Chapter 6: Muslim Policy of Soviet Goverment(1945-75)

The religious activity of Muslims of Soviet Union was being controlled by four Religious Boards, these were:

1. Muslim Religious Board of Russian Federation and Siberia. The centre of it was situated in Ufa the ancient Muslim town and capital of Bashkhiria.

2. Muslim Religious Board of Kazakhstan and Central Asia. The centre of it was situated in Tashkhent. This board supervised religious activities of Muslims of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

3. Muslim Religious Board of North Caucasus.

4. Muslim Religious Board of South Caucasus or Trans Caucasus [1. After Communist revolution in 1917 the Soviet government formed, 'Central Committee for Muslim Affairs'. But after the civil war of 1918 that committee was abolished.]. Soviet government controlled all these Religious Boards by, 'The Council of The Affairs of Religious Cults'. This council was established in 1944. Every Board had written constitution. According to the constitution, an executive committee used to be formed by direct vote of Alims and general Muslims. The spectrum of activities of the Boards were to give explanation of Islam, to propagate Fatwa of Mufti about any religious matter, to appoint Imam and Muazzin of mosques, to give certificate to the Alims to publish religious books. [2. In the Soviet Union no Alim was allowed to lead religious activities without the certificate of this board. (Yousuf Sadik: Soviet Union Musalman[Bengali], page:36)],

Though from the time of 2nd World War a large number of Russians and Soviet Europeans made settlement in Muslim regions of USSR, the Muslims were still the majority of the population in those regions. But in the meantime Muslims became minority in Kazakhstan, Volga, Ural and North Caucasus. The Muslim percentage of population of Kazakhstan became 35% by the year 1959. Yet even now Muslims are the absolute majority of population in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan [3. Discussed in detail in the chapter, 'Muslim Revival Movement in Central Asia'] .

General population of Soviet Muslims are facing difficulties and obstacles to give Islamic teachings to their new generation. The problem behind this was discussed in the previous chapter. Actually there was no other Muslim religious educational institute in Soviet Union excluding the two which were absolutely engaged only to train Alims. Only 100 graduates pass out from this two institution per year. This number was very inadequate for around four crores(in 1970) of Muslims of USSR. There are also non-availability and scarcity of Islamic books to educate young Muslims properly.

Now a days anti-Islamic propagation is not going on in an attacking manner like the past. Anti-religion propagation is continued on the basis of philosophical argument. One doctrine which is used commonly against all religions is that religions are like opium for people which is used by the reactionaries, which is also unscientific [4. A. Maslova; My Gamanisty(We are Humanists). Nukhi Relgiya,1966]. Other argument is specially used against Islam that Islam is a bizarre combination of Christianity and Zionism [5. S.P. Tolstov; Po Sledam Drevenzo Khorezma (in search of ancient Khorezom) page: 220 21.]. It was also said that Islam represented the commercial interest for the Arab businessman [6. Report by M.D. Bagirov, first secretary , Azerbeizan Communist party, to the congress of Baku intellectuals, July 14, 1950.]. This allegation was also brought against Islam that it was an imposed foreign religion on peoples of Central Asia. According to them Islam was all the time used as a tool for the imperialist powers, it teaches people fatalism [7. Report by M.D. Bagirov, first secretary , Azerbeizan Communist party, to the congress of Baku intellectuals, July 14, 1950.]. They also said that Islam always resisted reformation process in Turkistan [8. A.Zahidov, Qigil Uzbekistan, May 29,1941]. The 'Union of Godless Zealots' stopped their anti-religion propagation during 2nd world war. After the war, a new organization was formed named, 'Association for the Spread of Political and Scientific Knowledge'. This organization started propagation against Islam and other religions in the Soviet Union. They did these by the help of literature, speech, films, mobile exhibition and also by talk show in Radio and Television. They published 84 books in the Muslim majority regions of Soviet Union between January to August 1957 [9. Bennigsen; Islam in the Soviet Union. page 176-77]. From this it can be easily understood that their propagation activity was very extensive. Even after such anti-religious propagation of different organization, Soviet Government was able to keep relationship with the authorities of Islam and other religions. According to the reports of official journals of Soviet Government the relation between Soviet government and different religious authorities was good [10. A. Yakovlenko, Marxism Leninism; Religiya Pravda Uostoka, Tashkhent, June 29,1950]. Religious authorities also maintained obedience to the government.

As there is scarcity of religious education and literature in Soviet Union and on the other hand constitution allows propagation against religion, so the educated Muslim people are trying to keep their traditions, culture and identity themselves. Muslim people can understand the significance of the family as a safeguard to their culture, tradition and identity. So they are trying to maintain their family structure as much as possible. It is a fact that within 50 years of revolution the systems like polygamy (multiple marriage), joint family and dowry have almost gone away. On the other hand there is extensive expansion of female education and women are taking part in different social activities. But these changes or reformations are also going on in all developing countries and this can be considered as a natural upgradation of the society not the result of Communism. Dowry is not allowed in Islamic Shariah and joint family is not an obligatory part of it. Moreover polygamy is only permissible in Islam not anyway mandatory. Female education is mandatory in Islam. Still now old father and mother and in some cases siblings stay together in Soviet Muslim families. It can be regarded as a reflection of teachings of Islam towards the rights of parents and siblings. Still now husband is regarded as the leader of the family and the children maintain obedience towards parents. These are all consistent with Muslim culture and traditions. The total number of marriage of Muslims with non-Muslim Russians or Europeans of Soviet Union are very few. Though a few Muslim male marries non-Muslim Russian female but marriage between Muslim female and non-Muslim male is almost rare. So there is no fear for the Muslims to lose their identity through marital bonds.

On the other hand the educated Muslims of Soviet Union are very conscious to keep their identity, culture and heritage. After the revolution, modern education spread all over the Soviet Union very promptly and a new educated generation came out. Most of them were technical experts and scientists. But their origin was in rural peasant family and they maintained intimate relation with their family and rural society. Like Russian intelligentsia they can carry on all kinds of responsibilities of the state. Gradually they are achieving the key posts of the states. But very often they have to face conflict with Russian settlers regarding this. In 1964 one Kazakh Communist leader charged against Kazakhs that they often tried to remove Russians from key posts of the state [11. N. Dzhandil'din: Communism and the development of national relationships: Moscow. 1964, page:172]. Between 1951 to 1954 a debate began on the question of the status of different folklore literature of Muslim-Turks. Then these educated Muslims very strongly played their role in favour of keeping these literature as a symbol of their national traditions and heritage. Among these folklore literature the 'Dede Korkut' of Azerbaijan, 'Alpamish' of Uzbekistan [12-13. In 'Alpamysh' and 'Manas' the struggles of Muslims against the attack of non-Muslims are described.], 'Sine-Shora-Bat' of Kazakhstan and 'Manash' of Kirghizia were very popular and famous. Some Communist Russian thinkers tried to reject these folklore literature showing the excuse that these were in favour of religion or Pan-Turkyism or feudalism, but Muslim thinkers urged that these literature were the symbols of national traditions and heritage, so rejection of these were equivalent to rejecting cultural freedom of a nation. They also gave argument that according to Stalin, culture of every nation should be its own. After a long debate the opinion of Muslim thinkers was accepted. From this incident, it is assumed that educated Muslim society of Soviet Russia is conscious about the preservation of their cultural identity.

After revolution, several modern Muslim nations have emerged in the Soviet Union. Though the Muslim people of Soviet Union was united on the basis of Islamic idealism and Turkish language for a long time [14. The different process of unification have been discussed previously.] , but they failed to organize them as an unified nation before Communist revolution. Their struggle to become an unified Muslim nation stopped after revolution. But they became some different but related nations by implementing Soviet nationalism. The minor Muslim communities like Misra, Talish, Jamshid, Nogoy, Tat merged with major communities and thus strengthened them. Among the major Muslim communities, (the strength and population of whom increased in such a way), the name of Uzbek, Kazak, Ajeri, Turkmen, Tajik, Tatar and Bashkhir are to be mentioned. These Muslim nations have an educated competent class of people who can take up any responsibility of the state. This is a very good sign for future development and evolution of these nations. All these nations are able to operate any affairs of the states independently. Another positive event to be mentioned here is that liberal reformation process initiated after the death of Stalin allowed these Muslim nations to establish better communication with Muslim world. The Soviet Muslim people were almost disconnected from rest of the Muslim world for about 35 years after the revolution of 1917. But thereafter they were able to keep contact with Muslim world. Many delegations from different Muslim states are going to Soviet Union now a days. On the other hand some Soviet Muslims are also going to different Muslim states and other parts of the world as state delegate. This allows opportunity to exchange views between Soviet Muslims and Muslims of other states. This will give a good result in future. Moreover Soviet government also cares about the opinion of Muslim world while making policy for Muslims. Islamic secretariat of Jeddah collects information about Muslim minorities of different parts of the world. They take up the matters with concerned government where they observe any violation of rights of Muslim minorities [15. In this connection the role of Islamic secretariat for the Muslims of Eritrea and Philippines are to be remembered.] .

Lastly this can be evaluated that how much the Soviet Muslim people follow Islam in their everyday life. It has been discussed previously that still now they abide by their own traditions based on Islamic morals and guidance in case of birth, marriage and other social customs. There is lack of authentic information regarding their practice of religious worship. According to information available five times prayer are limited among the rural old people. The number of five times worshippers among young people of towns are very small [This was the situation 25 years back. The situation has now changed after the collapse of the Soviet Union]. Large number of people participate in 'Juma'( Friday prayer) both in villages and in towns. Practice of Ramadan fasting is very popular both in towns and in villages. During Ramadan many people join in Salatul Tarabih and Khatam Tarabih are being practiced in many mosques. Muslim people donates money for the development and maintenance of mosques. The issue regarding Hajj has been already discussed. After the withdrawal of ban against Hajj in 1945 every year 10-15 Muslim from Soviet Union perform Hajj under the management of Muslim Religious Boards. Though this number is very small in comparison with the number of Muslim population of Soviet Union(about 4 crore in 1970) [16. The small number can be assumed by comparing the number with that of other Muslim countries of that time.]. But the Soviet government never gave any explanation about this matter.

Among other practices all Muslims perform Sunnat-E-Khatna(circumcision) of their male child. Shia [17. Maximum population of Azerbaijan belongs to Shia Mazhab. Muslims of other parts of Soviet Union are Sunni. The Muslims of Soviet Union stopped their debate on the question of Shiaism or Sunnism keeping in mind the greater problem of Islam in Communist rule.] Muslims performs Ashura with enthusiasm. All Muslims enjoys Eid-Ul-Fitr, Eid-Ul-Adha and Lailatul-Qadr with all formalities.

From this brief discussion this is clear that even in the late Soviet period, in spite of many obstacles, especially scarcity of Islamic institutions, religious books and Alims, the Muslims of Russia were observing their religious responsibilities by themselves. They are proud of their Islamic ideology and heritage. In future if there is availability of Islamic institutions and literature then the Soviet Muslims will be able to play their important role as a part of Muslim Ummah because they are the ancestors of Imam Bukhari, Imam Tirmiji, Bahauddin Nakshbandi [18. Founder of Nakshbandia Sufi Tarika.], Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, Ferdousi [19. Informations about the practice of Islamic lifestyle among the Muslims of Soviet Union have been taken from the book of Yousuf Sadik.] and many other great Muslims.

[In fact Islam has strongly revived in the Central Asia after the collapse of Soviet Union.]