Theologians in Bolgar: “We don’t understand when a provincial court bans an Islamic book”

It is offered to create an all-Russian expert agency checking religious literature at Bolgarian Islamic Academy

There can be created a council at Bolgarian Islamic Academy where Islamic theologians and secular experts will check Muslim literature for extremist ideas in it. The author of the idea citing “Putin’s Ufa highlights” thinks it will protect Islamic endeavours from being blacklisted. Such an initiative expressed at the 1st international forum Theological Legacy of Russian Muslims, which opened in Bolgar, was approved by muftiates. However, Muscovites from the Russian Muslim Spiritual Directorate stood out. More is in Realnoe Vremya’s report.

All conferences in one format

The 1st international forum Theological Legacy of Russian Muslims is taking place in Bolgar (Spass District, Tatarstan). Moreover, the events began on 13 October and will end on 19 October. The opening ceremony was on 14 October at Bolgarian Islamic Academy (BIA).

One of the goals of the forum are “consolidation of efforts of the scientific and expert community, public and religious activists in discussion and solution of topical problems of conservation, learning and development of traditional Islamic spiritual values of Muslim peoples of Russia, issues of development of Russian Islamic theology and Islamic education, reinforcement of the cultural, civilisational and interreligious dialogue in the conditions of modern-day Russia and globalisation around the world”.

Several scientific conferences are taking place during the forum — 3rd International Bolgarian Readings Traditions and Renovationism in Theological Legacy, Islam and Society: Regional Aspect, 3rd Sh. Marjani Readings Search for Theological Solutions in the Era of Globalisation, Formation of Civil Identity of the Muslim Youth in Russia and Abroad. There were also planned round-table talks, themed meetings, lectures and Arabic and Russian Olympiads. Directors of muftiates, teaches of Islamic and secular universities, foreign scientists and theologians, Muslim students from religious educational institutions, functionaries and public activists are participating in them.

As Rector of BIA Daniyar Abdrakhmanov noted in a talk with Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent, he wishes such an eventful forum to be held annually.

“There is going to be made a conclusion of the recent events. We will be able to gather representatives of the theological community, experts in Islamic studies, important public activists once or twice a year.”

Different conferences dedicated to Shigabutdin Marjani, Rizaetdin Fakhretdinov and others have been held in the educational institutions in the last two years, since the opening of the academy. Now, according to Abdrakhmanov, many of them will be held during one forum. In addition, he reminded that there would be another scientific conference on 5-7 November organised together with Saint Petersburg State University. And experts in Islamic studies will gather here on 20-22 November under the aegis of MSU.

On threshold of celebration of 1,100th anniversary of Islam adoption

During the opening ceremony, there were heard welcome speeches from representatives of authorities, founders of the academy (the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of the Republic of Tatarstan, the Council of Muftis of Russia (Russian MSD) and Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate of Russia), muftiates of Caucasian republics, partner universities (KFU, MSU, SPSU).

Vice Prime Minister of Tatarstan, Chairman of National Council Vasil Shaykhraziyev remembered that the first stone was laid to the foundation of the academy on the initiative of the Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov and State Adviser to the republic, First President Mintimer Shaimiyev in 2016, and it already opened in 2017.

He also made an announcement: the 1,100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam by Volga Bulgaria would be celebrated in 2022. An organising committee is created to prepare the celebration of the jubilee according to the Tatarstan president’s instruction.

“I am sure that the spiritual directorates of Tatarstan and Russia will participate in it, we should celebrate these important events at a due level,” the vice premier stressed.

Rector of Russian Islamic University of the MSD of Russia Artur Suleymanov reminded in turn that there already were celebrations dedicated to the 1,100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam but according to Muslim calendar (Hegira) in Russia (Ufa, Kazan and Bolgar) 30 years ago, in 1989. Then Muslim delegations from 28 countries arrived in the capital of Tatarstan — an unimaginable event for the Soviet Union and the BASSR.

He also added that Chairman of the Russian MSD, Chief Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin achieved the creation of the first Islamic educational institution in Russia after the revolution. The madrasah named after Rizaetdin Fakhretdin, which opened in Ufa 30 years ago, became the foundation for the future RIU and “first step in the revival of religious education”.

“There are tens of madrasahs in Russia 30 years later, while higher Islamic educational institutions are located in many cities in our country. And Bolgarian Islamic Academy is the jewel in the crown,” Hazrat Artur said.

However, he reminded Tadzhuddin’s merits again. According to the delegate from Ufa, the chief mufti had been raising the idea of the revival of Islamic education in the country for many years, rediscovered Bolgar for our compatriots and foreign guests and showed the initiative of creation of an Islamic academy in Bolgar.

Talgat Tadzhuddin had been nourishing the idea of the Islamic academy for quite a long time. And the Shaykh al-Islām didn’t want to build the complex in Bolgar. The university was planned to be located in Ufa near Kalinin Park and then next to the Stone Crossing on the bank of the Ufimka River. Moreover, the chairman of the Russian MSD erected a metre-high miniature of the academy in his residency in Ufa in 2011.

Multi-coloured dishware was chosen as construction material for the miniature: crystal vases, bright salad bowls, sweets and fruit plates, pint and wine glasses. Then his project was named “Tadzhuddin’s crystal dream” in the mass media. And later, after receiving the support of the Tatarstan leadership, it was decided to build the Islamic academy in Bolgar. Then the Muslim leader presented a new design and showed it to Shaimiyev. According to his project, there would have seven buildings in Bolgar: the main building in the form of a big khan tent in the centre and smaller auxiliary buildings were around it like chamomile petals. However, the result is notable different from the CMSF chairman’s idea.

Polosin’s idea: experts at BIA

In addition, Vice Director of the Fund for Support of Islamic Culture, Science and Education Ali Vyacheslav Polosin focused on another topic in his speech — (sometimes unfounded) bans of Muslim books by different courts.

“Vladimir Putin delivered a speech in front of muftis in Ufa six years ago, in 2013. The point about the creation of a Russian theological school is already implemented with the creation of Bolgarian Islamic Academy. But there is little progress in other points. The president said we had a lot of court decisions about the ban on Islamic literature. These bans have clearly wrong ones. And he urged Muslims, theologians, muftis to create a council of experts who would evaluate literature from a perspective of traditional Islam — they know what books are useful and harmful to the youth better,” the speaker said.

In Polosin’s opinion, Bolgarian Islamic Academy would be the most suitable place for such a body’s operation. Later, in a talk with Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent, he noted that such a centre would be more authoritative for both the Muslim community and judges. The expert council must have theologians who would evaluate books. He also advises including secular specialists to this council.

It should be noted the Ministry of Justice’s blacklist is annually filled with tens of religious books after corresponding court decisions, which, in turn, causes misunderstanding among believers and advocates. Courts sometimes make a decision on the basis of a “psychological and linguistic examination”. Courts once considered compositions written by head of the Council of Muftis of Russia Ravil Gaynutdin, Moscow Imam Shamil Alyautdinov, Elmir Kuliyev and other famous Muslim clerks of Russia.

“It is hard for a secular person who isn’t familiar with Islam to evaluate such an endeavour,” the Moscow expert in Islamic studies comments. “A linguist is invited at best, at times unclear ethnographers, cartographers are invited. They find some “urges” that may not exist. And these provincial courts make decisions according to their report. And a book is considered extremist. But an expert who is good at Quran, customs should do it. There is also sometimes partiality when a representative of another religion is invited as an expert. There is even competition within the religion — among theological schools, movements, organisations. This is why an objective body is needed.”

Incompetent provincial courts

The spiritual directorates welcomed Polosin’s initiative to create an expert council at BIA evaluating religious literature in general. So Chairman of the Tatarstan MSD Kamil Samigullin thinks the creation of such a council a logical continuation of the opening of the academy.

“We don’t understand when a provincial court bans an Islamic book without any expertise. An examination is needed before publishing. For instance, you wrote a book and want it to be widely spread. Here the specialists could evaluate it, correct and change something so that it won’t be banned again. And the expert commission’s report will be kind of guarantee, that’s to say, the publisher himself must be interested in it,” the Tatarstan mufti stressed.

Representative of the CMSD Artur Suleymanov also supported Polosin:

“Such a proposal should receive positive feedback from the Muslim community. There were precedents when decisions (Editor’s Note: on acknowledging books extremist) were made by incompetent people. Professionals must deal with this issue,” the rector of RIU said.

“A Chechen man from Grozny may not like what is good for a Tatar man”

However, not everybody welcomed this idea. First Vice Chairman of the Russian MSD, Rector of Moscow Islamic Institute Damir Mukhetdinov was sceptical and claimed that such an expert council had been discussed for decades already. He called Polosin’s proposal “interesting, worthy of discussion but needing improvement”.

“This council shouldn’t substitute the tsar or Soviet council, which would say: ‘This book may be published, this one can’t be’. We live in a free democratic state. Nobody can prohibit a private organisation from printing books. And it is published by the spiritual directorate, state or pro-state body, its authors must be held accountable. Doctor Ali is probably speaking about such books that claim state support or support of religious organisations, then it is logical,” Hazrat Damir says.

The rector of MII warned of attempts at unifying and banning some religious opinions that the commission may not share, which will be dangerous for the huge country.

“A Chechen man from Grozny may not like what is good for a Tatar man from Moscow. However, a Muslim from the Volga region may not share the concept of traditional and correct for a Caucasian Muslim,” Mukhetdinov concluded.

According to him, not the created council but education will protect a human from reading extremist literature, while “it is unreal to ban something in the era of the Internet”.

By Timur Rakhmatullin. Photo: