Taufik Ibragim: ''Muslims in Russia are not ready for debates yet, unfortunately''

The interview with the renowned philosopher and Islamic studies scholar about Quranism, disputes with the Traditionalists, muftiates, a controversial fatwa and theologians

Taufik Ibragim: ''Muslims in Russia are not ready for debates yet, unfortunately''
Photo: kantiana.ru

One of the prominent debates in the Muslim intellectual field is the debate between the Traditionalists and Renovationists (which include Quranists). Professor Taufik Kamel Ibragim, a Russian Islamic studies scholar and expert on Arab-Muslim philosophy, is often named to be the ideological inspirer of the latter. In the interview with Realnoe Vremya, he told what relation he has to Quranism and about the current state of the Russian Ummah. Ibragim also told about his contacts with the disgraced Imam Ruslan Sadriev, former deputy mufti of Tatarstan Rustam Batrov and deputy chairman of the Muslim Spiritula Board of the Russian Federation Damir Mukhetdinov.

''Our opponents are looking for a pastor and sheep''

Professor Taufik, there has been a debate between the Quranists and Traditionalists in recent years. Your name has been often mentioned in this connection. It appears that Quranists (or Renovationists) is a small but active group, the ideological leader of which is you. Is that true?

With regard to the Russian Islam, Quranists is just a label, which some opponents of the Renovationist movement unscrupulously use. There is no one among my disciples who would deny the Sunnah. As for the Renovationists, they can be found among thinking Muslims, both belonging to religious organizations and not related to them. The Renovationist movement is a pan-Muslim phenomenon. And if we talk about my personal role, then without false modesty I once again repeat: we are still very far behind the Russian Jadidism of the 19-20 centuries.

What term is most aptly suited to refer to those views that your students Rustam Batirov, Arslan Sadriev, Damir Mukhetdinov profess? Quranists? Renovationists? Modernists?

If to speak in terms of our tradition, some of these people I would call neo-Jadidists, and more correctly — simply Jadidists. After all, in Islam Tajdid/renewal, as it follows from the famous hadith of our prophet about the Renovationist at the beginning of each century, is a permanent line. In a more general language, they are reformers, that is, those who ''reformulate'' eternal religious truth, cast it in a form corresponding to modern realities, modify the ''external letter'', preserving the deep content.

''I have nothing to do with those arguments''

One of the main books of Damir Mukhetdinov is called Islam in the 21st century: the Programme of Renewal. You also used the term ''renewal''. What should be the essence of renewal in relation to the Islamic Ummah of Russia?

In the most general terms, the renewal programme is common for the Muslim communities of all countries and continents. It comes from the fundamental assumptions of the Quranic message — intellectualism, humanism and pluralism, which were well ahead of its time, and therefore, in the context of the Middle Ages were not adequately developed and approved in the public consciousness, although individual thinkers comprehended them adequately.

What is really specific for the Russian Ummah, it is the following. As Musa Bigiev noted, what the culture of the people is, so their religion is (that is, its understanding of the law given by God). It is also known that in the Russian Empire, the Muslims, especially the Tatars, were at the forefront in terms of education. Relative freedom should also be added to this, in the aspect of everything related to clerical dictatorship and Inquisition. Hence the brilliant theological work of Russian Muslims in the 19-20 centuries. Today the words of Ismail Gasprinsky that it is the Muslims of Russia who are called to stand at the head of the movement of the Muslim world on the path of progress remain relevant.

Sometimes I catch myself thinking that the debate between Quranists and Traditionalists is the arguments between the managers of the same corporation among themselves, but not a dispute between theologians with the intention to find the truth in this dispute.

I prefer to talk about Renovationists, or Reformers and Conservatives. In Russia, unfortunately, we are not ready for a discussion yet. An attempt to start it was made last November, in the framework of the project The School of the Muslim Leader, implemented at KFU. Almost immediately after that, the preparation of the well-known appeal of 74 religious and public figures with the request to ban ''doubtful theological disputes'' began.

Regarding the ''arguments'', I can definitely say that I have nothing to do with such things. At the November event, I made it clear that the participants in the discussion should not be aimed at winning at any cost over the opponent, but should try to understand the other, listen to their arguments in order to reach mutual understanding, to strengthen the unity of Muslims.

As for the ''theological'' component, I can say that in my publications on the reformist theme, although I am a philosopher (more precisely, a historian of philosophy), I usually use theological reasoning. Note also that this argument is not personally mine (because I do not claim to be a theologian), but taken from the works of our theologians. I just cover their ideas, systematize them. But from the opponents, paradoxically, any even semi-serious theological criticism did not follow — only common phrases, unfounded attacks, sometimes personal insults. And, of course, accusing of apostasy.

Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

''Our spiritual leaders cannot reach an agreement''

There has been a trend to obtain scientific degrees of candidates and even doctors of science of secular universities among the Muslim religious figures in recent years. How do you feel about this trend?

Probably, they consider that among the believers they are already authorities, and they want to reach other audience, ''secular''. Whatever the motive, I think it's a thing of the past. Now theology is officially recognized as a scientific discipline, in which it is possible to defend candidate and doctoral dissertations.

What prospects do you see for the development of the Islamic Ummah of Russia? Is there an ideological and philosophical platform that can become common for Muslims in Russia from the Caucasus to Siberia?

The problem here is obviously not so much in the absence of a suitable ideological platform, but in the personal ambitions of the leaders of certain religious structures, and all this is multiplied by the claims of certain political structures for leadership in the Russian Ummah.

Our spiritual leaders do not stop talking about the consolidating role of Islam, about Islam as a state-forming religion, and they themselves, even within the framework of the same madhhab — Hanafi, for example, or Shafi'i — cannot agree on at least a single representative of this madhhab in public authorities and everywhere are actually engaged in discrediting each other.

''For me, the question of how to organize the Muslim community is secondary to the question of the role of Islam in modern society, the political dimension of our religion, its relationship with the state.'' Photo: kantiana.ru

What do you think about the institution of the muftiates in modern Russia? It has been around for 230 years and has not changed much over this time. Do you think it needs to be reformed or even demolished?

Apart from the names, it seems to me problematic the statement about the continuity of the existing structure with the corresponding spiritual administrations, for example, tsarist Russia. It is important, for example, that today we do not have the fundamental institution such as waqf. We do not have today something similar, for example, to the Orenburg Muslim Spiritual Assembly.

For me, the question of how to organize the Muslim community is secondary to the question of the role of Islam in modern society, the political dimension of our religion, its relationship with the state. Here we come back to the question of the differences in the approaches of reformers and conservatives.

By Renat Bekkin