Celebration in Bolgar: ‘Might peace reign in the world, Tatarstan blossom and Russia be strong’

The 1100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam was celebrated in the ancient city. By preliminary estimate, more than 20,000 people visited Holy Bolgar Congress

Celebrations dedicated to the 1100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam by Volga Bulgaria took place in Bolgar. Even though the start of events of Holy Bolgar Congress was scheduled at 11 a.m., about 10,000 people were in the town at 9 am. The crowd was divided into two parts — if some tried to find the best seats near the stage and on the territory of the Khan Mosque for the afternoon prayer, the second flow headed to the White Mosque. A fair with different souvenirs, halal products and books opened here. The first official events also started here. However, it was possible to learn that something important was happening only due to government helicopters and the cordon around Bolgar Islamic Academy.

“A good opportunity to solve problems of the development of Islam in regions”

A meeting of the Chairman of the Organising Committee for the Preparation and Celebration of the 1100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam by Volga Bulgaria led by Russia’s Vice Government Chairman Marat Khusnullin started early in the morning at Bolgar Islamic Academy. But the vice premier himself wasn’t at the event, he delivered a speech in front of the members of the organising committee via teleconference apologysing in advance that he had to leave Kazan.

In his speech, Khusnullin noted that Islam is an indispensable part of Russia’s history and culture. A big job on the launch of important infrastructure projects was done during the preparation for the jubilee — the first stone of the Cathedral Mosque was laid in Kazan, the construction of a new building of Muhammadia madrasah is coming to an end, the preparation for the restoration of a mosque and madrasah in Moscow is underway, some facilities are repaired in Bolgar, the construction of a big mosque in Crimea is ending.

Vice Minister of Culture of Russia, Executive Secretary of the organising committee Olga Yarilova added that a new building of Russian Islamic University would open in Ufa in September, and Nizhny Novgorod was starting to restore a historical mosque.

According to Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov, it is important for Russia’s Muslims that jubilee events firmly stay in the history of contemporary Russia by the creation of important social facilities, infrastructural changes and leave a trace in the religious and educational activity. State Adviser of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiyev stressed that the 1100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam by Volga Bulgaria was a good opportunity to solve problems of development of Islam in regions.

Special Representative of Russia at OIC Ramazan Abdulatipov, head of the Domestic Politics Office of the Russian president’s administration Anatoly Vylegzhanin, Tatarstan State Council Chairman Farid Mukhametshin, Vice Premier of Tatarstan, Chairman of National Congress Vasil Shaykhraziyev, Vice Chairman of the Tatarstan State Council Marat Akhmetov, Tatarstan Mufti Kamil Samigullin, Chairman of the Coordination Centre for Muslims of the North Caucasus Hadi Ismail Berdiyev, Chairman of the Russian Muslim Religious Directorate Ravil Gaynutdin, head of the Russian Religious Union of Muslims Albir Krganov and others participated in the round-table talk.

A solemn stamp cancellation ceremony in honour of the 1100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam by Volga Bulgaria took place at the meeting of the organising committee.

“Having you here raises the image of our holy site, Bolgar”

The weather turned out to be cold, guests of the celebration huddled up because of the piercing cold wind. Also, it started hailing. Somebody had umbrellas, somebody hurried to find a refuge. Mintimer Shaimiyev said a word about this. He thanked everybody for coming despite the cold weather and added: “The weather is good because if it is raining, it means there will be good wheat harvest.”

Consul General of Turkey in Kazan Ismet Erikan, former Minister of Education of Tatarstan Engel Fattakhov, Chairman of the Central Muslim Religious Directorate, Mufti Talgat Tajuddin in company with Metropolitan of Kazan and Tatarstan Kirill and others were in the first row in front of the stage among other guests. The official delegation chaired by Rustam Minnikhanov went to the stage installed at the square in front of the memorable sign Adoption of Islam.

Giving a speech to the audience of the Holy Bolgar Congress, the Tatarstan president stressed that the 1100th anniversary was a milestone not only for the republic but also Muslims in Russia and all over the world. He noted that according to the Russian president’s decision the jubilee is celebrated on a large scale at state level, big events are scheduled, some of them recently took place in Kazan.

“Within the 1100th anniversary, we held the KazanSummit, the meeting of Russia — Islamic World Strategic Vision Group where representatives of 75 countries and 27 ambassadors participated. It is a huge event for all of us,” he added.

Rustam Minnikhanov separately noted the merits of Supreme Mufti of Russia Talgat Tajuddin who was one of the first to start developing the idea of annual Muslim congresses in the holy land of Bolgar. He personally thanked Mintimer Shaimiyev and Revival fund for the work on the restoration of Islamic holy sites.

“All these components allowed the Muslims in Tatarstan, Russia and our guests to see how our ancestors adopted Islam at state level 1100 years ago. I want to thank each of you. It is great joy for us having you today here. Might peace reign around the world, Tatarstan blossom and Russia be strong. Having you here raises the image of our holy site, Bolgar,” Minnikhanov addressed the audience.

Mintimer Shaimiyev, in turn, reminded people that in 2014 Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List, so the world’s experts recognised that Bolgar is a place where Islam was voluntarily adopted in the northernmost territories. The state adviser of Tatarstan thanked Mufti Tajuddin after the republican president.

“He is a pioneer, I say this every time. He came here earlier and started archaeological works by digging with a shovel. They created evidence. If there wasn’t evidence over these years, it would be impossible to do scientific, exploratory and ideological works. If people didn’t come here from all the republic and Russia, we couldn’t dream about this day. Thank you everybody, starting with earth diggers to scientists. It is our common work. It is a milestone. We have what to be proud of,” noted Shaimiyev.

“The whole world already knew about the Tatars, now we have made Bolgars famous too”

Tajuddin himself approached the microphone and addressed the audience that wanted to welcome him with applause: “You may not applaud, we don’t need shaitan here,” he made high-ranking guests on the stage laugh.

“Mintimer is iron and tried to make us iron,” this is how the mufti thanked Shaimiyev who had praised him several minutes earlier. “We hold this celebration every year. We have recently talked about the identity much. What is the identity? Everybody should remain as they are. If a donkey is put a big tail and horns, it won’t become a horse. We are God’s servants, we live on Earth God gave. Therefore this holiday is a recovery of our civil identity. The more holidays the fewer wars. The more meals the more mutual understanding.”

Tajuddin delivered a speech as a host. If the Tatarstan president awards medals in such events, this time the mufti slowly awarded Rustam Minnikhanov, Mintimer Shaimiyev and Vasil Shaykhraziyev his own medals.

“The whole world already knew about the Tatarstan, now we have made the Bolgars famous too. The Tatars are known thanks to Genghis Khan, Baty, but we — pioneers — were here before them. We came here from the Caucasus, Kuban steppes, Crimea a thousand years earlier,” he concluded.

Then head of the Russian Muslim Religious Directorate Ravil Gaynutdin was given the floor. He also thanked Tajuddin for the work he started to popularise Bolgar back in 1989. The mufti noted the celebrations in honour of the 1100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam would also be organised in Moscow.

“Concluding the jubilee events, we will celebrated the holiday of our country’s Muslims in Moscow, perhaps with Vladimir Putin — we will host a big international Muslim forum in Moscow. Preparations for these events are made now. On 9-10 June, we will open a monument to the tsarina, symbol of Tatar women Syuyumbike on the territory the tsarina of two khanates, Kazan and Kasimovo passed away,” he said.

According to the mufti, the monument to Syuyumbike will be located in front of the Khan Mosque in Kasimovo.

Metropolitan of Kazan and Tatarstan Kirill welcomed the guests in Tatar.

“Good afternoon,” and noted that “this land is holy not only for you but also for us because we live together.” Tatarstan Mufti Kamil Samigullin noted that Islam was the first religion on the territory of Russia.

“Orthodox Christianity was adopted later, this is why this date is important for all of us,” emphasised the head of the Tatarstan Muslim Religious Directorate.

Then Rustam Minnikhanov, Mintimer Shaimiyev and other honourable guests traditionally participated in the group afternoon salah, which was at the Khan Mosque.

“One of the greetings in Meadow Mari and Udmurts sounds like ‘salam’”

The Russian Muslim Religious Directorate chaired by Ravil Gaynutdin had its own parallel programme in Bolgar. An exhibition and a round table talk were organised at Bolgar Islamic Academy, while Gaynutdin himself offered a festive meal in a special tent where he gave Muslim clerics letters of gratitude.

The round-table talk was about the book Temnikov: Fortress of Empires. The author is head of the Department of Culture of the Russian Muslim Religious Directorate Renat Abyanov and Candidate for Pedagogical sciences, political reviewer of Vesti FM radio station Marat Safarov.

Speaking during the round-table talk, First Vice Chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Vice Chairman of the Muslim Religious Directorate Rushan Abbyasov noted that ethnographic research projects were a topical component of the activity of religious organisations. “Renat and Marat have been doing a very important ethnographic work, going on expeditions and collecting materials for several years. For us it is important to save and pass it to the next generations,” he said. Leading researcher of the Institute of Tatar Encyclopaedia and Regional Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tatarstan Firdaus Kalimullina highly appreciated the activity of Russia’s mufiate in this area: “The books based on ethnographic research have become a rarity in the last years,” she noted.

A big block of the big exhibition Traditions of Islam in Russia was presented on the exposition. The academy showed the exhibits dedicated to ethnicities living in Volga Bulgaria Ahman ibn Fadlan mentions in his notes. It is Bashkirs, Visus, Chuvash people, Pechenegi, Finno-Ugric tribes and Khazars. Here one could see a human-size dummy of the representative of every ethnicity, learn information about every ethnicity and artefacts linked to their life and culture. Moreover, these aren’t museum exhibits but things from ethnographers’ personal collections the authors of the book met during their ethnographic expeditions.

As one of the authors of the book Renat Abyanov told Realnoe Vremya, during their meeting and conversation with ethnographers, the latter provided them some things for exhibitions. A Chuvash pendant, Mari bracelet, a needle case, ceramic objects, jars and musical instruments are among rare samples. “They gave them to us so that we can tell people about the culture of ethnicities neighbouring Tatars, earlier Bolgars. We talk about the influence of Bolgars and then Tatars on these ethnicities. For instance, one of the greetings in meadow Maris and Udmurts sounds like ‘salam,’” he says.

Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov together with Mintimer Shaimiyev and Vice Minister of Culture of Russia Yarilova saw the exhibition too. The president noted that many ethnicities borrowed some traditions from the Tatars. He also stressed that it was necessary to spread the history in such a popular way. “There are academic tours that a narrow circle of specialists understand, while our projects are designed for popularisation for people, through exhibitions, books and presentations,” says Vice Mufti Rushan Abbyasov.

The events dedicated to the 1100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam by Volga Bulgaria didn’t end here. As producer Aynaz Mukhametzyanov told Realnoe Vremya, a job on the documentary Ibn Fadlan is ending in Kazan. The film will be shown at Kazan Muslim Cinema Festival, while the exhibition about the ethnicities of Volga Bulgaria will go to Russian regions.

Gulnaz Badretdin