CIS (Common wealth of Independent States) or former Soviet Union has more than
70 million Muslims. Under seven decades of Communist rule, Muslims almost lost
their identity due to the persecution of Islam.
perestroika or reform policy of Gorbachev, who came to power in 1985, eased the
religious policy of the former Soviet Union. Gorbachev’s reform policy mainly
concentrated on economic restructuring for which he sought the help of the West.
Obviously, to deal with the outside world, Gorbachev had to improve the freedom
of conscience of the citizens of his country. Thus the believers became less
persecuted and demanded more freedom.
1991 Communist coup to overthrow Gorbachev did not succeed, it brought about a
great historical change, the downfall of the Communist era and the creation of
the CIS. This brought an end to the Gorbachev era.
the six Muslims republics of the former Soviet Union Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan,
Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kirgizstan and Tajikistan are members of the CIS.
Except Azerbaijan, the other five republics fall within the geographical
boundary of Central Asia. Apart from these six republics, there are about 20
million indigenous Muslims inside the Russian Federation, the biggest state of
the CIS, who are mostly concentrated in the Caucasus, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan
and scarcely in other parts of the Russian Federation where the total population
is over 150 million.
The revival of
Islam in Central Asia and the CIS has had a different impact in different areas
depending on freedom of religious policy and the interest in Islam. On the
whole, the impact of cultural and educational aspects of Islam is growing in all
parts of Central Asia and the CIS. For example, growth of mosques and
educational institutions--madrasaha--varies from place to place; in Uzbekistan
alone there are more than 2000 mosques. During the Soviet period there were
only some 400 mosques throughout the USSR.
mosques, madrasahs and Islamic Centres are mostly financed by local Muslims. In
many cases donations have come from Muslim organizations. Some Muslims
countries--Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and a few others also
contributed. The Muslim countries also offer scholarships for students from
Central Asia to study in their own countries. In Turkey alone, there are about
ten thousand students studying in different educational institutions. The
Islamic Universities of Pakistan and Malaysia, a few universities in Saudi
Arabia and Al-Azhar University regularly provide places for students from
Central Asia--The students are financed either by the University itself or
organizations. Some students are also studying in Libya, Morocco and other
Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), World Muslim League (Rabita), International
Islamic Relief Organization, SAAR Foundation and Islamic Development Bank
regularly make contributions to educational and other developmental works in
Central Asia. Some of these organizations have opened branches in Moscow and
other cities of Central Asia with the Official permission of local governments.
Organizations also finance orphanages, hospitals and provide other humanitarian
assistance. The Islamic Development Bank has so far provided over $4 million.
Due to ethnic problems and regional conflicts, for example, war in Chechnya,
Tajikistan, Abkhazia, Nagornokarabah, a huge number of refugees have been made
homeless and are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.
political uncertainties and economic difficulties, for the revival of Islam, the
education of Muslim children has priority. Parents are enthusiastic to teach
their children Islamic values starting from the nursery age. Mostly evening and
weekend (part-time) madrasahs are serving this purpose. Though the shortage of
Islamic teachers is a problem in many areas, some of the above mentioned Muslim
organizations are helping with the preparation of teachers. In Kazakhstan and
Tatarstan many teachers are engaged, from Turkey especially, to teach Arabic and
Islamic disciplines. Officially, the Ministries of Culture of some Muslim
Republics, at the request of parents, are introducing in mainstream schools
syllabus with Islamic disciplines. For this, guidance is being sought from the
At the moment,
there is a great need for literature on Islam. To meet this requirement, books
available in English, Turkish or Arabic are being translated into Russian and
local languages. Such books cater for different ages. Presently, independent
organizations within the country, with the help of international organizations
like WAMY, IIRO, SAAR Foundation have been producing a considerable amount of
Islamic literature every year. WAMY has established a publication bureau in
Dagestan called ‘Sant-Lada’. ‘Sant-Lada’ mainly publishes translated Islamic
literature. Nevertheless, for the 70 million Muslims of CIS with at least 7/8
major languages the available literature is still only a drop in the ocean.
Similarly, at the higher educational level, the interest in studying Islam is
growing. Recently, Moscow State University started higher degrees on various
aspects of Islam--something unthinkable during the Soviet period. Independent
institutes are being established to study Arabic, The Quran, Hadith, Tafsir,
life of the Prophet (pbuh), etc. In January, 1995, such an institute was opened
in Moscow with the help of some financiers from Kuwait. The Rector of the
Institute is Sayed Kamaliev, a leading Arabist from the former Soviet Union.
education has also been of great concern in the society. ‘Charity begins at
home’, so mothers have the responsibility of educating the future generations.
However, there are still very few full-time institutions where girls can get
Islamic education. In Tashkent, the Mir-Arab Madrasah now has a female section.
This is the only Madrasah to have survived since the Soviet period by government
funding. Recently, an independent women’s Madrasah called ‘Fatimat-uz-Zaharah’
has been established in Tashkent by independent funding. The madrasah which
caters for female students of all ages, so far attracted at least one thousand
students. Recently, a similar madrasah was established in Dagestan to cater for
Caucasus female students.
As a result of
female Islamic education, the wearing hijab (female Islamic dress) is very
visible in Muslim areas which was a taboo during Soviet Times.
education is becoming a need, the intelligentsia also feels a need to produce
academic works on Islam. Many even propose to rewrite the history of central
Asia. History books, as written by Soviet scholars previously, do not emphasize
the role Islam played in the history of Central Asia. The specialized centers at
universities, as well as a number of independent centres, have engaged scholars
and Islamologists to write books on different aspect of Islam. But, at the
moment, such academic works are far too few to meet the demand.
Asia, the revival of Islam is very much evident. However, the present leaders
and the governments of Muslim states are mostly communist-turned-democrats, so
it is very unlikely that their policies will easily accommodate Islam. Their
constitution separates religion from state. So, mass Islamic movements and any
role that Islam is to play in state affair face almost the same restrictions as
in the past. For example, the Islamic Revivalist Party, the only major political
movement for Muslims, formed in 1990, has faced severe persecution in Muslim
republics. The irony with IRP is that, with the disintegration of the Soviet
Union, it ceased to be an ‘all Union’ or one party and sought recognition in
individual Muslim states. But it was not recognized by the majority of Muslim
states. For example, in Uzbekistan, not only has the IRP been unrecognised, its
leaders, including the Chairman of the Party--Abdullah Uttah--have been
imprisoned. Tajikistan was the only place where the IRP was recognized a mark in
the political arena of the republic. Unfortunately, the communist and Russian
ploy defeated the democratic alliance in Tajikistan in 1992. Had a free
democratic system been allowed after the downfall of Communism, Tajikistan would
have been the first democratic state in the former Soviet Union with a major
role played by IRP. The ‘defeated’ leader of IRP, in fear of persecution,
crossed the border and sought refuge in Afghanistan. The leaders--Mohammad
Sharif, Abdullah Nuri, Uslam Daulatov, Turadzonzadah and others have vowed to
continue the jihad from across the border.
In other parts
of Muslim areas, the Islamic political movement is still in its infancy and fear
of persecution is high. For example, the Kazakh authorities have time and again
alerted themselves to the rise of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ all over Central
Asia. The war in Chechnya has accelerated Muslim awareness and the Islamic
collapse of the communist system and the weak infrastructure of government
pushed Central Asia and Caucasus into chaos. The economy is weak and struggling
to recover. At the same time the Muslim republics have vast resources of oil,
gas, cotton, gold, etc. The resources easily attract foreign investment.
Becoming members of Economic Co-operation Organization (ECO) and with the
support of IMF and World Bank, the Central Asian republics are developing their
economic sectors. Among the Muslim countries, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and some
Gulf countries have established economic and trade links with Central Asian
states. However, the volatile governments and the political uncertainties of
these newly independent Muslim states do not at present attract massive
investment from outside.
it can be concluded that due to the geographical and strategic situation and its
cultural, religious and historical links, the Muslim world can play a very
important role in bringing back the region under Islamic Brotherhood.
Chenhnya at a
Chechnya was a
part of Daghestan, a Muslim state of the Caucasus, under the leadership of Imam
Muslims of Daghestan lost their country to Russia after 34 years of resistance
Daghestanis declared independence. Some even supported Communists against the
Czars because they promised to recognise their independence.
Communists Russians reoccupied Daghestan. Banned Islam, Masjds, and other
Autonomous Region was established by the Soviets to divided the Muslims of
Caucasus (Daghestan) into different groups while appearing to give recognition
and autonomy to different linguistic groups.
In 1944 the
whole population was loaded on cattle trucks and were expelled to Siberia and
Kazakhstan by Stalin where one third of the Chechens died.
Chechens were allowed back to their region.
Chechnya declared independence from Russia as other autonomous regions were
doing around it after Dudayev was elected as president. He was among the
children who were deported to Kazakhstan in 1944.
Dec. 11, 1994:
Russian attack on Chechnya began with 40,000 man Russian army armed with
superpower class equipment.
Dec. 30, 1994:
The first major Russian attack on Grozny began with hundreds of tanks while the
world was at pause for New Year celebrations.
Jan. 3, 1995:
The first Russian attack on Grozny repelled by Chechens as ‘hundreds of tanks’
are destroyed as described by one Russian sources.