Islam in the Soviet Union

Islam in the Soviet Union

Muslims lived in Siberia and other regions.

The Bolsheviks wanted to include as much as possible of the former Russian Empire within the Soviet Union. This meant they were faced with a number of contradictions as they set out to establish the Soviet Union in regions with strong Islamic influences. On the one hand there were strong Great Russian Chauvinist attitudes amongst some Bolsheviks. On the other hand, groups like the Muslim Socialist Committee of Kazan, with whom the Bolshevik leadership (particularly Lenin and Stalin) quickly allied, wished to return to native Muslims land taken by Russians over the previous two hundred years.

Since the early 1920s, the Soviet regime, fearful of a pan-Islamic movement, sought to divide Soviet Muslims into smaller, separate entities. This separation was accomplished by creating six separate Muslim republics and by fostering the development of a separate culture and language in each of them. Although actively encouraging atheism, Soviet authorities permitted limited religious activity in all the Muslim republics.

Mosques functioned in most large cities of the Central Asian republics and the Azerbaijan Republic; however, their number decreased from 25,000 in 1917 to 500 in the 1970s. In 1989, as part of the general relaxation of restrictions on religions, some additional Muslim religious associations were registered, and some of the mosques that had been closed by the government were returned to Muslim communities. The government also announced plans to permit training of limited numbers of Muslim religious leaders in courses of two- and five-year duration in Ufa and Baku, respectively.


Unlike the Russian Orthodox Christian church, the Muslims of the Soviet Union originally encountered a larger degree of religious freedom under the new Bolshevik rule. Vladimir Lenin oversaw the return of religious artifacts, such as the Uthman Quran,Crouch, Dave. "The Bolsheviks and Islam." "International Socialism: A quarterly journal of socialist theory". 110. 14 Feb 2007. [] ] the foundations of court systems using principles of Islamic law which ran alongside the Communist legal system, Jadids and other "Islamic socialists" were given positions of power, an affirmative action system called "korenizatsiya" ("nativisation") was implemented which helped the local Muslim populace, while Friday, the day of Muslim religious celebration, was declared the legal day of rest throughout Central Asia.Under the Tsars, Muslims were brutally repressed and the Eastern Orthodox Church was the official religion. On 24 November, 1917 Lenin declared;

Muslims of Russia…all you whose mosques and prayer houses have been destroyed, whose beliefs and customs have been trampled upon by the tsars and oppressors of Russia: your beliefs and practices, your national and cultural institutions are forever free and inviolate. Know that your rights, like those of all the peoples of Russia, are under the mighty protection of the revolution.
However, when Joseph Stalin consolidated power in the second half of 1920s, his religion policy changed. Mosques were closed or turned into warehouses throughout Central Asia. Religious leaders were persecuted, religious schools were closed down and Waqf's were outlawed. [Helene Carrere d’Encausse, The National Republics Lose Their Independence, in Edward A. Allworth, (edit), Central Asia: One Hundred Thirty Years of Russian Dominance, A Historical Overview, Duke University Press, 1994.] The Soviet government took the Paranji veil that the women wore (as part of the Islamic "Hijab" interpretation of Modesty) as evidence that the Muslim women were oppressed, and began the Hujum to try and forcefully remove it. Kowalsky, Sharon A. [ Book Review: Veiled Empire: Gender and Power in Stalinist Central Asia. by Douglas Northrop] Journal of World History: Vol. 26, No. 2, June 2005.] This backfired, and the veil became more popular than ever among the workers, whereas prior to this was mostly used by the middle, wealthier classes. [ Douglas Northrop, Veiled Empire: Gender and Power in Stalinist Central Asia, Cornell University Press, 2004.] Stalin's Cult of personality, left virtually no place for any religious sentiment.

Stalin also forcibly moved Chechens and several other small nationalities residing primarily in southwestern Russia (Crimean Tatars, Balkars, Karachais, Meshketian Turks, and others), who happen to be Muslim, from their homelands during World War II, lest they rise up against him in favour of Nazi Germany. [Robert Conquest, "The Nation Killers: The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities" (London: Macmillan, 1970); S. Enders Wimbush and Ronald Wixman. 1975. "The Meskhetian Turks: A New Voice in Central Asia." "Canadian Slavonic Papers" 17 (Summer and Fall): 320-340; and Omer Bin Abdullah. [ Muslims of Chechnya continue their lonesome struggle for freedom, keeping Russian might in a bear trap.] Islam Online. 03/02/2001 ]

During the Second World War, Stalin partially backed away from his open hostility against religion and established four Muftiates to garner support from Muslims of the Soviet Union: The Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Central Asia and Kazakhstan (in Tashkent), the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of the European Soviet Union and Siberia (in Orenburg), the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of the Northern Caucasus and Dagestan (in Ufa) and the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Transcaucasia (in Baku).


ee also

* Society of the Godless

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