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A Brief History Of The Soviet Muslims: Massacre And Genocide Of Muslims In Russia

04 April 2010

By Habib Siddiqui

The history of the Muslims in the former Soviet Union is largely but not entirely the history of the Muslim descendants of Genghis Khan, the Mongol conqueror.

Daghestan was the gate through which Islam entered the territory of Russia. The first Muslims were the envoys of Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab (R) who came to Daghestan in 23 AH. Bodies of forty followers and companions of the Prophet Muhammad (S) are buried in Daghestan, and a Qurayshite descendant of the Prophet still live in the republic today.

After the death of Umar (R), the Byzantines invaded Syria. Uthman (R), the third Caliph, sent two columns of forces to repel them. In counter attack, the Muslim force penetrated deep into the Asia Minor, reaching the shores of the Black Sea. In 674 CE, during Mu’awiyah’s rule, a Muslim army crossed the Oxus River and defeated the Turks. In 675 CE Bukhara was captured becoming a vassal state. Thereafter, Jaxartes was crossed and Samarkand and Tirmiz came under Muslim rule in 677 CE. During the Umayyad period of al-Waleed, Muslim forces, under the leadership of Qutayba, captured Khiva in 711 CE. In 714 C.E., Qutayba captured the cities of Khojand and Shash, and then moved into the Chinese Turkistan and seized Kashgar in what is now Xinjiang province of China.

Islam influenced the Central Asia during the middle of the eighth century through Persia. This period coincides with the Abbasid regime that came to power overthrowing the Umayyads. The Samanids, a Muslim dynasty of Persian origin, ruled the Central Asia as early as 874 C.E. During the Mongol invasion of Central Asia (1218-60 C.E.), all these territories came under Mongol rule. Subsequently, however, Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, who was then the Mongol ruler in China nominated Mubarak Shah as the Khan of the Chagtais, whose territories (the so-called “Middle Kingdom”) included Turkistan and Transoxiana comprising the basin of the Ili in the east to the valleys of the Oxus (Amu Dariya) and Jaxartes in the west. In the western part of their territory, Muslims were majority. Mubarak was a Muslim, and that stood in his way of becoming popular with the Mongols. He was soon deposed by Borak Khan in 1266 C.E. Taliku, who became the Chaghtai Khan in 1308 became a Muslim on his accession. However, his religion was resented by the Mongols, and they assassinated him 1309. In 1322, Tarmashiria became the Khan of the Chaghtai Mongols. He became a Muslim, which was resented by his officers, and was, therefore, removed from power in 1330. Shortly thereafter Changshahi came to power. He was hostile to Islam and favored Christianity. During his rule, Muslim subjects revolted, Changshahi lost his life. This proved to be a turning point in the history of Transoxiana, and all the Chaghtai Khans came to the throne as Muslims.

The western part of Mongol empire (the so-called Khanate of the “Golden Horde”), comprising (later of) most of Russia, was assigned by Genghis Khan to his son Jochi. Later the authority passed on to Berek, Jochi’s grandson in 1257 C.E. Berek was a Muslim. The Mongols who had been heretofore united in their hostility to Islam now came to be divided among them. Berek openly championed the cause of Islam. He vehemently protested Halagu Khan’s massacre of Muslims, and withdrew his contingents from Iraq. The move weakened Halagu’s force, which led to his defeat at the hands of the Egyptian Mamluks at Ain Jalut in 1260 C.E. Berek later led a force against Halagu, the Il Khan of Persia, and defeated him on the bank of the Terek river in the Caucasus in 1263 C.E. Berek died in 1266.

According to Muslim historian Masudul Hasan, “The Mongols came to destroy Islam, but with the conversion of Berek to Islam, the Mongols became the instrument for carrying Islam to Russia and Eastern Europe. In the history of Islam, Berek holds a respectable place as one of the saviors of Islam.” It is worth mentioning here that Moscow and other principalities used to pay tribute to the Khans of the Golden Horde.

Berek was succeeded by his nephew Mongke Temur, who was a great pioneer of Islamic architecture in the Volga area. After his death in 1280, he was succeeded by Tode Mongke, who accepted Islam in 1283. So great was his love for Islam that he became a Sufi and abdicated his throne in 1287 C.E. One of the later rulers, Uzbeg (1313-41), decided to become a Muslim and introduced Islamic Shariah instead of Mongol Yasa. He patronized art and literature. He was a great king. His was the golden period of the rule of the Golden Horde. During his time, Ibn Batuta visited Sarai, the capital city, and rated him as “one of the seven mighty kings of the world.” After Uzbeg, a Mongol tribe came to be known as the Uzbeks, who have a state of their own today – Uzbekistan. Uzbeg died in 1341 after ruling for 28 years. His son Jani Beg promoted Islam. He died in 1357. After him, a period of palace clique and civil wars weakened the Khanate. Moscow refused to pay tribute. In 1378 Mamai, the Khan of the Golden Horde, led a force to Moscow to punish its Duke. However, he was defeated and had to withdraw his forces to Sarai. In 1380, he again mobilized a force to Moscow, but lost the battle. This battle was a turning point in the history of Russia. From this date, Russia rose to power progressively while the power of the Golden Horde began to wane.

In 1395, Amir Temur (1336-1405), the so-called Temur Lang (or Temur the Lame), a descendant of Chaghtai – the son of Genghis Khan - from his mother’s side, marched to Sarai and razed it to the ground, thus striking the final blow to the Golden Horde. (Temur also defeated the Duke of Moscow and exacted a heavy tribute from him.)

The Golden Horde Khanate gradually dismembered into smaller principalities. In 1438, a year after the khanate's foundation, the very first khan of Kazan, Ulugh Muhammad, advanced to Moscow with a large army. Vasily II of Moscow fled from his capital across the Volga River, but the Tatars refused to pursue the campaign and turned back to Kazan after devastating Kolomna and the locality. In 1439, Ulugh Muhammad withdrew from Sarai and caved out a separate principality of Kazan (in middle Volga) for himself. In 1441, Haji Giray set up the separate Khanate of Crimea. This encouraged further secessions, and a few years later in 1466 was yet another secession when the separate Khanate of Astra Khan (in lower Volga) was set up by Qasim b. Muhammad at the mouth of the Volga. As a result of these secessions, the Golden Horde became a mere ghost of its former self.

While Moscow had resumed paying tributes to Khanate of Golden Horde, after Temurid invasion of Moscow, she was always looking for opportunities to claim its sovereignty. Taking advantage of the disunity in the Khanate, Moscow repudiated its allegiance. In 1480, Khan Ahmad of the Golden Horde invaded Moscow and besieged the city. Moscow sought help from the Khanate in Crimea. Giray Khan attacked Ahmad’s force, forcing the latter to withdraw the siege of Moscow. Ahmad was assassinated before he reached Sarai. In 1502, Crimea invaded Sarai and defeated the Golden Horde Khanate. That was the end of the Khanate of the Golden Horde, after having ruled for 260 years.

As noted above the Russo-Kazan Wars was a series of wars fought between the Khanate of Kazan and Muscovite Russia in the 15th and 16th centuries, until Kazan was finally captured by Ivan the Terrible and absorbed into Russia in 1552.

The Khanate of Sibir was a Tatar Turkic khanate in the later Russian Siberia, just east of the middle Urals. The Khanate had an ethnically diverse population of Siberian Tatars, Khanty, Mansi, Nenets and Selkup people. Along with the Khanate of Kazan it was the northernmost Muslim state. It was also the northernmost Turkic state if one ignores the Yakuts. Its conquest by Ermak in 1582 was the beginning of the Russian conquest of Siberia.
Historian Masudul Hasan rightly observes, “If Amir Temur and the other Muslim rulers had combined for a common cause, and had directed their affairs against non-Muslims, the history of Islam would have taken a different course, and Islam would have spread to all parts of the world.”
Amir Temur, unlike Genghis Khan, was not an empire builder. So, soon after his death, the empire crumbled. He did enormous harm to Islam. If he had not destroyed the Muslim power in the Volga valley, Moscow could not have risen to power.

The history of Islam in Russia will be incomplete without mentioning about the religious ties that developed in Volga region in the pre-Genghis Khan era. In the early tenth century, an Arab historian Ahmad Ibn Fadlan came to Volga Bulgaria, which is also known as Volga-Kama-Bolghar (territory of modern Tatarstan), in what is now Russia. He came to establish relations and bring qadis and teachers of Islamic law to Volga Bulgaria, as well as help in building a fort and a mosque. He was followed by a group of Abbasid Caliphate messengers sent to improve cooperation between the two states.

It is worth noting that Ibn Fadlan was sent from Baghdad in 921 to serve as the secretary to an ambassador from the Abbasid Caliph al-Muqtadir to the Iltäbär (vassal-king under the Khazars) of the Volga Bulgaria, Almiş. The embassy's objective was to have the king of the Bolğars pay homage to Caliph al-Muqtadir and, in return, to give the king money to pay for the construction of a fortress. Although they reached Bolğar, the mission failed because they were unable to collect the money intended for the king. Annoyed at not receiving the promised sum, the king refused to switch from the Maliki rite to the Hanafi rite of Baghdad. From the above account it is obvious that the Bulgars had accepted the Maliki Sunni version of Islam before ibn Fadlan’s trip.

The first Muslim ruler of the Volga Bulgaria was Almas Iltabar (late 9th century). He sent ambassador to the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. During ibn Fadlan’s trip, the latter also met the Vikings (Rus), some of whom converted to Islam.

During Genghiz Khan’s invasion of Volga Bulgar, 80% of the population was killed. Later the territory was incorporated under the Golden Horde, and the mixing of these peoples brought about the acceptance of the ethnonym Tatars to describe them. The invaders later embraced Islam. As the Horde disintegrated in the 15th century, the area became the territory of the Kazan khanate, which was ultimately conquered by Russia in the 16th century.

Islam spread in Belarus from the 14th to the 16th century. The process was encouraged by the Lithuanian princes, who invited Tatar Muslims from the Crimea and the Golden Horde as guards of state borders. Already in the 14th century the Tatars had been offered a settled way of life, state posts and service positions. By the end of the 16th century over 100,000 Tatars settled in Belarus and Lithuania, including those hired to government service, those who moved there voluntarily, prisoners of war, etc. Tatars in Belarus generally follow Sunni Hanafi Islam.

The last powerful Muslim government in Central Asia was that of the Shaibanids (1500-1599) who were followed by the Janids. Shaiban was one of the sons of Jochi, the son of Genghis Khan. The Shaibanids lived a nomadic life in western Russia. In the 13th century (1282) they converted to Islam and came to call themselves as Uzbeks after the Golden Horde Khan Uzbeg (1313-41). Janids were the descendants of Jani Beg, the son of Uzbeg. During the 15th century, when the Golden Horde Khanate started breaking up and the lineages of Batu and Orda died out in the course of civil wars of the 14th century, the Uzbek prince Abul Khair Khan (1430-68) declared the Shaibanids as the only legitimate successors to Jochi and laid claim to the vast territories in the western part of Siberia and Kazakhstan. Their rivals were the Timurids, who claimed descent from Jochi's thirteenth son by a concubine. Several decades of strife left the Timurids in control of the Great Horde and its successor states in Europe, namely, the Khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Crimea.

Abul Khair was killed in 1468 in a battle with Yunus Khan, the ruler of Turkistan. On his death, a section of Uzbeks separated from the main horde, and came to call itself “Kazakhs” or freed people. They came to occupy the territory, now known as Kazakhstan. Abul Khair was succeeded by his son Haidar Sultan, who ruled for 20 years until his death in 1499. He was succeeded by his nephew Shaibani Khan, who proved to be a great ruler of his time. He conquered Transoxiana. His territory extended from the Lake Aral to Balkh and Herat, and from Farghana to Jurjan. The invasion of Nadir Shah, the king of Persia, in 1740, left behind a divided and decaying country. The Kazakhs in the north, Tajiks in the east, the Uzbeks at Bukhara and the Turkomans around Merv lacked leadership and unity.

The expanding power of Imperial Russia fished eagerly in these troubled waters. In the late eighteenth century Catherine the Great attempted to forcibly annex the region. But the Russian invaders inspired fierce, unexpected resistance from a broad ethnic coalition of Caucasian Muslims who had united in loyalty to one spiritual leader - a Chechen Muslim mystic (Sufi) warrior named Shaykh Mansur Ushurma. Declaring the struggle a jihad, Shaykh Mansur and his Muslim mountaineers inflicted a crushing defeat on Czarist forces at the Sunzha River in 1785 and were briefly able to unite much of what is modern Daghestan and Chechnya under their rule.

Shaykh Mansur headed a branch of the Naqshbandi Sufi order, an Islamic mystical brotherhood that originated in fourteenth century Central Asia. Islamic mysticism - known as Sufism - spread quickly among both Muslims and non-Muslims in the Caucasus and Central Asia, largely through the missionary activities of itinerant Sufi scholars and mystics. These popular shaykhs (saints, literally "friends of God") often acquired reputations as miracle workers, and their tombs frequently became shrines (mazars) and pilgrimage sites. [David Damrel notes that “as recently as the late 1970s, Soviet authorities testified to the abiding attraction of these shrines, listing more than 70 active mazars in Daghestan and over 30 more in Chechnya. More traditional Muslim religious leaders often attacked the Sufi "cult of saints" for un-Islamic practices, but from early on in the Caucasus, Sufism helped attract converts to Islam at a popular level and offered a powerful source of spiritual guidance and social identity.” ]

Shaykh Mansur’s disciples continued their low-key resistance against the Russians even after his death in prison in 1793. Full-scale armed revolt against the Russian occupation of Daghestan and Chechnya resumed in 1824, when a series of Naqshbandi Sufi leaders called Imams began a bitter guerrilla war that would last for over 30 more years. One of those Imams was Mulla Muhammad of Ghimree, better known as Qazi Mulla, who was succeeded in turn by Hamzed Beg and Imam Shamil.

The most famous of these Sufi warriors, the Naqshbandi Shaykh Imam Shamil, was a native of Daghestan. He actually established a short-lived Islamic state in Chechnya and Daghestan before his capitulation in 1859. Imam Shamil openly called upon his Sufi Murids at Ghimree to prepare themselves for Jihad in 1829. When the "pacification" offensive against the Caucasus began in 1830, the Russians were convinced that despite their superior arms and numbers, they could attain the domination over the area only by destroying the villages, cutting down the forests, and laying waste the cultivated fields to deprive the survivors of food. A Russian General, Tomam, who was appointed by the Czar Nicholas, to accomplish this mission described how he ordered his forces to set fire to the houses in which the Muslim fighters were in. Even under those circumstances the Mujahids did not surrender, they preferred death to cowardly surrender. In his memoir, Tornam, wrote, "The result of the Czar's expedition was the 'submission' of 80 villages, the total destruction of 61."

With Shamil safely imprisoned, the Russians moved to crush the remaining "Murids" and pacify the region. Many of Shamil’s followers were hanged or deported, while his senior deputies escaped to Makkah, Madinah or Turkey. But with the suppression of the Naqshbandis, a new order--the Qadiri--entered the fight.

The Qadiri order, with its origins in twelfth-century Baghdad, first appeared in the Caucasus in 1861 headed by a Daghestani shepherd named Kunta Haji Kishiev. Initially he counseled peace with the Russians. His popularity surged but soon his following, swelled by many murid fighters from Shamil’s former army, so alarmed the Russians that he was arrested and exiled in 1864. That same year at Shali in Chechnya, Russian troops fired on over 4,000 Qadiri murids, killing scores and igniting a fresh wave of violence. The brotherhood--whose remaining leaders all claimed spiritual descent from Kunta Haji--became implacable Russian foes and struck deep roots in the Chechen countryside. Together with the rejuvenated Naqshbandis, the Qadiris rose up against the Romanovs in 1865, 1877, 1879 and the 1890s and plagued Czarist rule in the Caucasus through the Bolshevik Revolution.

The Russian conquest of Turkistan in 1800-1886 brought the use of overwhelming brute force followed by large-scale colonization. After 30 years of Russian expedition, General Kaufmann captured Khiva in 1873. Following the Russian victory, the Russian army carried out a genocide, in which even the women and children were mercilessly butchered. The Russians under Scobelev moved on to the Kokand area where they carried out bombardments of defenseless cities and bazaars. A general massacre of the Muslims followed in 1881 in which 8000 men and women were killed.
Another hero of the Muslim resistance against Imperial Russia was a Kazakh, Kine Sari, who fought the Russians from 1837 to 1846 east of the Ural River and the Kara Tav and Ulu Tav mountains, east of the Aral Sea. Following his murder, the Russians confiscated 14 million hectares of Kazakh steppe land and brought in 2 million Russian immigrants. It was a tragedy comparable to what had happened to the Native Indians in America and what was to happen to the Palestinians in Palestine.

In the year 1860, shortly after the Czarist Army moved into the Caucasus, more than 400,000 Muslims were killed. That is too high a price for a tiny nation: almost half the entire population! If that is not genocide, what is? The "pacification" of the Caucasus was not completed until 1864. This was quickly followed by a mass deportation of nearly a million of native peoples to Turkey but due to hunger, disease and hardships, less than half of them ever reached their destination. The deportation cleared large land areas in the northern Caucasus of the natives to be colonized by Russian settlers. Continual clashes between the settlers and the local Muslims continued right down to the Communist Revolution of 1917.

In 1916 the Merdikar (meaning man of work) Revolt broke out against the Russians. Governor General Kuropatkin led an extermination campaign against the Muslims, killing thousands. These rebellions of the Muslims helped indirectly the Bolshevik Revolution by tying up large Russian armies. As a result, in their earlier years, the Soviets praised the Muslim fighters. Later, however, these Jihad movements were termed as "reactionary" risings of the feudal classes. Great Mujahids like Kine Sari and Imam Shamil were also denounced as representatives of "Bourgeois Nationalism" and even as "bandits".

That is the history of massacre and genocide of Muslims during the Czarist Russia. Has this become any better in Communist Soviet Union?

On May 11, 1918 the Central Asian people, under the leadership of Naqshbandi Sufi Shaykh Uzun Haji, proclaimed their independence and set up an Islamic Republic of the Caucasus (called "North Caucasian Emirate”) but on March 30, 1920, Lenin ordered the Red Army to crush them and after bitter fighting, the capital city was captured, followed by a severe wave of Communist repression which only led to renewed resistance lasting for another eleven months. Lenin ordered the Caucasian Republic to be cut up into several administrative divisions. In Bukhara the Red Army plundered the city destroying many of the Madrasas and setting fire to the famous library containing what has been termed "the most valuable collection of Muslim manuscripts in the world."

The Muslim forces comprising the Sufi warriors continued their resistance to the Soviet armies in the mountain of eastern Bukhara and along the Afghan and Chinese frontiers. Thousands of Muslims were killed as the battles continued from 1920 to 1924. "Basmachi" resistance was finally stumped out in 1928 when Soviet forces crossed the Afghan border.

Before Lenin died, he gave order to change the Arabic alphabet to Latin which during Stalin's period was replaced by the Russian Cyrillic, so as to sever the ties of later generations of Muslims with their fellow Muslims elsewhere. [It is well known among serious researchers in ethnic studies that when a community’s connection with its religious language is terminated, that act alone is often sufficient to destroy its religiosity. Surely, that was the motive behind changing the Arabic alphabet.] During the terrible purges of 1936-37 mosques were closed down and turned into clubs and storehouses. 25,000 important religious personalities were arrested and then deported to slave labor camps in Siberia. Muslim lands were handed over to Russians, their flocks were seized and they were forced into barren steppe where hundreds of thousands died of starvation and disease. One out of every three Kazakhs perished in a similar way. (This statistics can easily be verified from the fact that while in 1926 there were 3.6 million Kazakhs, the number dropped to 3 millions in 1939, some 13 years later, in Kazakhstan.) The survivors hated Stalin so much so that during the World War II mass anti-communist uprisings took place in northern Caucasus. Almost a million Muslim soldiers deserted the Russian army and joined the Germans. [This attitude of subjugated masses is quite common. During the British rule of India, Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, a nationalist leader from Bengal, traveled to Japan and Germany to foster ties with those regimes. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” seems to be the age-old maxim in this regard.]

But there were many Chechens and Ingush Muslims who fought alongside the Soviet Army. Towards the end of the Second World War, when Russia started triumphing over Germany, a veritable reign of terror gripped the Muslim territories. Stalin accused Muslims of being Nazi-sympathizers and ordered the arrest of every man, woman and child among the Chechens, Ingush, Balkars and Karachai. Nearly 300,000 were massacred. Those who were not executed on the spot, nearly a million people, were deported on Feb. 23, 1944, on cattle carts to slave-labor camps in Siberia and wastelands in the Central Asia. One-third of the population died during the journey. Many others perished under the harsh conditions of exile. For all practical purposes, the last two groups of people had totally ceased to exist. Thirteen years later, in 1957, under Khrushchev, the Chechens and Ingush people were reinstated, told it was a mistake and invited to return to their homelands. Many did so on the foot. While Chechens still had a home to return to, the Ingush Muslims found their lands and houses occupied by Christian Ossetians. According to David Damrel, “The Chechens, Ingush and Daghestanis also discovered a land scoured of Islam. Soviet authorities had experimented with the near total suppression of Islam in the region, closing over 800 mosques and 400 religious colleges. Mazars were demolished, converted into state museums, or made inaccessible. Only after more than 30 years, in 1978, Soviet authorities in the Caucasus allowed under 40 mosques to reopen and staffed them with less than 300 registered ulema.”

Apart from this political, economic and linguistic subjugation, there was a concerted effort to destroy Islam amongst the conquered Soviet Muslims. Before the Communist Revolution of 1917, there were 24,000 mosques. A count around 1980 showed that there were less than 300 in the entire USSR. Some of these mosques were used as museums, clubs, and bars. Ezaz Gailani in his article in the Impact International showed that even religious rituals like the fasting in the month of Ramadhan, Hajj, Zakah and religious dresses for Muslim women were prohibited in the USSR. There is also enough evidence about forced transfer of Muslim population form six Muslim majority areas to Siberia. [Anyone more interested to learn about the fate of Muslims in Russia is referred to the book, "Russia and Her Colonies" by Walter Kolarz.]

As noted by David Damrel, these anti-Islamic measures against "institutional" Islam had little impact on the Sufi brotherhoods, which had never relied on mosques and madrasas as their centers. The Sufi orders -- particularly the Naqshbandis – continued to organize their own clandestine Arabic classes and schools to teach the Qur‘an. In the 1970s, they regained their popularity in Chechnya behind a new Chechen Sufi brotherhood, called the Vis Haji after its founder, the Chechen Sufi Uways "Vis" Haji Zagiev. It is an offshoot of Kunta Haji’s branch of the Qadiri order. First identified in the camps in 1953, the Vis Haji combines scrupulous adherence to "conservative" Islam with unremitting anti-Russian, anti-Soviet rhetoric.

Probably very few places in our world provide a better similitude of an old adage "players change but the game continues" than Soviet Union when it comes to the fate of Muslims. Russian Orthodox Christian Czars were replaced by atheistic Communists in the Soviet Union. But their policy and the Muslim-hunting/slaughtering/genocidal campaign did not change. The Communist Russians simply continued the expansionist policy of the Czars.
From the 13th century onward, during the time of Czar Ivan the Terrible, the southward move is a recurring theme in Russian policy. Peter (the Great) followed the same footsteps followed earlier by his predecessors. Bolshevik Stalin, a great admirer of Ivan the Terrible, continued the same policy. Muslim states of Central Asia were the targets of aggression throughout. Brezhnev has followed the same footsteps. Soviet influence over Zahir Shah's regime in Afghanistan, its involvement in Daud takeover in 1974, in Taraki's so-called coup d'etat in 1978, and then Amin's drama of Taraki's overthrow and lastly Babrak Kamal's coming to power through the bloody coup are important elements in this Russian game of ever controlling the Muslim territories.

The research work "Red Clouds over Afghanistan", written by A. M. Manzer, points to the evidence that the Soviets were determined to carve out a Peoples' Republic of Baluchistan with the collusion of Baluchi Communists. It would cover parts of eastern Iran, southern Afghanistan and Baluchistan province of Pakistan. Fortunately, for the brave resistance of the Afghan Mujahideen, which resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Soviet forces, and the overthrow of their nearly 100,000 soldiers, that dream seems to have been somewhat punctuated.

And what a price did not the Afghans pay during Soviet occupation of their territories? Babrak Kamal himself admitted in an interview with Der Spiegel newspaper that more than 1.5 million Afghans were killed during the past two (1980-1) years; 16,000 political prisoners alone perished in Afghan jails. The occupation created roughly two million refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Russia used nerve gas and Napalm bombs against the Afghans. Land mines litter the country, and are responsible for maiming more than a million Afghans. The war was not only to kill, but also to liquidate entire territory including its vegetation with germ warfare. The Afghans are still paying with their lives for the war crimes committed against them.
The most conspicuous aspect of the Soviet foreign policy was that of wooing the Arabs and Iranians. But one cannot forget the fact that it was USSR, which was one of the pioneers in the creation of the Zionist state of Israel. It has mercilessly killed Muslims both within and outside its borders, practicing the most aggressive form of white colonial domination against Muslims. A careful and attentive mind would enable one to transcendent misleading propaganda launched by the Russians and reveal their hypocrisy to everyone in all its naked ugliness.

Decades of state atheism have inflicted an enormous loss to spiritual education amongst the Soviet Muslims. However, thanks to the Sufi brotherhoods, the process of spiritual resurrection is going on at the present moment. There are over five thousand clandestine mosques in Daghestan, about ten Islamic tertiary schools and hundreds of Madrasses. Annually nearly 80% of all pilgrims to Makkah from Russia are the Daghestani Muslims.

In this resurrection of Islam, the roles played by the Jadid movement and the Naqshabandi and Qadiri Sufis of the Caucasus cannot be ignored.
The Jadids, who appeared in Kazan in the 1880’s first demanded the renewal and reform of the old system of Muslim education. Then they proclaimed certain political aims as well. The most prominent members of this movement were: Shibhaddin Marjani, an outstanding theologian and Islam reformer (1818-1889), Ismail Gasprinsky, a journalist and a scholar (1851-1914), Rizauddin Farhiddinov, the Mufti of Ufa, Musa Bigiyev, the writer of new-method school-books.

The history of the Jadid movement can be divided into two parts: from 1880 to 1905, and from 1905 to 1917. In the first period, they didn’t have many people on their side, whereas in the second period the New-Methodists were a serious power, widely supported by their fellow-Muslims. They began to develop as a social and political movement, supported by the craving of the so-called ethnical Muslims for a renewed Muslim spirituality and revived Islam. The new-Methodist movement had strong influences in the Volga region, the Crimea, Azerbaijan and Daghestan.

These people were not the “destroyers of the old order”. On the contrary, their primary aim was to renew the religious education to let Muslims take a more active part in the political life in Russia. The New-Methodists, whose activity in education was very much like the atmosphere in many of the present-day Muslim educational institutions, were cautious about natural sciences, taking them only as a tool for the more profound understanding of religion.

As to the influence of the Sufis, reliable membership figures are impossible to establish, but a 1975 Soviet survey in Chechnya claimed that half of the Muslim population there belonged to local Sufi orders -- a stunning total of over 300,000 murids. The Naqshbandis, joined later by the Qadiri Sufi brotherhood, have dominated north Caucasian Muslim spiritual life from the late eighteenth century to the present day. Naturally secretive and disciplined, with broad-based social support and foreboding mountainous terrain for cover, these orders have proven formidable adversaries for whoever has tried to rule the Caucasus.

With such a grass-root support for the Sufi orders, no matter how the atheist and communist Russians try they will never be able to extinguish the light of Islam from the hearts and souls of Muslims in the Soviet Union.

[This essay is a revised and expanded version of the author’s lecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1982.]




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