, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and the Xinjiang Uygur region of China.

History of Islam in Tatarstan

History of Ibn Fadlan served as one of the sources for Michael Crichton's novel "Eaters of the Dead" (1976). On same theme of this book the film “13th Warrior” was made, where the actor Antonio Banderas was starred as Ibn Fadlan.

The origin of the word "Tatar" is connected with the Chinese language which named as such all the nomads of the Great Eastern Eurasian steppes, regardless of their actual ethnicity. In the 13th century with the spread of the Mongol Empire, the label "Tatars" became attached to the peoples conquered by Mongols.

Tatars inhabited that time Siberia, the lands around the Ural Mountains, the lands around Volga River, and even the northern regions of the Black Sea. At the time of the conquest of their lands by the Mongols, the ancestors of modern Tatars were already Muslims.

The history of the adoption of Islam by Tatar’s ancestors is connected with the name of Ahmad ibn Fadlan. Ibn Fadlan was a senior clerk of the Muslim military leader Muhammad ibn Suleiman who was sent by the Caliph in Baghdad to conquered Egypt in 904-905 AD.

In 921 AD, the khan of the Volga Bulgar state, Almush, was already a Muslim and sought to free his prosperous kingdom — the present-day Tatarstan — from the power of the Khazar Khaganate. To this end, Almush requested the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad, Al-Muktadir, to send him Muslim scholars and builders to build a mosque and a military fortress. Then, in 922, a delegation from the Caliph arrived to the Volga Bulgars; this year is considered now as the official date of the adoption of Islam by Tatar nation.

Ahmad ibn Fadlan was included in the delegation and on his return to Baghdad he wrote a "Risalyah" (guiding notes). It is one of the most important sources for the history of medieval Volga region and Central Asia.

History of Ibn Fadlan served as one of the sources for Michael Crichton's novel "Eaters of the Dead" (1976). On same theme of this book the film “13th Warrior” was made, where the actor Antonio Banderas was starred as Ibn Fadlan.

From Mongols to Russians

During these years, Islamic tradition, urban culture, and written language based on the Arabic alphabet were laid in the lands of the Tatars. With the invasion of the Mongols in the 13th century, the Tatar lands became a part of the Mongol Empire. Over time, the western part — the Golden Horde — got separated from Mongol Empire.In the early 14th century and under the influence of conquered Muslim people, one of the Mongol rulers, Khan Uzbek, declared Islam as the state religion of the Golden Horde.

After the collapse of the Golden Horde, on its ruins a number of Tatar and Turkic-Tatar Khanates appeared which covered almost all of the Northern Eurasia — Kazan Khanate, Astrakhan Khanate, Crimean Khanate, Siberian Khanate, Kasimov Khanate, the Nogai Horde, and others.

By the 16th century, the rise of the Russian state began. With the Russian troops’ brutal conquest of the Khanate of Kazan in 1552 began the process of incorporating the Tatar lands into the Russian state. During the same time period, the Russians conquered Astrakhan Khanate, Siberian Khanate, and the Crimean Khanate.

Within Russian state, Tatars faced several attempts of forced Christianization. The Russian state’s policy was aimed at creating a Christian Orthodox state with one confession. During several years of that missionary work in Kazan province, over 30,000 Muslims were baptized.

Tatars and the Bashkirs answered to such increased state oppression by periodic uprisings. For the Tatars, the protection of their religious identity and enduring spiritual values meant ​​ the protection of national and cultural identity of their people.

In the time of the Soviets, a new wave of repressions towards Muslims began under communist banners. Tatar people were taken away from the Islamic culture, intellectual tradition, and spirituality that had their history for thousands of years.

Tatars as Russian Elites

Tatars in those years became the nobles, great scientists, generals, ministers, poets, writers, and politicians of Russian and Soviet states.

Despite the fact that the relationship between the Russian state and the Tatar people has developed in a very difficult and sometimes tragic way, Tatars gradually began to be part of the Russian elites. Tatars in those years became the nobles, great scientists, generals, ministers, poets, writers, and politicians of Russian and Soviet states.

It is also worth noting that despite all the efforts to Christianize the Tatar Muslims in the Russian Empire and all attempts to destroy the Islamic tradition in the Soviet Union, the Tatar Muslims preserved their ties with Islam despite of going through severe repression.

In the years of the most brutal repressions by non-Muslim powers, it was Islam which became the spiritual and cultural strength, as it helped to preserve the Tatars as distinct people and helped them not to be dissolved in a non-Muslim environment.

It is interesting that to date almost all the Muftis of the Russian regions, except for the Caucasian region, are Tatars. This fact shows that the Tatar people gave a great number of educated Muslim leaders to Russian nation.

Smooth re-Islamization

RussiaMap-TatarstanTo date, almost all the Muftis of the Russian regions, except for the Caucasian region, are Tatars.

In our days, Tatars demonstrated most constructive and most effective way of developing their religious and national identity and widening their political autonomy within Russia.

In the most difficult years of post-Soviet Russian history — in the years of deep economic crisis and two Chechen wars — Tatars demonstrated phenomenal results in economic development of their national republic.

During those years, Tatars managed to widen their sovereignty within Russian state more than other people in the country. Even in developing Islam and Islamic activism, Tatar Muslims demonstrated to all Muslim nations of Russia some of the most effective ways to combine the traditional Muslim culture with the newest social and informational technologies.

The famous Tatar Muslim analyst from Moscow Abdullah Rinat Muhametov wrote during his visit to Kazan city, the capital of Tatarstan, “In Kazan, and Tatarstan as a whole, the social, cultural, economic, and everyday life of ordinary people is Islamizing. But it will be better not to say ‘Islamizing,’ in a usual sense, but ‘Muslimizing’.”

“We remember that not so long ago Tatarstan with its largest industry of Soviet times and big projects of industrialization was an example of the chiding of secularization (in the worst sense of the word) and really the emerging social [incubator of] ‘one community -the Soviet people.’ The present smooth and gradual movement of Tatar people towards Islam seems to be just awesome,” he wrote.

Unpredicted Turn

After being appointed, Mufti Faizov started to promote a policy of dividing Tatar Muslims into “traditional” and “non-traditional” ones

But suddenly the situation with Islamic development in Tatarstan dramatically changed; the new authorities of Tatarstan suddenly and unpredictably changed the Mufti of the republic. Two years ago, the previous Mufti of Tatarstan Gusman Ishakov, which had great support from ordinary Muslims, was dismissed.

The newly appointed Mufti, Ildus Faizov, graduated from a Kazan school for actors and worked for a long time in a Kazan theater before his graduation from an Islamic madrasah in the same city. After being appointed, Mufti Faizov started to promote a policy of dividing Tatar Muslims into “traditional” and “non-traditional” ones.

This policy led to several loud and scandalous dismissals of some of the most principled Imams in the republic. Then the spiritual board of Muslims of Tatarstan started to seek and expose “Wahhabis” and “extremists” among local Muslims, and the police started coming to the homes of the these “unreliable” Muslims.

“A lot of Tatar Muslims, disgruntled by harassment of the authorities, called each other to leave Tatarstan and even the Russian Federation,” the country’s media wrote at that time. This policy of unjustified prosecutions of Tatar Muslims has led to very dramatic result.

Tragic Outcomes

During Ramadan of last year, the deputy of Tatarstan’s Mufti, Valiulla Yakupov, was gunned down in Kazan city. Minutes later, the Mufti, Ildus Faizov, suffered leg wounds after an explosive device ripped through his car.

“Both clerics were known to be critics of the radical Islamist groups that have mushroomed in recent years in this predominantly Muslim republic,” the media around the world reported. After this tragedy hundreds of Tatar Muslims were arrested. Some Imams were forced to leave the republic and Russia.

Tatar Muslims themselves stated that the murder of Yakupov and the attack on Faizov were tough provocations against the peaceful Muslim society of Tatarstan in order to begin wide repressions and prosecutions against them.

Several months after these events, government authorities stormed into a private apartment in Kazan and killed several people whom the authorities claimed to be militants who were involved in the murder of the Deputy Mufti and the attack on the Mufti.

Since that time, Mufti Faizov almost did not appear in public. Situation in Tatarstan after those attacks, arrests, and killings was frozen and remains tense.

Related Links:
Russian Human Rights Warrior: Rustem Valiullin
Banning Hadiths and Seerah in Russia

Dr. Ruslan Kurbanov, PhD in Political Science, is a senior research fellow of the Institute for Oriental Studies of Russian Academy of Sciences and the director of Al-Tair Foundation.

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