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Ernst Kudusov

VAKHABIZM IN CRIMEA

(The Problem from the point of view of historian, geographer, and politician)

     It’s a common knowledge that the formation of Crimean Tatar nation was historically linked with the introduction of Islam in Crimea. Crimean Tatars - the indigenous people of Crimea inhabited Crimea since the 15th century they lived in numerous separate feudal settlements. Their religious belonging also varied greatly. In other words, several religions co-existed peacefully on quite small territory. It was the result of complex historic formation of the indigenous population of Crimea. Starting back from the ancient times when Crimea was first under Byzantium authority, then Rome, then again under Christian Byzantium and Jew’s Khazaria, the Christians of all kinds (Orthodox, Iconoclasts, Nestorians, Catholics, etc.), Jews, Karaites, and Pagans could found their asylum here. As far as Islam concerns, it came to Crimea comparably late when Crimea came under the authority of Golden Horde. However, even then its impact and expansion in Crimea was very small even after the Golden Horde Khan Uzbek (1312 – 1341) introduced Islam as the state religion of the empire.
     The attitude of the population to Islam started changing only after foundation of the separatist state of Chingizid – Khadzhy-Devlet-Girey in Crimea. All his life he waged successful liberation wars against the metropolis. You see, Khadzhy-Girey was Muslim and made a lot of good for the prosperity of the Crimean Khanate. However, the process of Islamization of Crimean population increased significantly already in the times of the descendants of the founder of the Khanate when Crimea waged never-ending wars against Orthodox Moscow that revived the Golden Horde Empire, but this time with another state religion. Moscow, starting from the times of Ivan the Terrible set its aim to restore the boundaries of the former powerful empire, but Crimea always opposed it. As time went by the territorial and political confrontation gradually developed into religious one, because Moscow expanding its boundaries made every effort to Christianize the population of the concurred territories. It became the state policy. However, Crimean population opposed the territorial expansion of Russia and at the same time started inspiring with anti-orthodox moods consolidating around the Khan’s court. This all resulted in re-orientation of Crimea from Christian – multy-religious into mainly Muslim state. This process of Islamization of Crimea went on at the same time with the process of formation of the new nation. The nation started consolidating around Khan who proudly called himself Tatar. Thus, every person who adopted the religion of the Khan automatically started referring to as Tatar as well. In other words it was the religion that gave the right to call oneself Tatar, not the speaking language because back from the 6th century Turk language became the language of inter-ethnic communication in Crimea. Even divine service in Christian churches was held in Turk language. People who spoke the same language in multy-religious Crimea were distinguished exclusively by their belonging to this or that religion. All Christians were referred to as Urums, Jews - Krymchaks, Karaites – Karaims and Muslims were called Tatars. Year after year generation after generation the number of Tatars increased. In 1783 by the time of Russian annexation of Crimea Tatars represented 98% of Crimean population.
     So the Crimean Tatar nation was formed. Historically the Crimean population practiced Sunnite school of Khanifit persuasion of Islam, because starting from 1475 the Crimean Khanate came under the protectorate of Turkish Empire and the Islamic Great Porte started regulating the religious life of the vassal territory appointing the Crimean muftis from Istanbul.
     After Russian Empire conquered Crimea it started the genocide of Crimean population that lead to mass flee of Crimean Tatars from Crimea. By the beginning of the 20th century only a little more than one hundred thousand of two millions people left in Crimea. It represented about 20% of its population. The number of acting Mosques reduced respectively.
     However, the most terrible catastrophe Tatars suffered in 1944 when all Crimean Tatars were deported from Crimea in inhuman conditions. As we can see, the empires changed one another, but their policy towards unsubdued people that did not wish changing their religion and become Russians never changed.
     However, the goal set by the communist empire – to wipe the Crimean Tatar nation off the face of the earth was never completely achieved. The people survived. And not only survived, but even returned to their native land.
     The return of the people was unforeseen. The new authorities of Crimea destroyed all traces of the former existence of Muslim nation. No single acting mosque of few thousand of Crimean mosques was preserved. Moreover, the economic crisis of the 90th , when the return of deported people began, left no hopes for the soon revival of religious life of the disgraced indigenous population. Crimean Tatars applied for help to their traditional suzerain – Turkey. It helped, but it was not enough. Rich Arab countries making use of the favorable situation started filling up quickly the vacuum of the demand for religion. Saudi Arabia was especially active. It sponsored around 400 visits of Crimean Tatars to Mecca. At the same time its missioners rushed to Crimea with big money and with the intention to built Mosques where the leading positions would be taken by the Vakhabists from Arabia.
     These Arab expansions welcomed first by Crimean Tatars however since middle 90th evoke opposition on the part of the population practicing the traditional religion. And this opposition of Vakhabizm increases year after year. However, the roots taken in the beginning of the 90th are impossible to destroy. In accordance with the unofficial calculations of Mejlis, that tries to counteract the Arab expansion, today there are about 1000 progenies of Muhammed ibn Abd al-Vakhabba in Crimea. Today there is even a leader among them who called himself Khan Temir. He gathered around him the most fanatic group of his supporters who stand out for their radicalism and intolerance towards any departure from the dogma of Arab existence.
     What is the essence of the contradictions that evoke confrontation between the traditional Crimean Tatar Muslims and so called Vakhabists? Let’s try to examine them briefly.
     Vakhabizm is the anti-reform in Islam. It returns all Muslims of the world to the cradle of the religion that appeared in the 7th century A.D. For its more than thousand year existence it had many changes in the process of gradual seize of a strong hold on the minds of mankind. These changes were imposed by the adaptation to certain local conditions. These conditions were other ethnic cultures that adopted Islam. Turk culture particularly differed from Arabic one. It’s natural that Arabic culture as it was older and more settled could not take in some innovations that came with new religion. Some postulates were adapted to old traditions without changing the essence of the dogma. However, the modern Vakhabizm opposes severely these very ethnic – cultural elements.
     Vakhabizm appeared in Saudi Arabia as a protest against Turkish expansion (that at that time already founded Istanbul Caliphate subjecting the most part of the Islamic world, that stopped its existence only in 1924) in the period of reduction of Osman Empire’s power (in the 18th century). At that very time the contradictions and discrepancy between Arab and Turkish Islam (if one could name so these two trends in Sunnite school of Islam) were strained. Anyhow, at the beginning of the 19th century the most part of Arabia united under the flag of Vakhabizm and founded the state of Saudits that existed about one hundred years. The present Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 and it was the result of the long-term wars. However, today it’s the rich state that in its richness surpassing significantly the modern Turkey. And it loses no opportunity to gain revenge of Turks for the dominance in Muslim world.
     This opposition sometimes goes beyond the limits of mutual tolerance when one or another could start the open confrontation in the heat of theological disputes. For example, Vakhabists of the 20th century, who are aware of their dominance in the modern Muslim world, demand the acceptance of their anti-Semitisms that was formed and strained in the Middle East recently by the whole Muslim population of the planet and particularly Turk one.
     The Muslims of Crimea had no anti-Semitism in their history that could be proved by the many-century peaceful co-existence of Krymchaks and Crimean Tatars having the common culture. However, recently anti-Semitism is drummed into young Crimean Vakhabists’ heads. Thought, before Vakhabists came to Crimea (in 1996) the Crimean Muslims (Tatars) never regarded the Crimean Jews (Krymchaks) as their enemies. No Crimean could take such things into his/one’s head.
     One could give a lot of examples of inconsistency between Turk and Arab-African mentality, but in order to save our time let’s take just one of them.
     From the ancient times woman played the high and honorable role in the family. However, Arabs reduce woman’s role to the level of the birth giving creature that has almost no human rights. Their women have no right to participate in any public affairs most likely in order not to stimulate the hypertrophied African sexuality of Arab men. Well, if you are an animal and can’t control your own instincts at the sight of any woman, what have the women got to do with it? What is the need to humiliate her human dignity and discriminate her? In this respect Turks are traditionally more calm and reserved. That is why they don’t understand the excessive antagonism in this issue. Turks quite often pray in the mosques together with their women (like Christians), without hiding them over partitions far from lust man’s eyes. So, all these limitations are of pure Afro-Arabic descent. That is why the Turk-Muslims of Crimea allow women participating in the funeral ceremonies and other ceremonies what is unbearable by Vakhabists who drive their women out of these ritual ceremonies like leprous.
     In short, Vakhabists of Crimea in their blind and fanatic desire to follow the letter of prescription are ready to take this beautiful religion to absurd. Indeed, if Islam claims to world’s domination it shouldn’t insist on petty dogmas born in the conditions of Afro-Arabic environment. In other case it discredits itself.
     In witness of the aforesaid one could give one more very indicative example where the Vakhabists’ dogmatism prejudices the Islam religion. For example, it is a common fact that one day could last for months in summer beyond the polar circle (depending on the remoteness from the polar) as well as the night in winter. Consequently, if the Muslims of the trans-polar region would follow the traditional lunar calendar according to the Vakhabists’ prescriptions they would all die (because they will not stand up many months of starvation) during one polar day in sacred month of Ramadan. However, in winter they won’t have opportunity to keep the sacred fast.
     Thus, Vakhabists’ fanaticism that demands thoughtless observance of the laws adopted for the narrow geographic and ethnic-cultural Afro-Asian conditions would only discredit Islam.
     “Nothing too much” – used to say the ancient thinkers. Vakhabists violated this wisdom and go beyond the edge of allowed in their desire “to be more sacred than Pope”. Islam would dominate in the world only at condition of consent with the other world cultures a lot of which formed long before the appearance of Islam.
     In conclusion let me put some thoughts/ideas of purely political problem of Vakhabizm in Crimea.
     Following from the postulate that everything is perceived in comparison I’d like to draw a parallel between Vakhabizm in Russia and Ukraine. In Russia, for example there is the dual attitude to Vakhabizm: some blame it, others welcome it. It’s likely that some people think that the same picture should be in Ukraine. However, this is not true. Even in the contrary: those who blame Vakhabizm in Russia do not notice it in Ukraine at all. The reason is:
     The state regime of Russia is empire. Though, after the revolution of 1991 Russia was proclaimed the republic, however, now with the new President there is the fast restoration of “Great Empire” (one wants to exclaim “Of Millennial Reich”). The Empire couldn’t stand the manifestations of separatism and any hints to the autonomy. That is why, when the Restorer of the Empire recommenced Chechen war in order to suppress the very dream about the independence Vakhabists seized the favorable political situation first joining then leading the national-liberation movement. Thus they became the progressive men. No undermine. Nevertheless, the human rights defenders are on their side. The sympathies of the true lovers as well. On the whole the camouflage came in handy.
     However, in Ukraine the situation is different. Here only the communists think about the restoration of the empire and Russians dreaming about incorporation of Ukraine to Russian Empire. However, Crimean Tatars who welcome the status of democratic state and do not press for separation from Ukraine (unlike Armenians of Karabachos, Abkhazians of Georgia, Russians of Pridnestrov’e) trying to support the independence of Ukrainian state from Russia. That is why Vakhabists of Ukraine can’t wear the dresses of the fighters for the political rights. On the contrary in Crimea like it or not they play the reactionary role causing discord into the monolith of Crimean Tatar national movement that pressing for elimination of any manifestations of the repressive acts of the former Soviet Union. For Ukrainian authorities these demands of the repressed people are just one more headache of course. However, only the communist dare openly oppose the Crimean Tatar’s demands. And it’s natural, taking into consideration the role they played in the deportation of Crimean Tatars. Although, Crimean Vakhabists with their myopic/short-sighted or rather apolitical statements in the defense of some far-fetched faithfulness of Muslims, in fact play in the hands of Security Service of Ukraine who work according to the principle “Divide and rule”. It’s a real present for secret services quite unexpectedly fallen from the sky. After all, these services do their best to divide the monolith of Crimean Tatar solidarity. So many plots were weaved in order to cause a quarrel between Crimean Tatars. And here Crimean Tatars themselves caused dissension to their former solid ranks. Though, I suspect that this green way for the Arab emissaries was industriously opened by these very secret services. There’s no doubt that somebody obtained the general’s epaulets for such a good idea of provoking the most ignorant part of people to religious conflict. Here I caught one very clear political line of the Crimean Vakhabists that could be told almost word for word: nationality is nothing for the Muslim, the main thing is religion. That is why the culture is just part of religion. Indeed! Like the real communists. The words could be changed, but the rest is the same. Denying the ethnic history and culture and treating all alike – we already experienced this in the period of communists’ governance. Now the new extremists are ready to come to take their place. They also deny both the national peculiarities of people and its many centuries culture. I think that these zealous Arab Pan-Islamists pursue particularly selfish political ends trying to cut the ground from the Pan-Turkists. However, denying the Turk element the Arab missioners are not going to reject everything Arab in Islam.
     Personally for me the appearance of Vakhabizm in Crimea destructed the illusion about the Crimean Tatars nation whose peculiarity was the thoughtful and wise attitude to life that had nothing in common with such occurrences of life as religious fanaticism that usually inhered to ignorant and undeveloped people. Crimean Tatars never possessed such qualities. However, it seems like the deportation to Central Asia left its traces. They brought from there together with logman and samsa also the thoughtless fanaticism.
     In the present situation our people couldn’t afford such luxury as splitting up ones forces for solving the problems imported from far Africa and Asia. These problems are nothing in comparison with those ones that were not solved yet after the return to the native land. The religious disputes are admissible only in situation when everything is good and calm. Indeed, for Saudi Arabians they are quite admissible. However, we live in other world and participation in the religious disputed that arose somewhere in the faraway world means striving for our dissociation and as a result weakness after which undoubtedly there will be the complete defeat from the enemy that only dream of the opportunity to get rid of us. Is this what we need now? I think we don’t need it. Well, what is the conclusion? I will tell my opinion. The Vakhabists of Crimea either have to leave Crimea and join their Arabian associates, or stop their teaching of so called true way of life (that in Turkish world is taken far from ambiguously) and stop irritating people with nobody needed morality teaching.
     All abovementioned is equally concerned not only Vakhabists, but their so called theological (and political) branch Khizbut-Tahrir.
     We – Crimean Tatars have the rich experience of religious history and quite well educated in order to understand for themselves the Holy Scripture without any help of primitive Arab prompters. We learned long ago understanding Islam not dogmatically, but with creativity. We recommend the other followers of Islam to follow our example.

     2003


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