Muftiate game of thrones: if Ramadan will reconcile religious leaders of Russia and Tatarstan

Muftiate game of thrones: if Ramadan will reconcile religious leaders of Russia and Tatarstan
Photo: Mikhail Kozlovsky

A meeting of the republic’s Muslim Religious Directorate with the Tatarstan president opened in Kazan on 13 April, the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan. Mufti elections were to be held at the meeting. An unpleasant incident that shook all the Russian Muslim community preceded the important forum. Late last week, head of Russia’s Muslim Religious Directorate Ravil Gaynutdin wrote a letter to Tatarstan leader Rustam Minnikhanov in which he accused Tatarstan Mufti Kamil Samigulin of a “sectarian interpretation” of the Quran. In reply, Samigullin wished the opponent good health and a spring mood but later he offered to come to terms on the eve of the Muslim holiday. In his column for Realnoe Vremya, Karim Gaynullin explains why the Tatarstan mufti became an object of attacks of the head of Russia’s Muslim Religious Directorate and if his accusations are true.

“Tatar” Islam has never been inside the linear system

In his letter, the Tatarstan mufti apologises due to the Turkish jamias, a narrow and “marginal” view of Islam and a wrong interpretation of the Quran in the new tafsir Qalam Sharif printed by the Tatarstan muftiate.

It is sad to see that instead of resolving their issues within religion and their institutions, our country’s religious leaders turn to the secular authorities to put pressure on each other. All this reminds us of the period of the so-called Mihna when a sect of Mu'tazilites who used administrative leverage and forced Sunni theologians to adopt certain Mu'tazilite positions (particularly about the created nature of the Quran) wishing to impose their theological point of view.

Especially this quote touched me: “Centrism, moderateness have distinguished the tradition of Islam in the Tatar environment both in Middle Ages and in Russia. Tatars have never followed teachers who offered a narrow, marginal interpretation of Islam.” On the one hand, the words are correct. But isn’t there a claim that we as Tatars are obliged to follow some interpretation that doesn’t seem “marginal” to somebody?

Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

I think Islam is a religion with a lot of vectors. There is a range of opinions and positions on different issues within Islam. They can’t be limited to “narrow conservatism” or “apostatic modernism”. As a Muslim I have the right to profess what I consider correct, not choosing the party’s stance. Islam has never been “Tatar” — it has never been inside the linear system!

About Hazrat Kamil Samigullin’s Sufism

The fact that Hazrat Kamil belongs to the Turkish Naqshbandi Mujaddidi branch of İsmailağa that, from the point of view of Hazrat Ravil, doesn’t correspond to the “Tatar” spirit of Islam was one of the claims made about Hazrat Kamil. First of all, we should say that the religious loyalty to some tariqa doesn’t express loyalty to the country a sheikh belongs to. The Islamic field has always been supranational, while an alim from a certain place was to express the interests of his people regardless of his teachers.

Another thing is how the Naqshbandi correspond to “Tatar” Islam. Suffice will it be to say that such religious “kings” of Tatars and Bashkirs as Zaynulla Rasulev, Utyz-Imyani, Shikhabutddin al-Marjani, Gabdelnazyr al-Qursawi, Galimjan al-Barudi belonged to the Naqshbandi. Murad Ramzi, the greatest theologian of our region and a pupil of al-Marjani who is worldwide known as the translator of Imam Rabbani Ahmad Sirhindi’s Maktubat, a founder of the Mujaddidi suborder of the Naqshbandi, from Persian into Arabic. And this is an indicator of how global, wide and borderless the Islamic tradition was in the Ural and Volga region, people could translate books from a language, which wasn’t their mother tongue, into another.

Gabdelkhannan Safiullin and Garifulla Gaynullin, who died in 1984, were the last sheikhs of the Naqshbandi tariqa of pre-revolutionary branches in our region. However, the tradition survived in Dagestan where Naqshbandi tariqas of Chirkey and Kostek suborders through Sayfulla-kadi Bashlarov, a pupil of Zaynulla Rasulev, Murad Ramzi (the translator and founder of the Mujaddidi suborder of the Naqshbandi) and Mukhammad-Zakir al-Chistavi. Hazrat Ravil also mentions Dagestan as a place of opposition between Sufism and Salafism. But we should understand that Sufism there is directly linked with the Russian pre-revolutionary Islamic tradition no matter how you treat it.

Mahmut Ustaosmanoğlu. Photo:

I will note immediately that the “authenticity” of Sufism and particularly in the Naqshbandi tradition doesn’t mean all Muslims must belong to some tariqa. I feel authentic without any tariqa though I respect its supporters.

Mahmut Ustaosmanoğlu who is 36th in the tariqa chain (silsila) of the Naqshbandi Mujaddidi tariqa chairs İsmailağa Turkish community. This community fought against the Turkish state at different times, especially during radical Kemalism and religious persecution. In any case, this sheikh cannot be called marginal: he is famous worldwide, including in the Arabic speaking environment, he is an author of a big number of works, including an 18-volume tafsir, which was used by the Tatarstan Muslim Religious Directorate when they were making their own.

We should also note that a lot of pre-revolutionary Tatar public activists, especially Jadids studied in Turkey. These names include Yusuf Akchura, Sadri Maksudi, Fatikh Karimi, Ziya Kamali.

Tafsir of contention

A footnote in the tafsir Qalam Sharif where words of a number of classic Muslim scientists such as great Quran interpreter Qadi Baydawi and great theologian and rationalist Fakhr al-Din al-Razi were cited became the reason for the discord. The footnote reads that if you turned out in a difficult situation, ask inhabitants of graves for help.

As the vice mufti explained, the words themselves were borrowed from great Hanafi scientist Mulla Ali al-Qari’s comment on Abu Hanifa’s Musnad collection of hadiths. This is the comment on the hadith: “I used to prohibit setting out to visit the tombs...”

“When people remember death, the destroyer of delights, difficulties become easier, this is why people say: ‘If you are desperate in your business, ask grave inhabitants for help.’”

Photo: Roman Khasayev

We should say why this phrase shocked some Muslims. The case is that it externally resembles istaghasa, an address to the dead and asking him to read dua for Allah. The Najdi urge of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (who is known here as Wahhabi) considers this practice of shirk (polytheism) that pagans professed in Mecca. On the one hand, in traditional law schools, Shafii and Hanafi schools, the permission of this practice causes debates though it isn’t acknowledged shirk. At the same time, there is no confidence that there is a possibility of helping creation, neither is there a fact of worshipping the dead.

However, this issue doesn’t affect disagreements on istaghasa in modern Islam. Both the vice mufti and the Tatarstan mufti himself confirmed they didn’t urge anybody to follow this practice but just visit graves to remember the mortality of our soul: “We are also aware of the disagreements on this issue. Some Sunni scientists permitted it (istaghasa), the other part forbade it. We think that it is better to leave things that are questioned and disagreements in favour of practices that are undoubted.”

The mufti also said that this footnote would be removed in the next version or it will be given a corresponding comment.

In any case, it is hard for me to call the direct quote of the authority of the Hanafi madhhab — a school I follow and my ancestors followed for thousands of years — a mistake. This can be defined as difficulties of localisation. I doubt that somebody would worship graves or address spirits after reading this footnote. Nevertheless, from my point of view not as a mufti, I think it is useful to make a note about the true meaning of these words in the future issue.

In conclusion, I will say that I consider that neither I nor Muslims should occupy a place in a party among muftiates. I deeply respect Hazrat Kamil Samigullin, the Quran hafiz, Islamic scientist, I consider the years of studies in worldwide known educational establishments are only merit of the mufti. I also deeply respect the activity of the Russian Muslim Religious Directorate, its issue of books, scientific magazines, books on the history of the Tatars and Muslims of Russia.

I hope Muslims will resolve religious issues inside the community with religious centres and religious authorities, while state matters will be up to political leaders. Because the correct theological position is measured in the power of arguments, not the weight of the wallet or the state apparatus.

By Karim Gaynullin

The author’s opinion may not coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya’s editorial.