Kazan Tatars protest against the state-imposed policies of Russification. Tatarstan, Russian Federation, circa 2013. (Image: social media)
Just as jadidist writers like Yosef Akchura played a key role in elaborating “the Tatar model” that became the basis for Turkey’s post-Ottoman transformation, “if a bourgeois revolution does begin in Russia, it will start with Tatarstan,” according to Kazan historian Rafael Mukhametdinov.
In thinking about the future, the long-time specialist of Turkic societies at the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences argues in a major article in Kazan’s Business-Gazeta, many are inclined to forget two things:
- Religion plays a continuing role in many societies even now and
- Revolutionary change typically starts from one point and spreads.
A major reason that the Arab world and Russia have not made the transition to modernity, however great their incomes from the sale of raw materials, is that they have not modernized religion and transformed it from a force ruling society into one that is something personal for each individual, the historian argues.
“In the Arab world,” for example, “an industrial society and a bourgeoisie as a class have still not been formed,” Mukhametdinov says. As a result, “if you discount the income from oil and gas, the GDP of Spain with its 35 million people is greater than the combined GDP of all Arab countries with a population of more than 200 million.”
The transition to modernity and the rise of the bourgeoisie spread from Holland to the rest of western Europe four and five centuries ago, and the same thing happened further east but still only in part. In a similar way, “the precursor of the transition to the bourgeois model of society and nationalism in Turkey … was the Tatar bourgeois model of development.”
This Tatar model, the historian says, was a new form of nationalism which combined via jadidism Islamic culture and a commitment to national development and was most importantly promoted by Yusuf Akchura who insisted that religion must shift from a societal regulator to an individual one for a modern industrial nation and economy to emerge.
In the decades preceding the 1917 revolution in Russia, Mukhametdinov points out, “Tatar society from the point of view of the development of bourgeois style of life and modernization was the leader of the Muslim world and its leading intellectuals – men like Musa Bigiyev, Zyya Kamali, Rizaetdin Fakhretdinov and Galimdzhan Barudi – set the pace for Turkey and for many in the Arab world.
Tragically, this rich intellectual tradition was interrupted by “the Bolshevik genocide against Muslims,” an action which has left many Muslims in Russia with the sense that the Islam they see around them began “from a blank slate.” But that is beginning to change as many Muslims in Russia recover the pre-1917 past.
A major contribution to this recovery, Mukhametdinov says, is the preparation, which is near completion, of a 12-volume set of the works of the jadidist thinkers of pre-1917 Tatarstan translated from the Arabic and Old Tatar and that will hopefully be translated into modern Tatar in the near future.
This publication and the growth of interest in the ideas of Akchura and the others will naturally play a major role in the future direction of thinking in Tatarstan, but these things will also have a significant impact on other countries like Russia and the Arab East which have not escape from the pre-modern status of religion and thus moved into modernity.
“If a bourgeois revolution is to begin in Russia, then it will start in Tatarstan, just as in Europe, a similar revolution began with little Holland,” Mukhametdinov argues. “We Tatars desperately need an influx of new intellectual forces in the sphere of Islam.” Rereading the classics will help; applying them will make all the difference.
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