On October 1-6, 2019, the III Forum of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Scholars on “Islamic Intellectual Thought in the CIS Countries: Past, Present and the Way Forward” was held in Istanbul [IIIT, 2019]. The forum was jointly organized by Azerbaijan Public Association ‘Idrak’ and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). The main goals of the “Idrak” are to promote intercultural and interreligious dialogue and counter terrorism and extremism, as well as organize conferences, symposia, trainings, and scientific and practical meetings that are consistent with these goals [IDRAK, 2017]. The IIIT has specialized in providing a platform for Muslim thinkers, scientists and practitioners in the field of humanities and social sciences since 1981 [IIIT, n.d.]. The forum has been dealt with current issues of Islamic education, theology, law, politics, economics, philosophy, ethics, culture and literature, as well as specific problems of Muslims of the CIS countries. Such meetings provide an opportunity to be acquainted with the experience of different countries not only in the field of theory but also in a number of practical issues, such as the transformation of educational systems and scientific research methods in the field of religion.
Recent decades have been ambiguous and to some extent crucial for the religious life of Muslims around the world, including the former Soviet space. On the one hand, there was a change in ideology and a way out of the shadowy space of beliefs, formerly driven by the dominant ideology into a very limited niche. On the other hand, unexpected, sometimes extremely aggressive activities in the international arena of various religious organizations and groups caused a state of shock and subsequent negative perception in many societies and regions of the world. It was a period of severe trials for Islam and Muslims but also for theologians and religious scholars who felt the need to revise and rethink many principles that seemed previously unshakable.
The content of expert presentations has yet to be comprehended after the release of the printed version of the forum materials. However, I would like to draw attention to the huge variety of structures of the academic space associated with Islam in the CIS countries, whose representatives took part in the forum.
In 2010, under the auspices of the Russian Fund for the Support of Islamic Culture, Science and Education and the Al-Wasatiyyah International Center in Kuwait, the Al-Wasatiyyah Research and Education Center was established in Moscow. The purpose of this organization is to change the consciousness of Muslims, free it from the stereotypes of the medieval past and transfer values and principles of Islam into the context of modernity, reject all forms of extremism in the society, promote harmonious and good-neighborly coexistence with representatives of other religions and worldviews. Experts of the Russian Center Al-Wasatiyyah translate a number of works by famous Islamic scholars from Arabic to Russian and publish, organize educational work in various regions of Russia to explain the principle of moderation in the Qur’an, and conduct advanced training courses for teachers of Muslim educational institutions, imams, preachers, and Muslim journalists [Al-Wasatiya, 2013].
As a non-governmental foundation, the Moscow Islamic Institute (MII) was established under the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the European part of Russia, in 1999. The MII provides secondary vocational education and higher professional education, as well as postgraduate programs such as training courses, advanced training courses and training of trainers. Two years ago, the Bolgar Islamic Academy (BIA) was established as a new generation university, located in the city of Bolgar near the Tatarstan capital. It can be recalled that the state of the Turkic-speaking Bulgarian tribes was part of the Islamic caliphate from the 10th to the 15th century, when it was conquered because of the Mongol invasion. Nevertheless, it was considered the northernmost point of the spread of Islam [Historical document, 2017].
Mintimer Shaimiev, the first president of Tatarstan, decided to revive the ancient city: he created a special fund, attracted investments, and developed a project. The key objects of the Bolgar State Historical and Architectural Museum-Reserve were the White Mosque, the restored khanaka building – a kind of hotel for stopping wandering Muslim dervishes, and the Islamic Academy [mir24, 2019]. The BIA was conceived as the highest level of religious education, where Muslims from all over the Russian Federation can obtain a master’s and doctoral degree in Islamic studies. Among the main tasks originally set for this educational institution were:
-providing opportunity for Muslims of Russian Federation to receive high-quality Islamic education (in Arabic) in their homeland;
-protection of Muslims of Russian Federation from foreign religious influence;
– development of traditions in the field of Islamic theology that existed on the territory of Russia in previous periods of its history.
Muslims of the CIS countries, in particular Kyrgyzstan, also have the opportunity to study at the BIA.
Other post-Soviet states also have not lost interest in the study of Islam; moreover, new structures and initiatives are emerging there to expand the scope and boundaries of Islamic studies. Therefore, in September 2015, in the city of Ostrog (Ukraine), a center for Islamic studies at the National University of Ostrog Academy was established. The main goal of the Center is to study the Islamic heritage of Western Ukraine, especially in relation to the local Tatar Muslim communities that have existed for more than 500 years. One of the other priority areas of research is the Islamic intellectual tradition on Ukrainian lands under the rule of the Crimean Khanate, including the study of relevant Arabic and Ottoman manuscripts. The first step that is currently being taken to develop the Center is to create a database of accessible materials on the history of Islam in Ukraine. The center has already begun to establish close research ties with the most advanced Islamic research institutes in Ukraine and abroad. One of the most important projects is the translation and publication of primary sources of Islam in the Ukrainian language, including both sacred texts and post-classic and modern works [The National University of Ostrog Academy, n.d.].
Representatives of the Center for Comparative Studies of Civilizations at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow also attended the forum. It is the only interdisciplinary educational institution in Poland that provides academic programs in the four main civilizations of the modern world, as well as in-depth scientific research in the field of religious studies. [Jagiellonian University, n.d.] As it turned out, during various periods of history, the local Muslim Tatar community, which officially entered the sphere of the Muftiyat of Crimea until 1918, contributed to the intellectual life of Poland, and representatives of the Muslim intelligentsia participated in the formation of the Polish elite.
Thus, the IIIT forum in Istanbul demonstrated the presence of a significant number of serious academic and educational structures and researchers in post-Soviet countries who are concerned about the history and modern fate of Islam, its scientific and cultural achievements, its attitude and the attitude of the rest of the world towards it. Raising the intellectual level of the modern Muslim, moderation, diversity, understanding of their interlocutors are inevitable and necessary living conditions in the 21st century. They are not completely new truths, but nothing better has yet been invented.
Al-Wasatiya. (2013). Retrieved from http://wasatiya.ru/en/about/programme.html]. Accessed on 19.10. 2019.
Historical document. (2017). Volga Bulgaria. Retrieved from http://history-doc.ru/volzhskaya-bulgariya. Accessed on 20.10.2019.
IDRAK. (2017). Retrieved from http://idrak.org.az/en. Accessed on 17.10.2019.
IIIT. (2019). Islamic Intellectual Thought in the CIS Countries: Past, Present and the Way Forward. Retrieved from https://iiit.org/en/islamic-intellectual-thought-cis-countries. Accessed on 17.10.2019.
IIIT. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://iiit.org/en/home. Accessed on 17.10.2019.
Jagiellonian University. (n.d.). Center for Comparative Studies of Civilizations of the Jagiellonian University. Retrieved from http://www.psc.uj.edu.pl/en_GB/o-nas/katedra. Accessed on 10.20.2019.
mir24. (2019). The Bolgar Academy has one goal – to spread true Islam. Retrieved from https://mir24.tv/articles/16363343/u-akademii-v-bolgare-odna-cel-rasprostranyat-istinnyi-islam. Accessed on 17.10.2019.
The National University of Ostrog Academy. (n.d.). Research Centres and Laboratories. Retrieved from https://www.oa.edu.ua/en/science/labs. Accessed on 17.10.2019.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Nadirova Gulnar Ermuratovna graduated from the Oriental Faculty of Leningrad State University, in 1990 she defended her thesis on the Algerian literature at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, in 2006 doctoral thesis - on modern Tunisian literature at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, Professor.