My discovery of Islam
Never before has the end of the holy month of Ramadan been celebrated on such a large scale in Russia. TV shows, interviews with muftis, joint iftars of Muslims and Christians, greetings from the President of the country ... In Moscow, finally, the new building of the mosque on Prospekt Mira has been completed, and all the central television channels see in the minarets, which are being built, not a subject of concern, but joy, now believers will not pray under the open sky.
Let pessimists condemn me, but in the last year or two I see a significant improvement in the attitude to Islam in Russia, from the state, and more importantly, on the part of the population, including both Christians and non-believers.
Perhaps this is due to the tragic events in Ukraine. Very few people could predict the release of aggression in the neighboring Slavic, Orthodox country, and facing this, Russians have realized that the peace and friendship, which were so obsessively explained in the Soviet times, these are gifts from heaven, which are not taken for granted. For the sake of peace with our neighbors (at the family level and at the interstate level as well) sometimes we need to make great efforts. No wonder the first (and main!) principle in Islamic theology is ‘jihad’, which means ‘overcoming’ . Overcoming oneself in the name of victory is a 'great jihad', because to defeat a sin (including its manifestations, such as hostility to a neighbor) is a task more difficult than a victory over a thousand enemy soldiers. And in Islamic theology only after the ‘great jihad’ comes a narrower concept of ‘small jihad’, a ‘holy war’, which we are frightened with. Do not forget that the Koran considers such a war to be justified only in case of external attacks and threats to the physical survival of the defender. When Muslims declared jihad against the Soviet Union to Hitler during World War II, they were acting within the definition of 'small jihad'.
So, finding a sudden aggressive and hostile regime in brotherly Orthodox Ukraine, and then the almost total support for this regime by a supposedly "impartial" and no longer Christian West, the Russians were forced to look for new friends and still desperately cling to the old. And the Muslims of Eurasia (and not only of the Russian regions) are the oldest, most trusted friends. The current rapprochement between Russia and Azerbaijan, particularly evident during the recent European Games in Baku, is just a manifestation of this trend. Against the background of the scandalous absence of all 28 heads of state of the European Union at the opening ceremony of the Games, the presence of Putin and Turkish President Erdogan was particularly valuable.
But less politics, more about the culture and worldview. Politics is only their coarse-grained (and often ugly) reflection. I want to confess that we really knew little of our own Muslim friends. In some ways, this is understandable, when you live with others side by side for many years, you begin to perceive a good relationship as something self-evident. And sometimes less attention is paid to the inner world of a long-time acquaintance.
First time in Baku
In this respect, for me this year is special. I have visited Baku for the first time. And to my great happiness, at an important moment for the Azerbaijani capital – during the opening of the European Games. Impressions have intertwined to some Eastern-European Islamic kaleidoscope. Shirvanshakhs’ Fortress; modern hotels on the coast of the Caspian Sea, which are not inferior to the Turkish ones; and most important were the great "living pictures" of Nizami's poems at the opening ceremony. (Whoever has not seen it, I highly recommend to watch on Youtube, composed of costumed actors and sets of large medieval miniature paintings, which were sudden for the spectators at the Olympic Stadium in Baku during the opening ceremony of the Games.)
Back in Moscow, I opened once again Nizami, whom I used to read when I was a child, and it was as if I fell into the world of his poetry: it was beautiful with a Homeric beauty, passionate like Shakespeare, but it was Muslim – enough to read the numerous references to the words of the Prophet, to the will of Allah and the Muslims prescribed virtues. By its very existence this poetry denies the philistine ideas about Islam.
Well, what kind of "obscurantism" (anti-Islamic expression of contemporary French writer Michel Houellebecq) can speak against a poet, proclaiming in the midst of the Middle Ages:
Whoever is not in awe of beauty,
Is just empty ashes full of pity.
Who does not give a soul for it,
Let them perish from the dashing of adversity.
These words were put in the mouth of Nizami’s ‘eastern Romeo’, the lover Majnun of the poet from the poem "Layla and Majnun" – these words back in the twelfth century could hardly be voiced in semi-wild, sickly, ascetic Europe. But they were written in Ganja! And there, four hundred years before Shakespeare, the story of Romeo and Juliet had sounded, in fact eternal, known to the ancient Greeks with their Pyramus and Thisbe. For Nizami, Romeo is Majnun, falling in love with his classmate from the Arab rich Persian clan. Juliet is Leila, who answers to Majnun with her feelings, but is separated from him by the will of the proud father of the girl from Najd – the heart of the Arabian Desert.
The commander Nawfal helps Majnun, for Leila, like the Greeks for the sake of Helen, he unleashes a war with her Arab clan. Nawfal wins, but when his father refuses to give his daughter Leila at the behest of the winner, Nawfal says stunning words:
Old proverb right:
"Moldy bread, bitter halva -
The woman who forcibly,
By committing violence is introduced into the house."
Let me remind you: Leila and Majnun are learning in a mixed class for boys and girls, Nawfal refuses to impose marriage on a young girl – and all this is happening at a time when in Europe to think about such seditious things would have been impossible. Only monks studied in civilized England and France, women did not study at all, and the rejection of a marriage of convenience was unheard of even in the nineteenth century. So here is ‘intolerant’, here's ‘enslaving women’ medieval Islam ...
Ignorance of the twenty-first century
Alas, today's younger generation of journalists, and especially of the liberal publications, do not penetrate to such details. They seem to flaunt their ‘Eurocentrism’ (usually reducible to business English), aggressively demanding ‘compliance with European standards’, the notorious ‘normality’. As a rule, such aggressive demands are the most common ignorance. It is very easy to declare a savagery that does not understand.
I was ashamed of my colleague from ‘Kommersant’, Andrey Kolesnikov, when he rudely wrote in the pages of his publication that the opening ceremony of the European Games failed because ‘it was strange to see so many people in big white turbans and long colorful robes and hear Caucasian wedding music at the opening of the European Games at the stadium’.
Neither about mugham (declared, by the way, by UNESCO in 2008 to be a part of the cultural treasures of mankind), nor about the fate of the European medieval miniatures with people 'in white turbans and colorful robes', Kolesnikov, of course, had never heard about anything like that. He has no time for it, as he is occupied with ridiculing ‘Putin’s regime’.
Here you can recall a good Russian proverb: ‘Simplicity is worse than stealing.’ The most aggressive forces in the modern world are not Christianity and Islam, but are based on ignorant standardization, which simplifies everything, an attempt to bring all forms of life under a declared perfect external form. Today the Western standardization is determining everything: not only the number of 'stars' in a hotel or the right size of pickles in the EU, but also the rules of elections; the period when a politician is in power; the words that should be used in the newspapers ... Now, this force is going to determine the number and gender of parents in the family (not mom and dad, but the number 1 parent and parent number 2). Soon the same force will determine the gender of the unborn child, and then for the content of our brains.
Homer, not the European Union
The most correct feeling is the subconscious. I remember how, during the war in Chechnya, being in Grozny, I felt a constant subconscious feeling of danger – and this despite the selfless, truly Muslim hospitality of the Chechen capital. I remember the relief that permeated my whole being when I was on a plane to fly home from Nazran to Moscow. But now, coming to Chechnya, I did not feel fear – and that's precisely more than ratings and ‘colorful levels of terrorist threat.’
This year again, for the first time in my life, returning from the European Games to Moscow, I took part in the iftar (breaking the fast), to which I was kindly invited by cultural counselor of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Moscow, Mr. Reza Maleki. Along with a dozen other Russian journalists we were eating with Iranian diplomats in this Islamic cafe near the cathedral mosque, with waitresses dressed in strict Muslim clothing, opening only the face, without alcohol or non-halal products. At first the atmosphere seemed a little unusual. But then, it was impossible not to obey the order of the subconscious feelings with these people, not dangerous, you can talk frankly with them.
As a result, the meeting was cheerful and open. And the feast that came is quite in the spirit of Homer and Nizami: both of them had the most common food or embroidered clothes, jewelery or the most simple-minded steel weapons - all of a sudden getting an unearthly beauty. And the beauty is combined with benevolence, say, the Homeric Odyssey, once in a happy country of Scheria, not envying them or trying to change, and sincerely rejoicing in their happiness:
I will say that the great joy of our heart
Seeing as the whole country has fun; like everywhere
Sweet feast in homes, singer and listening; as guests
Next in rank are sitting at the table, richly covered
With bread and meat
Here is the real classic Europe, not a "crusade" in its beauty and self-sufficiency, not trying to convert anyone, or lead them to its "standard"! And how perfectly Nezami responds to this Europe through the millennium – a citizen of the Eurasian civilization, established on the territory of the Persian Empire in the days close to all the same Homer!
All the things Chin, Taif and Rum are proud of
The product, delight the mind,
Treasures, which have no price,
Are brought to Leila’s parents.
Let me explain: Chin here is China, Taif -is Arabic Hijaz and Rum is Greek Byzantium, the spiritual progenitor of the Russian Orthodox civilization. From these lines it is clear that Europe, which are missing our half-educated liberals, is not really an island, closed to other civilizations. It would not be Europe without the presence of the ancient Persian Empire (including the men in white turbans who impressed Kolesnikov), and the Rum Empire referred to by Nizami was an integral part of Europe. (This is actually the name, Rum, that Nizami gives Byzantium, it is a little distortion of the word Roma, Rome, or, more accurately, the insulting word Byzantium that the Germans invented in the nineteenth century; the people from medieval Constantinople called themselves Romans, the Romans, the residents of the Eastern Roman Empire). All these facts are known by the generation of educated people in Europe. Only the current EU officials do not know this and are trying to impose the ‘association’ with the EU on Azerbaijan along the model of Ukraine, and all this after the insulting EU boycott of the Games!
Coalition against stereotypes
We talked with our Iranian and Azerbaijani colleagues about being united against ignorance. That kind of ignorance that still looks at Islam through dark glasses and prejudices, which Iran’s spiritual leader Ali Khamenei accurately spoke about today, that the present ignorance is far more dangerous then medieval ignorance, because it has aircraft and missiles.
Finally. In the Middle Ages the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia were in the hands of the Muslim Arabs for a few centuries. When the Crusaders conquered them at the beginning of the second millennium, they expected to find on the site of the islands a spiritual and physical desert: the rumors about the intolerance of the Muslims towards other faiths were strong in Europe. What was the surprise of the Crusaders, when they found on these islands all the same local Christian population, very many, with lots of churches, all these years they were practicing their religion peacefully. It turned out the Muslims during all these years had not touched them, following the words of the Koran: "There is no compulsion in faith." Today, thinking people in Russia are going through a similar discovery.