Russian Empire forms model for Islamic education

Russian Empire forms model for Islamic education

Vestnik Kavkaza together with Vesti FM is implementing the 'National Question’ project, trying to understand how different countries, different nations and different governments have solved problems at different times among different nationalities. Today presenters Vladimir Averin and Gia Saralidze receive historian Marat Safarov. They are to speak about Muslim spiritual education, its history, as well as the reason why Russian Muslims study in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Middle East and Turkey.

Safarov: There were Muslim religious institutions during the period of the highest might of the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Some of them became authoritative centers for the Muslim world. Russia has formed a model of Muslim education. They were born in Russia and developed within the Russian Empire. So they have a basis: both tradition, and support. Jadid renovationist religious schools appeared in various regions of the Russian Empire at the end of the 19th – early 20th centuries. Jadidism is a significant reformist tendency. It is not allowed to say 'Muslim Reformation' in relation to Islam, as these terms of the New European time don’t correspond to Islam, but some definite parallels can be drawn. We started with things associated solely with didactics, i.e. pedagogical things, aspects related to the formation of the class-lesson system with exams and marks that began to be used with the study of the native language and secular lessons. Then the entire reformist ideology was formed on this basis.

It turned out that the bourgeois world is complex. It is impossible to have a medieval approach, scholastic approaches. As the national intelligentsia began to create great Jadid madrassas with the support of the merchants. There is a preserved architectural complex and madrasas of the same name of Muhammad in Kazan. The same madrassas were built in Orenburg – Hussaini, and Troitsk, the current Chelyabinsk region, in Ufa and so on. It was not typical for the Tatars, but it was typical for many peoples of Russia, in particular for the Crimean Tatars. After all, such schools existed in Bakhchisarai. It was popular within Russia.

Many documents and photos, telling us about the stage of spiritual education, were preserved. People who completed courses at the Sorbonne, as well as teachers who were familiar with the Eastern traditions of religions and at the same time with all the achievements of philosophy and humanities taught in madrassas.

Saralidze: Were national specifics taken into account when these religious educational centers were created?

Safarov: They were. Their native language was began to be taught. The native language was not taught in religious schools. It was considered inappropriate to teach the language of the streets and use the language of everyday speech in the institution. There were dogmatic languages: the beautiful Arabic language, the poetic Persian language. It enriches all religious figures.

Therefore, religious educational institutions had a specific purpose. It was training of religious personnel. But sometimes they trained new poets (Musa Jalil from the Orenburg Husain) and artists (Baki Urmanche from Muhammad). But the main goal was the training of imams.

Averin: Could a person become an imam without this education?

Safarov: Yes he could, because there is no such concept of the clergy in Islam. An imam a forthcoming prayer. But in practice a usual person could not become a teacher among other parishioners immediately in the large cities and centers, such as Kazan, Astrakhan, Ufa, and so on. In practice, they were educated people.

The Jadid system provided the impetus for development. Jadidism fought against kadimism. Kadimism was for traditionalism, conservatism. A fear that the winds of change could assimilate Muslims and this would lead to the destruction of religious communities and ethnicities, because religious and ethnic Muslims have always been identical.

But the truth appears in the fight between the two tendencies. It gave birth to polemical literature. Kadimism also had its kadimism schools, old method schools.

Saralidze: Did the central government interfere with it somehow?

Safarov: The Russian Empire regulated the life of spiritual institutions. They were created by the imperial power itself, including Ufa, Crimea (Bakhchisarai). We can assume that the Ufa Spiritual Institute was created at the time of Yekaterina’s reign. It is no coincidence the Tatars call her, according to Tatar tradition, "grandmother the Queen’’. They have such a positive attitude towards her. The Golden Age during the reign of Yekaterina was not only for the nobility, but also for Muslims.

Kadimists relied on the old scholastic tradition. The Muslim peoples of Russia used svetozarny Bukhara, which was one of the centers of the Muslim world at certain times, but it was found in a crisis in modern times.

Kadimists and the old Bukhara scholastic system were closely interrelated. This is a fairly prolonged form of training, similar to some conversations of a teacher with his followers. There were no essential educational literature and documents that confirmed training. Literature existed, but it was adapted to the studied literature. These were religious books. By the early 20th century, it bulged at the seams. Jadida began to create national social movements, which turned into parties and published newspapers. At the end of the 19th century the Crimean Tatar leader Ismail Gasprinskii published the major newspaper in Crimea, which became nationwide. Spiritual leaders become national leaders.

But the central power financed neither the old, nor the new methods. Financing was directed to communities’ needs. Old method academics constantly appealed to the authorities. Especially in 1905-1907 with the beginning of World War I. During the Stolypin era the kadimists actively gave signals that the reformers were undermining the foundations of the monarchy. Spiritual institutions tried to remain above the skirmish. But it was obvious that the kadimists remained in the last century. They tried to show their loyalty, but it was obvious that they wouldn’t form anything interesting.

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