Address delivered by His Excellency Mintimer Shaimiev, President of the Republic Tatarstan, at the opening session of the international symposium on "Islamic Civilisation in Volga-Ural Region", 8 June 2001

INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON ISLAMIC CIVILISATION IN VOLGA-URAL REGION, 2001

Dear participants, dear guests,
Today the scientists, diplomats, politicians from Russia and other countries have gathered to discuss the problems facing Islamic Culture of the Volga-Ural region, to exchange opinions on the role of Islam in the past and the present. In opening this conference, let me wish all of you success in the noble task of studying the bright pages of the history of Islam in Tatarstan and Russia. As known, the Prophet (PBUH) has said once: "If someone follows the path of a science, God will open for him a road to paradise". Let our scholarly conference become one more step towards peace and mutual understanding between different peoples, cultures and religions.

Russia is a multinational country where Muslims number more than 20 million persons. Islam appeared in the territory of Russia about 1400 years ago. On the bank of Volga River, it appeared at the beginning of the 10th century. Therefore, it can be said confidently that Russia was formed not only as an Orthodox, but also as a Muslim country; it is a state having strong traditions related to the joint residence of two great faiths.
The ancestors of Tatars, the Bulgars, adopted Islam as official religion in 922 year when the Embassy of the Baghdad Caliph arrived to capital of the State of Bulgar. Simultaneously this event became the act of the international recognition of Volga Bulgaria as an independent state. In a such way, the ancestors of Tatars joined the most advanced civilisation of that time. Acceptance of Islam gave a push to rapid development of education, culture, science and society as a whole. Growth of cities began on the Kama and the Volga. The Bulgar State became one of the most influential in Eastern Europe.

The formation of the Mongolian Empire, and then the Golden Horde, did not change the position of Islam in the Volga Region. According to the 'Yassa' (code of laws) of chengis khan, all religions were admitted as equal, exempted from taxes, and oppression of any existing church and the clergy was considered as a crime subject to punishment. Therefore both Islam and Christianity developed freely in the Golden Horde era. Even when, in the year 1312, Uzbek Khan has declared Islam as the state religion, it did not touch the Russian Princedoms that remained Orthodox. As we see, already in the Middle Ages, tolerance was implanted in the culture of the Tatars and it found continuity in the next centuries.

The epoch of Baptising Kazan Territory in the 16th-17th centuries was the most difficult period in the history of Tatars. It was accompanied by continuous revolts of the Muslim population until Katherine II issued in 1773 the "decree on tolerance of all confessions"... The rights of Muslims were recognised officially and since that moment the revival of Islam and all Tatar culture began.

The development of Islam in the Volga-Ural region has reached a bloom in the 19th and the beginning of 20th centuries. Mosques were constructed, and religious and secular literature were issued in huge quantities, education became practically full, vigorous activity of the Tatar businessmen made it possible to sponsor many public structures. Due to the development of a network of medreses, there appeared a number of advanced centres of Islamic learning in Kazan, Ufa, Orenburg, and other cities of Russia which offered reformatory ideas. Kursavi, Shigabeddin Mardjani, Ismail Gasprinsky, Galimzhan Barudi, Riza Fahretdin, Musa Bigiev and others have designated a new current in Islamic theology and a system of education which named Djadidism. We shall, today and tomorrow, hear many reports on the features of development of Islam in the Volga-Ural region, but I would like to pay attention to one important period. With a recognition of the outstanding theologians and taking into consideration the passage of centuries, Djadidism searched for answers to the questions put by time. Prophet Muhammad said: "Truly, Allah in the beginning of each century will send the umma a man to update the religion". Such people, really, have appeared. At the centre of their activity they drew attention to the questions of education and enlightenment of peoples, openly proclaiming the necessity of studying not only the east, but also the western culture.

Today at the beginning of 21st century, destiny calls us to undertake the similar task of searching answers to complex problems of the epoch of democracy and the market, informational, technical and technological revolutions. Globalisation, openness of borders, modern means of communications make the world closer and at the same time more vulnerable. Due to mass media, any idea becomes today more accessible and effective. This is the good, but it demands increased responsibility. Presently, it is extremely important to have traditions that might resist destabilisations of a society but at the same time would give answers to burning problems. Islam is dynamical, it is deep in content and flexible enough to take into account the changes taking place in the world.

The task of the Tatarstan society, in my opinion is to preserve and continue those traditions which had already developed in the Republic and in Russia. Presently, the establishment of the Russian Islamic University can be considered as an important step in the direction of the ideas which were formulated by Djadidism.

2001 is a significant year that it was declared by the United Nations organisation the year of ınternational dialogue between civilisations. We for our part, may and should make a worthy contribution to this truly noble task.

Kazan, whose thousandth-year anniversary will be commemorated in 2005, is located at a common point of civilisations -Islamic and Christian. In the Kazan Kremlin, alongside with the restoration of the Blagoveshchensky Cathedral, there goes on the restoration of Kul Sharif Mosque, thus creating in the Kremlin an original symbol of mutual respect and peaceful co-existence of two religions on the land of Tatarstan.

Islam in essence is a peaceful, tolerant religion. In the Koran it is said that not only those who believed in Islam, but also those who follow Judaism and Christianity, those who believe in Lord, in the doomsday, and make the good, the generous award, Allah waits for him. It is difficult to pick up more convincing words for the proof of tolerance of Islam to other religions.

Today in the world, there developed a negative image of Islam. To some extent it was provoked by extreme political organisations cloaked under a name of Islam but actually discrediting it. And not the least, the spread of such an image is promoted also by some political circles fearing the influence of Islam. I see our task in telling people the truth on the essence of Islam, in forming a new image of Islam as a religion of peace, a modern, tolerant one capable to react positively to the calls of time. I am convinced that our conference will manage to make a feasible contribution to this noble task. I wish all of you success.