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Banning Hadiths and Seerah in Russia

Reasons and Consequences:
By Ruslan Kurbanov
IUMS Member — Russia
Muslims attend Friday prayers under a snowfall at the Central Mosque in Almaty February 5, 2010 - Reuters
The Russian law enforcement agencies create for themselves very handy tool for the prosecution of any group of Muslims they dislike. (Reuters)
Banning Hadiths and Seerah in Russia

A public scandal about the prohibition of more than 60 Islamic books by a Russian court, including classic Hadith collections and books on the Seerah (biography) of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), has led to a very tragic turn of events. Rustem Valiullin, a Muslim lawyer who acted as a public advocate on behalf of the Russian Muslim community in this case was declared missing on June, 23.

The incident shocked Russian Muslims, as some of them allege that the death of Valiullin is nccidental. But even without this tragedy the case of banning Islamic books by Russian court is full of scandalous details and facts — beginning from incoordination between different levels in the Russian government and ending by the participation of Russian orthodox cleric in this prohibition.

History of the Scandal

In the beginning of June, the Russian Muslim media burst with shocking news that the district court in Orenburg city had delivered a judgment to recognize 65 Islamic books as extremist literature. 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.”

According to the Russian legislation, such judgments delivered by regional and district courts should be accepted by the Ministry of Justice because of the obligatory and binding nature of such judicial decisions for the executive branch of power. That is why Russian Ministry of Justice, during several years, had to widen the official federal list of books and papers recognized by different Russian courts as extremist materials.

In this list, also, there are articles and brochures of Northern Caucasian insurgents about Jihad, books and papers of Jamaat Tabligh, Hizb ut-Tahrir, and even Turkish Nur Jamaat. Moreover, this list includes Kitab at-Tawheed by at-Tamimi, Aqida by Muhammad Zinu, True Islamic Personality of the Muslim by Muhammad Ali al-Hashimi, Pictures From Lives of Disciples of Messenger of Allah by Abdurrahman Raafat al-Bashi, and even Last Will and Testament of Imam Khomeini.

Reasons for Banning

Russian_edition_of_Imam_an-Nawawis_Riyadh_as-Salihin_banned_by_district_court_in_Russia

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.

The main reason for considering such amount of classic Islamic books as extremist literature from one side is the very low professional competence of Russian law enforcement agencies and experts on Islamic culture.

During its raids on different really extremist groups, the police always confiscates a big number of religious books. Though among confiscated materials there are really extremist books, but there are classic Islamic works like Seerah, collections of Hadiths, or duaa’. After each of such raid a prosecutor uses the help of religious expertise to categorize the confiscated books. And this is why such experts chosen by the authorities more often than not categorize all confiscated books as extremist literature.

As for Russian courts, after receiving such rash and thoughtless decisions of experts, they try in a hurry to ban confiscated literature all together without any differentiation between really extremist works and classic Islamic books. But from another side there is an opinion that Russian law enforcement agencies intentionally widen the list of extremist and banned literature.

The well-known Russian Muslim journalist Orkhan Jemal states that the Russian law enforcement agencies create for themselves a very effective and handy tool for the prosecution of any Muslim or group of Muslims disliked by them by intentionally labelling big number of fundamental Islamic works as extremist literature. Jemal’s opinion looks very convincing, taking into consideration the very high level of Islamophobia and rank ignorance of the Muslim culture within Russian police and judicial system.

Incoordination and Conflicting Policies

Inconsistency of governmental policy on the domestic Islamic issue is one of the main reasons of raising distrust of the Muslim community against the Russian bureaucracy.

In contradiction to this policy of Russian law enforcement agencies and regional courts, the strategy of Russian federal government sequentially and step by step works on developing trusted relations with the Muslim world and with the domestic Muslim community. The Russian government annually spends hundreds of millions of rubles for supporting Muslim organizations and Islamic educational institutions.

On the foreign policy level, Russian President Vladimir Putin made Russia join the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2004 as an observer country. Also, talking to Russian Muslims, in 2006, Putin said that “millions of Russian citizens adhering to Islam have a right to consider themselves an organic part of Islamic world.”

Additionally, on May 2012 the Administration of the Russian President and a governmentally established foundation for supporting Islamic culture, science, and education supported the international theological conference “Islamic Doctrine Against Radicalism” in Moscow which hosted prominent Muslim scholars, including the Secretary General of the International Union of Muslim scholars and other senior Islamic figures.

It is significant to note that till now the books banned by the court decision were not included to the federal list of extremist materials on the website of Russian Ministry of Justice. This incoordination in governmental activity toward Muslim community between federal and regional levels of power has been noticed by big number of Russian and foreign experts. This problem of inconsistency of governmental policy on the domestic Islamic issue is one of the main reasons of raising distrust of the Muslim community against the Russian bureaucracy.

Reaction and Consequences

Yuriy_Maximov_copy

The expertise on confiscated Islamic books called in by the police has been conducted by cleric of Russian Orthodox Church Yuri Maximov, known for his anti-Islamic positions.

The decision of district court of Orenburg city on banning classic Islamic works has led all Russian Muslim spiritual boards, organizations, and leaders to pounce with severe criticism upon the unjust judgment.

“We consider the prohibition of religious literature as an attempt at the revival of total ideological control,” stated the Russian Council of Muftis in its official statement posted on its website. Some Muslim leaders commented by saying that the prohibition of Hadith collections is equal to prohibition of whole Islam as a religion and way of life for Muslims.

Russian Scientific and Educational Center “al-Wasatiya” saw in “Orenburg district court’s decision a contradiction to the balanced and reasonable policy of Russian federal government toward Muslim community entrapment of extremists for struggle against Russian state.” “Banning Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) may lead to very serious political consequences and gives to radicals a possibility of arguing their call for ‘military Jihad’ against Russian Federation,” stated the center in its statement on this case.

As for official reaction, the silence of the Russian bureaucracy was only once broken by the statement of the coordinator of the ruling party United Russia on national and religious affairs, Abdul-Hakim Sultygov. After a previous attack on Islamic literature last year Sultygov said that the “situation with banning Islamic literature is becoming indecent.”

Three Scandal Incidents

Rustem_Valiullin_copy

Later after his appeal to the higher court and after his critical statements, Muslim lawyer Rustem Valiullin has been declared missing.

The scandal about banning Islamic books has been fueled by three crying incidents. The first incident regards to the fact that the judgment of Orenburg district court on Islamic books has been delivered on March 21st, but the Muslim society knew about it in June after the serial of police raids on some Muslim activists and confiscations of Islamic literature. Because of criminal negligence of Orenburg district court and police this judgment on Islamic books has not been published on official recourses. That is why Russian Council of Muftis accused the Orenburg prosecutor and the judge of taking the decision “behind the scenes” without inviting the books’ authors and publishers.

The second incident regards to the fact that the expertise on confiscated Islamic books called in by the police has been conducted by cleric of Russian Orthodox Church Yuriy Maximov. The fury of Muslim community was provoked by the fact that Maximov is known for his anti-Islamic positions. Moreover, for long period of time he has been the editor-in-chief of the website Orthodoxy and Islam which a couple of years ago has been recognized as extremist one by decision of another court.

Taking in consideration all these facts, Muslim lawyer Rustem Valiullin filed an appeal to the higher court against the judgment of Orenburg district court. He noted in his appeal that “session of Orenburg district court contrary to the procedural law has been organized in the absence of persons on rights and freedoms of which the decision of court might impact — translators and publishers of these books.”

In his comments to the media, Valiullin also stated that “year after year the number and brutality of oppression cases against Muslim are growing.”

And the third incident is that several days later after his appeal to the higher court and after his critical statements, Valiullin was declared missing during his country trip to the mountainous river in Altay — Siberian region of Russia. The official version of this accident is that the lawyer drowned in the river. But Muslim forums and groups in social networks are full of angry comments and statements arguing that this death cannot be accidental occurrence and calling late lawyer a shaheed (martyr in the cause of Allah).

Decisions and Disabilities

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For intellectual leaders of the Russian Muslim community it is clear enough that the problem of widening the list of extremist literature at the expense of classic Islamic works cannot be solved only by angry declarations and statements. During this scandal several ideas were announced which might be more effective than declaring one’s disagreement with court’s judgment.

The first decision was offered by lawyer Valiullin when he filed an appeal to the higher court against the judgment of Orenburg district court on Islamic books. The second decision was offered by Russian Scientific and Educational Center “al-Wasatiya” in its official statement through its declaration that it is ready to republished the banned Hadith collections and books on Seerah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Against this background, the Russian Public Chamber — some kind of a regular forum of pro-governmental NGO leaders and activists — suddenly offered a more effective initiative. On one of their meetings in June the members of Public Chamber jointly with representatives of Russian traditional confessions — Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism — called for changing the anti-extremist legislation.

No one Muslim activist in Russia has announced his readiness to continue the job of late Valiullin.

They required authorities to accept a special law which will be able to protect the holy scriptures from accusation of extremism. This initiative may lead to changing or even abolishing the federal list of extremist materials.

Moreover, Elena Lukyanova, the Head of Institution for monitoring effectiveness of enforcement within Public Chamber, is convinced that the “religious organizations which refer to the banned literature should appeal to the Constitutional Court of Russian Federation.” But the problem is that these initiatives most likely will not be realized by the Russian Muslim community because of the big lack of professional lawyers, advocates, and public activists which understand the logic of Russian judicial system’s functioning and have the required skills and experience of interaction with official bodies.

The fact that till now no one Muslim activist in Russia has announced his readiness to continue the job of late Valiullin is the best illustration to that.

Related Links:
Young Russian Muslims Discover Religion
Muslims in Tajikistan
Dagestani Muslims: From Confrontation to Peace
Islam in the Volga Region
Time to Burn Islamic Books

Dr. Ruslan Kurbanov, PhD in Political Science, is a member of the International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS), 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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