Moscow has hosted the opening ceremony of the 1100th anniversary year of the adoption of Islam by the Volga Bulgarians. During the event, Professor Damir Mukhetdinov, Head of the Centre for Islamic Studies at St Petersburg University, presented new publications in the book series ‘Islamic Thought in Russia: Revival and Renewal’, prepared by the University scholars.

The event was held as part of the plenary session of the 7th All-Russian annual conference ‘Shigabutdin Mardzhani readings’. This year theme was ‘Islam in Russia: understanding of the time-honoured spiritual practices of Russian Muslims’.

At the plenary session, Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, the Chairman of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation, delivered a welcoming speech. ‘We are glad that the leadership of our country understands the importance of making informed decisions on the issues of national policy,’ said Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin.

The editorial board of the series includes Academician Mikhail Piotrovsky, Dean of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies at St Petersburg University and Dr Alexander Knysh, Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Head of the Research Laboratory for Analysis and Modelling of Social Processes at St Petersburg University.

In his presentation, Professor Damir Mukhetdinov, Head of the Centre for Islamic Studies at St Petersburg University, emphasised that the book series, along with other projects of the Centre, aim to accomplish the goal set by Vladimir Putin – to re-establish the Russian Islamic school of theology. ‘The wording here is very important because, firstly, we recognise that Russia had its own Islamic school of theology. Indeed, it was part of the global Islamic tradition; yet, it had its own specifics. And secondly, we should not fail to notice the use of the word “re-establish”. That is to say, we realise that we have a rich legacy to appreciate and hand down to next generations of spiritual leaders and believers,’ commented Professor Mukhetdinov.

Professor Mukhetdinov pointed out that despite the fact that the names of Musa Bigiev, Shigabutdin Mardzhani, Khusain Faizkhanov and Rizaeddin bin Fakhreddin are well-known, very few people are familiar with their fundamental works. ‘The reason is that in 30 years, little of their theological heritage has been published in the original. Even less was translated,’ explained Professor Mukhetdinov. The fact of the matter is, he added, that no more than one percent of these scholars’ intellectual heritage has been fundamentally rethought. Serious scholarly commentaries are required. This, in turn, requires an in-depth understanding not only of Islam and the authors’ work, but also of the era they lived in.

In 2021, the book series ‘Islamic Thought in Russia: Revival and Renewal’ was presented in Moscow. The series captures a comprehensive picture of the modern understanding of Islam in the world. It was also presented in different cities in Russia and the post-Soviet states — Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

Professor Mukhetdinov, Doctor of Theology, noted that hundreds of names of Islamic theologians and scholars have been recorded in the history of Russia. Yet, only those whose works are available to people are known. The most prolific was Musa Bigiev, whose oeuvre includes over 50 books and who visited many countries. Rizaeddin bin Fakhreddin, on the other hand, never left the territory of Russia in his search for knowledge. It was his love for books that made him a great scholar and a Muslim religious figure. Damir Mukhetdinov also reminded that 2023 will be the year of the 200th birth anniversary of Khusain Faizkhanov. This great theologian worked at St Petersburg Imperial University alongside renowned scholars – the founders of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at St Petersburg University. Tragically, his life was short and full of hardship. During his lifetime Khusain Faizkhanov was able to publish only one of his books – A Brief Grammar of the Tatar Language. Professor Mukhetdinov expressed hope that other Russian cultural and scholarly institutions will join the work on publishing the Islamic heritage and the works of theologians that have not been included in the series ‘Islamic Thought in Russia’ will see print.

Recently, six books have been released in the series. These include five volumes of Musa Bigiev (‘Evidence for God’s Mercy’; ‘A Glimpse of the People’s Belief in God’; ‘Some Topical Issues of Our Society’; ‘The Meal’; and ‘The Problem of Cremation, Voiced in the State Duma’) and a book by Rizaeddin bin Fakhreddin – ‘The Qur'an and Book Printing’. Earlier, three other publications appeared under the auspices of St Petersburg University: the fundamental work by Ravil Gainutdin ‘Islam: Creed, Worship, Morality, Law’; ‘Russian Islam: in search of political subjectivity’ by Damir Mukhetdinov; and ‘Gardens of Qur'anic Wisdom’ by Islam Zaripov. Furthermore, monographs by other contemporary scholars of Islam are planned to be published as part of the series.

In the near future, other titles will be released, including works by Musa Bigiev: ‘Fundamentals of Shariah’; ‘Müskirat: the Problem of Intoxicating Drinks from the Viewpoint of Islamic Shariah’; ‘Yajuj as Mentioned in the Ayats of the Noble Qur’an’; ‘Women in the Ayats of the Noble Qur’an’; ‘The Book of the Sunnah’; and ‘Arabic Literature and Islamic Studies’; and works by Riza Fakhretdin: ‘Famous Women’ (in two volumes); ‘Six Books and Their Compilers’; ‘Religious and Social Relations’; ‘Ibn Arabi’; ‘Ibn Rushd’; ‘Al-Ghazali’; ‘Ibn Taymiyyah’; and ‘Abu al-Ala al-Ma'arri’.

In conclusion, Professor Mukhetdinov spoke about the problems encountered by the editorial board, including the difficulties in translation, scholarly editing, and the present-day attitude towards scholars of the past. More details about this were given at the Bigiev Readings-2021.