The Fifth International Congress on “Islamic Civilisation in the Volga-Ural Region” Kazan, Tatarstan, 9-11 June 2012

The Fifth  International Congress on “Islamic Civilisation in the Volga-Ural Region” Kazan, Tatarstan,  9-11 June 2012

The Center of Islamic Studies and Sh. Marjani Institute of History of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences and the Russian Islamic University (Kazan) cooperated with IRCICA in organizing the fifth congress on "Islamic Civilization in Volga-Ural Region". The congress took place under the patronage of President of Tatarstan H.E. Rustam Minnikhanov, in Kazan, capital of Tatarstan Republic (Russian Federation). It represented the academic side of a series of events commemorating the 1123rd anniversary of the official adoption of Islam by Volga Bolgaria. The anniversary was celebrated on 10 June 2012, on the eve of the congress, at Ancient Bolgar, with the opening of the newly restored White Mosque Complex and performance of the traditional festival Izge Bolgar Zhyeny.

The congress was opened on 11 June with the welcoming address of the President of the Russian Islamic University Prof. Rafiq Mukhametshin. Then the audience heard the addresses of: the President of Tatarstan Academy of Sciences Prof. Dr. Akhmed M. Mazgarov, IRCICA Director General Dr. Halit Eren, the member of the Governmental Council of Tatarstan Republic Mr. Razil Valeev, and the Director of the History Institute of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences Prof. Rafael Khakimov. The address of Prof. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, Secretary General of OIC, was read to the audience by Dr. Halit Eren.

The audience was briefed by Dr. Halit Eren on the varied activities that have been carried out by IRCICA jointly with the Republics of the Russian Federation for many years, particularly with those in Volga-Ural region. The first two congresses in this series were held in Kazan, in 2001 and 2005, both under the patronage of State advisor and former President H.E. Mintimer Shaimiev. The third one took place in 2008 in Ufa, Bashkortostan under the patronage of former President of Bashkortostan H.E. Murtaza Rakhimov. As to the fourth congress, it was also held in Ufa, under the patronage of H.E. President Rustem Zakievitch Khamitov, in October 2010.

This fifth congress marked an advanced stage in studies on the myriad aspects of the civilization, the heritage and the present development of Islamic culture in Volga-Ural region. This stage has been reached through constant development of the proceedings jointly by IRCICA and the partner academic institutions in the host countries with the contributions of the participating institutions, scholars and researchers in these congresses throughout the 2000s. IRCICA's cooperation with countries of the region gave many other outcomes outside of these congresses' context as well. Dr. Eren outlined in this regard the following activities: the Kazan Mushaf, the earliest printed copy of the Holy Quran (1803), was reprinted by IRCICA in 2005 on the occasion of the millennium of Kazan city; the comprehensive book titled Tatar History and Civilisation (2010), the first reference on this subject to be published in English, resulted from the joint work of Tatar scholars and IRCICA, and another book on the history of the region, on Bashkir History and Civilisation, is under preparation jointly with Bashkir academic circles; a conference was organized at IRCICA, Istanbul jointly by the Ministry of Culture of Tatarstan in November 2011 to commemorate the illustrious Tatar scholar and poet Abdullah Tukay on the 125th anniversary of his birth. Dr. Eren also referred to high-level working visits between the Government of Tatarstan and IRCICA and the various projects undertaken in cooperation with Tatar universities have marked this cooperation. A Cultural Cooperation Agreement was signed between the Ministry of Culture of Tatarstan and IRCICA in 2007.

Thirty-eight scholars and researchers from the following countries participated in the congress: Bashkortostan, India, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Russian Federation, Tatarstan, Turkey and the USA. Papers were presented on a wide range of specialized subjects under the general themes of regional cultural relations and inter-cultural exchanges, religious schools and studies, Sufism, reform and renewal, language and literature, architecture, arts, press and publications, travels.

Dr. Ayna Askeroğlu (IRCICA), coordinator of the congress from IRCICA, observes that as is generally the case in all congresses dealing with Tatar history and Islamic culture, one of the important topics of this congress was related to the discourse referring to the Jadidist (reformist) and Qadimist (conservative) movements that marked the end of 19th and early 20th century. During the discussions on the subject, Prof. Rafael Khakimov pointed out that the historical archives of Tatarstan hold a large number of documents on the subject yet untouched. Some participating scholars questioned the pertinence of the discourse itself on the grounds that dividing the pre-1917 Tatar intellectuals into two distinct groups does not represent an objective approach. There were in-depth and fruitful discussions on other themes as well including the history and the importance of the Orenburg Muslim Spiritual Assembly (an official religious administration of Imperial Russia established in 1788), Muslim intellectual thought, the influence of Islamic thought and education on Tatar culture, relations between Tatars and other Muslim nations, relations between the Ottoman Empire and the Golden Horde, among many others. One of the points that drew attention was Prof. Nesimi Yazıcı's (Ankara University, Faculty of Theology) observing that Bolgar State was the first Turkish state to adopt Islam as its official religion.

The proceedings of the congress will be published by IRCICA, as were those of the earlier congresses.

The 1123rd anniversary of official adoption of Islam by Volga Bulgars was celebrated with the international Festival "Izge Bolgar Zhyeny". The event was organized with the contributions of the Tatarstan Ministry of Culture, Religious Board of Muslims of Russia, Tatar Muslims Religious Organization, Tatar Fund for the Protection of Tatarstan Culture and Historical Heritage and other institutions. The ceremony was opened in the presence of the President of Tatarstan H.E. Rustam Minnikhanov; former President of Tatarstan and Advisor to the Presidency H.E. Mr. Mintimer Shaimiev; Prime Minister H.E. Mr. Ildar Khalikov; OIC Secretary General H.E. Prof. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu; Grand Mufti of Russia Sheikh Ravil Gaynutdinov; the Chairman of the Central Religious Board of Muslims of Russia Sheikh Talgat Tadzutdin; the Head of Religious Affairs of Turkey Prof. Dr. Mehmet Görmez; the Chairman of the Caucasian Muslims Office (Azerbaijan) Sheikh Allahşükür Paşazade; the Grand Mufti of Kazakhstan Sheikh Absattar Derbisali, the Director General of IRCICA Dr. Halit Eren, and Turkey's Consul General in Kazan Mr. Ahmet Akıntı.

President Minnikhanov, in his opening address stressed that the conservation of Islamic heritage on ancient Bolgar lands and the reopening of the White Mosque and its complex are significant events with regard to Islam in Tatarstan also indicating the importance given by Tatars to their historical and cultural heritage. Then, OIC Secretary General Prof. İhsanoğlu greeted the audience on behalf of the 57-member OIC. He underlined that the conservation of ancient Bolgar heritage and opening of the White Mosque Complex highlight the multi-faith coexistence that has been a proud feature of Tatar history and culture. In his address, Mr. Shaimiev, Former President of Tatarstan and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Tatar Fund for the Protection of Tatarstan Culture and Historical Heritage said that this was an important moment in the history of Islam and the history of Volga-Ural region, and that they were "not reading about this event in Tatar people's history in any book, but actually living it". He noted that uslims from Tatarstan, Russia and aborad had extended support for the revival of Bolgar. Mr. Shaimiev pointed out that the White Mosque Complex will not only be used for prayers but training programs can be organized in its medersa. Sheikh Tadzutdin, the Chairman of the Central Religious Board of Muslims of Russia and Prof. Görmez, Head of Religious Affairs of Turkey also gave addresses.

Letters of gratitude were presented by President Minnikhanov and Former President Shaimiev to the builders, architects, investors and other individuals and institutions having contributed to the events in the various ways. A letter of gratitude signed by Former President of Tatarstan and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Tatar Fund for the Protection of Tatarstan Culture and Historical Heritage was presented to Dr. Halit Eren, IRCICA Director General, for "his important contributions to the revival and protection of Tatar people's historical and cultural heritage. ... Your positive image in the Muslim world contributes greatly to the development of Tatarstan's scholarly, cultural and economic relations with other Muslim countries. In each project we conduct jointly we observe your professionalism as an administrator and that the institution you chair carries out productive works. We thank you agaibn very much for allowing us to benefit from your experience in the preservation of the historical and cultural heritage of the Islamic world."

Then the first prayer at White Mosque was performed. The museum of Bolgar was visited.