Communism Freedom of Religions

Islam and Russia – 3

Islam and Russia (3) (Dr. Qazi Muhammad Barkatullah) ISLAM AND EQUALIlY OF MANKIND Islam recognises the equality of all people of all nations. “0 mankind, We have created you from a male and a female; and We have made you tribes and subtribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable among you, in the sight of Allah, is he who is the most righteous among you. Surely, Allah is all-knowing, all aware.” (Holy Quran, 49:14). “This verse lays down the basis of an all-comprehensive all- pervading brotherhood of mankind. The verse, in fact, constitutes the Magna Carta of human fraternity and equality. It lays the axe at the false and foolish notions of superiority, born of racial arrogance or national conceit. Having been created from a male and female as human beings all men have been declared equal in the sight of God. The worth of a man is not to be judged by the pigment of his skin, the amount of wealth he possesses, or by his social status, descent, or pedigree, but by his moral greatness and by the way in which he discharges his obligations to God and mankind.” (Commentary on the Holy Quran. Footnote 2797. Edited by Malik Ghulam Farid). The whole human race is but one family. Division into tribes, nations and races is meant to give them better knowledge of one another’s national characteristics and good qualities. On the occasion of the last pilgrimage to Mecca, a short time before his death, the Holy Prophet addressing a vast concourse of Muslims said: “0 Ye men! Your God is One and your ancester is One. An Arab possesses no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab over an Arab. A white is in no way superior to a red, nor, for that matter, 26 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS a red to a white, but only to the extent to which he discharges his duty to God and mankind. The most honored among you in the sight of God is the most righteous among you.” (Baihaqui). “These noble words epitomize one of Islam’s loftiest ideals and strongest principles. In a society riven with class distinctions the Holy Prophet preached a principle intensely democratic. ” (Commentary on the Holy Quran. Footnote 2797. Edited by Malik Ghulam Farid) Although all have been created equal, Islam also recognises diversity in human potential and achievement: “And covet not that whereby Allah has made some of you excel others. Men shall have a share of that which you have earned, and women a share of that which they have earned. And ask Allah of His bounty. Surely, Allah has perfect knowledge of all things.” (Holy Quran, 4:33). “The verse establishes the equality of men and women so far as their works and rewards are concerned.” (Commentary on the Holy Quran. Footnote 595). “And He has created you in different forms and different conditions. ” (Holy Quran, 71:15). “God has endowed different men with different natural capacities and capabilities, and on this disparity of aptitudes and physical conditions depend the existence, growth and development of human society.” (Commentary on the Holy Quran. Footnote 3133). “And of His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colours. In that, surely, are signs for those who possess knowledge.” (Holy Quran, 30:23). “Human progress is closely linked with the diversity of tongues and colours. The diversity again points to a design and designer. That designer is the Creator of heavens and earth. Underneath the diversity of tongues and colours which has resulted in diversity of civilizations and cultures there lies a unity – the unity of mankind. This oneness of humanity leads to the inevitable conclusion of the Oneness of its Creator.” (Commentary on the Holy Quran. Footnote 2279). ISLAM AND RUSSIA 27 RUSSIAN CALL TO MUSLIMS The Muslims were subjected to the most savage oppression under the Russian Tsarist regime. Ivan IV had earned for himself a nickname “terrible” by ordering Russians to kill Muslims in the Kazan territory. By 1885 the entire western Turkistan was subjected to Russian tyranny. Kazak and Fargana were made a province of the Russian Empire while Bukhara and Khive became two Russian protectorates. As the Bolshevik Revolution broke out, the Muslims availed themselves of the opportunity to throw off the yoke of foreign domination. Idil-Ural and Crimea declared independence. Western Turkistan, North Caucasia, Azarbaijan and Bukhara also became independent. The Bolshevik government sought the co-operation of the Muslims. It proclaimed: “Tartars of the Volga and Crimea, Khirghiz, Kazakhs and Starts of Siberia and Turkestan, Turks and Tartars of Trans Caucasia, Checkens and Mountaineers of the Caucasus, and all those whose mosques and Oratories have been destroyed, whose beliefs and customs have been trampled under foot by the Tsar and oppressor of Russia. Your beliefs and usages, your natural and cultural institutions, are henceforth free inviolate. Organize your life in complete freedom. You have the right to do-so. Know that your rights, like those of all the peoples of Russia, are under the powerful safeguard of the revolution and its bodies, the Soviets of Worker, Soldiers and Peasants, Deputies.” (Declaration of Rights of the People of Russia- 1st Legislative Act). Muslims are under constant discontentment. During the Tsarists’ regime they were subjected to brutality under the “Cross’. Now during the Communist era the Muslims are continuously suffering under the “Hammer and Sickle”. The Muslims are now becoming a growing concern for the Soviet Union because the Soviet Muslims are concentrated in the USSR’s strategic southern border regions and are maintaining ties with Muslim people in the neighbouring countries (Time Magazine, 12 January, 1987, p. 60). MUSLIM POPULATION The Communist regime quickly broke its promise. Soon after the declaration, the Red Army was established and the Bolshevik regime trampled over the independence of the Muslim nations. The Muslims who believed that independence had dawned for them soon realised that the declaration was simply to prevent them from consolidation and possible close 28 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS contact with that world outside Russia. The independence of the Muslims which had been recognised earlier was quickly denied by the Bolshevik government. The Muslim countries were brought under the control of the Communist government. In order to destroy that national entity of the people the Communist divided each Muslim country into small fragments. Thus the Muslim nation composed of people tied together with Common language, race, religion, culture etc. were divided into small units and each unit was made a separate nation. West Turkistan was divided into six units and then given the name: Republics of Uzbekistan, Kazakistan, Khirghizistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikstan and autonomous province of Karakalpak. There is a large population of Muslims under Russian spiritual oppression. This mass consists of the Muslims in Western Turkistan, Idil-Ural, Trans- Caucasia, Azerbaijan and Crimea. These countries adjoin one another. Besides, there are multitudes of Muslims in Siberia annexed to the Russian empire early in 1850. Idil-Ural was divided into units: Republics of Tartar, Bashkird, and autonomous province of Murdar and two other provinces. Azarbaijan was divided into: Republic of Azarbaijan and autonomous provinces of Nakhchivan, Abkhazya, and Southern Osetin. Trans Caucasia was split into: Dagistan, Chichen, Engush, Osetiya, Kabartay, Bolkar, Karachay, Cherkes Edge, Kalmuk, and autonomous provinces of Grenzi, Maykeb and Karadeiz. In solving the problems of nationalities, the Communist Government appointed “Advisors”. These advisors were given the authority to actually run the affairs of the Republics as well as autonomous provinces of the newly created nations. Later on, some of the autonomous provinces set up in Idil-Ural were annexed to RSFSR – that is Russia proper. It was done so because apparently the indigenous population had become a minority. Similarly the provinces in Trans Caucasia, the Checen, Engus, Balkar, Krachay and Kalmuk Republics were annexed to Russia proper. And the entire indigenous population was deported to other places in Russia. One day in 1944 the entire Muslim population of Crimea was given a notice of twenty-four hours to gather at a specific place. On the spot, they were loaded in goods trains and deported to Siberia and North Russia under the supervision of the army. Similarly the Angus, Karachay, Balkar and Kalmuk tribes of trans Caucacia were also deported to Siberia and other places in North Russia having been served a notice to leave within twenty-four hours. The Communist Regime thus put an axe on the solidarity of the Russian Muslim nations. The Russian Muslims were divided and annihilated completely. The bold Muslim people who resisted the Communists’ tactics ISLAM AND RUSSIA 29 were labeled as traitors and punished with execution or exile. Some devout Muslims, Muslim army officers, Muslim intelligentsia, who did not accept the Communist regime wholeheartedly were killed. Their families were deported to Siberia. Some Muslims were deported from their homeland to tundra regions under the control of the Russian army. They were asked to work in the mines. They died due to the extreme cold weather and starvation. The Communist regime thus disintegrated and annihilated the Muslim population of Russia. As the Communists found themselves firmly in control they released the flames of irreligion which ran across the Turkmenia and enveloped the Asian extremities of the Czarist empire. The Communists became successful and struck a fierce blow on Muslim unity. They created hatred by emphasising and flaring up the tribal differences of the Muslims of Central Asia. In the name of cultural affiliation the Communists dissolved the original boundaries and grouped the Muslims separately as Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkomans, Kazzaks and Khirghies. And in the heart of Muslim Central Asia the Communists built Stalin-abad with the distinctive feature of having no mosque. RUSSIAN RELIGIOUS OUTLOOK Christianity was the state religion during the Tsarist regime. It was in vogue in its deplorable form during the time of Tsar Nicholas 11 who was the supreme head of the Orthodox Church. Whereas the British Ambassador would address the Tsar as “Your Majesty”, the so-called man-of-God Rasputin, addressed him simply as “My Friend”. The Russian people hated Rasputin considering him a snob, so they also hated the Tsar and in turn hated Christianity. Christianity was very clearly identified with the Tsar. It was argued that religion was a product ofthe Tsarist rule, illiteracy and ignorance. (People Weekly, 6 April, 1987). The Russian revolution, therefore, could not attempt to change all Russian life without coming into conflict with the Orthodox Christian church. It was observed that: “Tsarist Christianity was at its worst. The monasteries enjoying large revenues were nests of miracle mongering. The priests were superstitious, illiterate and grasping. Throughout the vast Euroasian continent, indigenous pagans held their own magic and incantation amid Christian rites and such Christian doctrine as the peasant was taught. It is scarcely to be wondered that the Christian religion as it is practiced in Russia ought to perish forever from the face of the earth.” (Webb: Soviet Communism). 30 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS The Bolsheviks thus identified religion with the most corrupt version of Christianity. They did not have any contact and experience of Islam as a pure and rational religion. Almighty Allah had just raised Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the Promised Messiah and Mahdi to revive the religion of Islam. The Bolsheviks, however only knew Karl Marx who has said that religion was the “opium of the people” . At that time opium was known as a painkiller in Germany and thus brought happiness. According to Marx, therefore, “the first requisite for the people’s happiness was the abolition of religion”. Islam, in fact brings contentment and happiness not only in this world but also in the everlasting world to come. Lenin adopted the creed of Karl Marx which denied the existence of the soul, had no code moral ethics, and disbelieved in life after death. The Revolution was therefore to be carried on the basis of militant atheism. Priests as well as devout Muslims were persecuted along with the landlords and the capitalists. In many places churches were converted into clubs and storehouses for grains. The Bolsheviks confiscated all mosques, madrassas and other Muslim religious private schools throughout Turkistan, which at one time was the centre of Muslim learning. The confiscated Muslim religious properties have been earlier demolished or converted into cinemas, theatres and stores. The Muslim religious institutions were closed and religious instruction outlawed. Some of the buildings of the Muslim institutions were converted into warehouses and clubs. The famous Muslim theological seminary of Registan, built by the grandson of Taimur was turned into a museum (Salisbury: Russian on the way). A story concerning Joseph Stalin says that an archeologist opened the grave of Tamerlane to study the old ruler’s skeleton. Some people opposed the move saying that it would cause a war. No attention was paid to them. Three days after they had opened the grave, Hitler invaded the USSR. The war was going rough for the Russians. The superstitious belief reached the ears of Stalin that the invasion was a sort of curse for opening the grave of the great ruler. Stalin immediately ordered the body to be returned to its resting place called Gor-i-Amir. This occurred just when Russia achieved a great victory at Stalingrad. Some time afterwards Stalin permitted the re-opening of the historical Mir Arab Madrassa, Bukhara. Moreover some of the previously closed mosques were opened in Western Turkistan and in some other places. But the taxes levied upon Mosques in post war days were so heavy that they had to be closed again. It is simply an irony that at the start of the revolutionary regime, the Muslims were allured to help the Communists. They were assured by First legislative proclamation: “Muslims of Russia henceforth your beliefs and customs, your national and cultural institutions are proclaimed free and inviolate, organize your national way of life freely and unhampered.” ISLAM AND RUSSIA But soon afterwards Lenin declared: “Marxism believes that places of worship and all other institutions of religion are tools in the hands of leaders of Believers to exploit the toilers. ” 31 (Collection: Lenin’s Speeches, Moscow, 1947). Stalin declared in 1927: “The Party cannot be neutral in respect to religion, it wages an anti-religious propaganda against all religious prejudices because it stands for science. There are cases of party members interfering with the full development of anti-religious propaganda. It is good that such members be expelled.” Mr. Gorbachev, the present Communist leader, gave a speech at Tashkent, the capital ofUzbekistan. According to the Uzbek daily Pravda Vostoka, Mr. Gorbachev called for a “firm and uncompromising struggle against religious phenomena.” Then he said, “We must be strict above all with Communists and senior officials, particularly those who say they defend out of morality and ideals but in fact help promote backward views and themselves take part in religious ceremonies.” This was Mr. Gorbachev’s first pronouncement on Islam since he took office nearly two years ago. Indeed, according to Kremlin watchers, it is rare for a Soviet General Secretary to attack religion so directly. It has been noticed that Russia’s struggle against religion has not been going well. Moreover, the fact that Mr. Gorbachev chose Tashket as the place to attack religion indicated that the Soviet leadership is specifically fearful about the currents of fundamentalist zealotry sweeping the Muslim world which might eventually infect the fast-growing Muslim nationalities of Soviet Central Asia. It is expected that Mr. Gorbachev’s policy about Islam will become more clear in the time ahead. (Time Magazine, 12 January, 1987). Since 1918 the Soviet Union has formally professed constitutional commitment to freedom of belief. In practice the Communist regime has placed strict restrictions on mosques and other places of worship. The government has actually waged a campaign of oppression against believers. The training of religious leaders is tight and restricted. The religious education of children under 18 is illegal and at the same time, all school children are exposed to the doctrine of atheism. There are no reliable statistics regarding the number of Muslims in the Soviet Union. However, according to last year’s report of the 16th Congress of the Kazakhstan Communist Party “Islam is still strong and growing”. A Kazakh newspaper has reports of mullahs (Muslim priests) holding unauthorised prayer meetings. Simultaneously, another rival daily newspaper in neighbouring Uzbekistan has attacked local party leaders who 32 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS permit (Muslim) people to gather at traditional holy sites (mosques). An informal information suggests that the number of believers far exceeds the capacity of the country’s 300 to 500 legally registered mosques. (There were about 24,000 mosques before the Communist take over.) Some recent Russian newspaper articles contain evidence of Muslim religious activities growing. It has been suggested that Muslim workers are taking the holy month of Ramazan more seriously. However, according to one article, some who follow the “old reactionary rituals” now try to make the practices more acceptable to the Soviets by using coded terminology. Thus fasting is called dieting and five daily ritual prayers of prostration are termed calisthenics. (Time Magazine, 12 January, 1987). It is said that ethnicity as well as religion lay behind the mid-December 1986, rioting in Alma-Ata (literally means full of apples), capital of Kazakhstan, after the Kremlin replaced veteran party leader Din Mukhammad Kunayev, a KaZakh, with a Russian. The ousted Kunayev was no believer, but he did little to suppress his people’s religious practices. His removal served as a focus for Kazakh and Muslim resentment of postwar Russian newcomers who have made the Kazakhs a minority in their own Republic. FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE Freedom of conscience is recognised in the USSR Constitution. It means the right to profess or not to profess any religion. Those who profess religion can worship but cannot communicate their beliefs to others. The freedom of conscience alludes to and guarantees atheism. Also, anti-religious and atheistic propaganda is encouraged and made lawful in the USSR constitution. Religious propagational activity is hampered, hindered and made unlawful in the USSR Constitution. A person can worship but cannot communicate his or her beliefs to others whereas an atheist can propagate his or her anti-religious beliefs openly. An atheist has the constitutional protection and freedom to intimidate, ridicule and insult religious worship. As atheist propaganda is legal, societies called God-less or no-God came into existence at the beginning of the October Revolution. A newspaper was also published by the Communist Government for the propaganda of atheism and to discourage religious beliefs and worship. (The paper discontinued its publication some years afterwards). However, devout Muslims were not influenced by the atheistic propaganda. Further, in the early years of the Revolution, the schools were secularised. It was made unlawful to impart religious instruction to children and teenagers in State as well as formerly religious schools so the Muslim religious schools were closed forthwith. But atheistic, anti-religious education remained lawful ISLAM AND RUSSIA 33 for minors as well as for teenagers. It was advocated “instruction in any type of religious doctrine given in schools to minors and under-aged is one of the forms of infringement of the ‘freedom of conscience’ granted by the USSR Constitution” (Training Commentaries Moscow, 1946). Thus the teaching of Islam in schools was made unlawful till the age of fourteen. Simultaneously Muslim children and youths were to receive compulsory anti-Islam “and atheist” education in schools. The upcoming Muslim generation is therefore being cut off from basic Muslim education which is imperative at that tender age. The Muslims in Russia, from the very beginning, had adopted Arabic script and Arabic Muslim literature was produced in that land. But in 1928, the Communists ordered that the Arabic script should be changed. First, Latin and then Cyrillic (Russian) alphabets replaced the Arabic alphabets. In this way, the Russian Muslims were isolated from the rest of the Muslim world as well as from their own post religious and cultural information. Also, the rich Muslim Arabic literature thus became extinct for the coming generations. Islam is still alive in Russia by the will of Almighty Allah. The older Muslim generation is shouldering the responsibility to bring up the oncoming generation. But the old generation of devout Muslims is continuing to dwindle and the upcoming generation needs to strive hard to hold fast to the kindled torch of Islam. Education in Russian schools is strictly carried on under the principles of Communism. The textbooks are so compiled and courses of study so arranged that children and youth are indoctrinated into Communism from a very tender age. By the time they come of age, their intellects have been trained in such a way that they look at the solution of every problem of life with a Marxist point of view. This is the fruit of system of education devised by the Communist government. The Russian government granted privileges, exemptions, and even monetary compensations to Muslim parents to send their children to Soviet schools. A few teachers’ training schools were opened to imbibe the principles of Marxism in their teaching. Gradually communism came to hold a monopoly in the field of education and Muslim influence began to decline. The old Muslim schools in Russia have passed into oblivion. The old type of Muslim religious teacher called Mullah is no more there. Now the schools are modem, teachers, courses of studies are modem with the result that education imparted to the coming generation of Muslims is not only modem but also anti-Islamic. The Communist government very systematically and strictly controls the administrative and instructional areas of education. Therefore, regardless of religious background, a Muslim student is brought up with the Soviet indoctrination of Karl Marx philosophy. Muslim teachings ethics and morals are therefore being crushed in Soviet Russia. 34 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS Muslim values have been subdued in home and family. Muslim family life has been completely shattered in the USSR. There are reports that every member of the family is asked to submit a periodic confidential report about other members of the family. Those who fail to comply with the directions are labelled as “enemies of the People” and punished appropriately by party authority. It is also said that numerous religious leaders are subjected to the same rigorous rules. Muslim women have also been made a target of the Communist regime. Women clubs were established with the main purpose to draw Muslim women out of seclusion and away from Islam. Muslim women wore the veil until 1921. It was a sustained and concealed effort on the part of the government to draw Muslim women to Marxism. Once in a while slogans were heard: “Down with the paranja (veil)”; “Long live the free women of Central Asia”; “Down with the groups of Mullahs”; “Long live the Soviet Government”. The Muslim women were invited to the club parties and paranjas (veils) were thus taken off under the encouraging eyes of the comrades. But the husband, did not accept their wives going out without veil in search of so called freedom. There were some unpleasant incidents in domestic life. Women themselves were insulted and hurt but in the torture of their souls and in the fires of their passion a new morality contrary of Muslim modesty was being modelled. One Soviet director of social affairs reports: ” … in the square, and all burned their veils. Almost like women liberation movement. My great grandmother burned her veil and told my great grandfather afterward. He was very concerned. He was very conservative. ” (McDowell,JourneyThroughRussia, USA, 1977). In the name of cultural revolution, the Communists have started the battle of ideological aggression with all the planned vindictiveness it can command. Permission for religious worship is granted but Muslims being forced to work cannot leave the job to pray. Peasants who were seen praying in mosques were denied party memberships and privileges. In 1929 several Muslims were subjected to heavy taxes, while many were thrown in jail regardless of the dubious nature of the charges against them. Recently Mr. Gorbachev has warned the party leaders who, just for courtesy, have participated in Muslim festivals. (Time Magazine, 12 January, 1987). MUSLIMS IN RUSSIA But there is another side of the status of Muslims in Russia which has been made colourful and came through the Soviet press for the world outside. It is interesting to note that Russians are engaged in conniving propaganda to present a constructive episode for the people who actually are under duress ISLAM AND RUSSIA 35 and strain to keep their faith alive. However, the narrative, with the caption, Muslims in the Soviet Union, was reported in the Soviet press as follows: “Azerbaijan is one of the Soviet Republics whose population professes Islam. Since ancient times it has been the homeland not only of Azerbaijanians but also of Russians, Ukrainians, Tartars, and Kurds – in short, of several dozens of nations and ethnic groups. The Tsarist authorities exploited this diversity of language, morals, customs, and traditions to establish their rule over this region, as over other backward national outlands. In Azerbaijan the autocracy constantly provoked national and religious squabbles and sowed the seed of strife between Muslims and Christians between Azerbaijanians and Armenians. The Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917, which ensured the dejure and de facto equality of all nations and ethnic groups inhabiting the country put an end to this and paved the socialist revolution and also established religious inequality. ” Today, once backward outlands are equal union republics with a developed modern industry and agriculture. They have thousands of schools, dozens of higher and specialised secondary schools in which instruction is carried on in the national languages. Radios and TV programs are broadcast in national languages. Control over the observance and correct application of the laws on religious cults throughout the territory of the Soviet Union is within the power of the Council for Religious Affairs under the Council of Ministers of the USSR, which has delegates in every republic and region. The religious life of Muslims in the USSR is supervised by four religious boards which operate independently of each other. Tashket (Uzbekistan) is the seat of the Religious Board of Muslims of Central Asia and Kazakhstan. Bashkiria’s capital Ufa (Southern Urals) hosts the religious Board of Muslims of the European part of the Soviet Union and Siberia. The Religious Board of Muslims of the Northern Caucasus is the Makhachkala, the Capital of Daghestan. And the religious Board of Muslims of Soviet Transcaucasia is in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Each Board is headed by a chairman, elected from among eminent theologians by Congress of representatives of Muslim religious leaders and believers. Religious boards of Soviet Muslims maintain broad international contacts with Muslims abroad through their international ties of Muslim organisations of the USSR which is based in Moscow. Soviet Muslims maintain contacts with 80 countries. Soviet Muslim leaders participate in International Islamic forums. 36 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS The Soviet Muslims are actively fighting for peace. On the initiative of their organisations, several forums of the followers of Islam have been held in the Soviet Union. They discussed such questions as the unity and solidarity of the Muslims of the world in the struggle for peace. In September 1980, Tashket hosted the jubilee Muslim Conference on “The Fifteenth Century of the Hegira, the Century of Peace and Friendship Between Peoples.” An international Muslim conference devoted to the Peace struggle was scheduled to be convened in Baku in October, 1986 (Soviet Press: Reported in Socialism, August, 1986). (The report of the Baku Conference will be brought to the attention of the readers of the Review of Religions as and when it becomes available.) Importance of Friday Prayer Of all the obligations of a Muslim, the most important is prayer, and of all the prayers, none is so essential to be recited in congregation as the Juma (Friday) service prayer. The Juma is in fact the greatest Muslim festival. The Holy Ouran regards it as a holiday. A whole chapter of the holy book entitled the Juma has been devoted to it. In that chapter Almighty God commands Muslims to quit all their worldly affairs when they are summoned to prayer of Friday, to assemble in mosques and to say the Juma prayers with due observance of all the requirements of the Law. The person who does not act in obedience to these injunctions is regarded by the Holy Ouran as guilty of a deadly sin and almost outside the circle of Islam. Far more stress has been laid upon attendance at the Juma sermon and prayers than upon Id. It is on account of this importance of the Juma in the Muslim faith that Friday has universally been observed as a holiday among the Muslims from the very earliest time that Islam took its rise. (The Promised Messiah)