23.11.2011, 17:09
A Review of Trends in Contemporary Islam in the Crimea

As of 2011, four Muslim movements are chiefly discernible on the Crimean peninsula, which to a greater or lesser extent control, or are currently asserting control over, regional and local communities.

The Hanafis and the DUMK Muftiate

The largest and most traditional trend of Crimean Islam is the Hanafi madhhab. It belongs to the group of Sunni madhhabs, or directions of moral-legal thought, together with the Shafi’ites, the Hanbalites, and the Malikites. The Hanafis are regarded as the most tolerant towards local customs and social changes. Therefore, their traditional sphere of authority is the periphery of the Islamic world – the North and East of Islamic civilization.

In order to understand why we are speaking of the madhhabs, rather than simply noting that the Crimean Muslims are Sunni, one must turn to the peculiarities of the schools of Islamic law. First of all, the division into madhhabs has an entirely pragmatic purpose – a certain approach to the application of Shari’a and other norms of the "moral law" of the religion of Muhammad.

Thus, the Hanafi qadis  (judges who enter decisions in contested cases) reach their verdicts guided by the following priorities – we shall enumerate them in decreasing order. First of all, when a question arises, the judge determines whether it is directly resolved in the Qur’an. Taking into account local peculiarities and the rapid pace of changes in society, such resolutions are ever rarer, excepting the simplest cases. The next step, as a rule, is for the judge to turn to the Sunna – a collection of the hadith, or memoirs of thousands of Muhammad’s countrymen and co-religionists, his contemporaries, about what and how he spoke in various, often very commonplace situations. But with the passage of time, this volume of information, too (though it is enormous) does not suffice for the resolution of certain questions, for example, those connected with contemporary technology or new social phenomena. As the third source they use the ijma – a collection of works and verdicts of the sahaba and tabi’un, that is, of people who first accepted Islam and lived in its first century, and saw Muhammad or his closest advisors. Their views can be characterized as entirely liberal, and often in the corpus of some precedent the ijma is found which easily, and as a rule not radically, decides complex questions.

When there is no precedent in any of these three groups of sources, then – and only then – the Hanafi judge may permit himself a qiyas – an individual decision which is built on the logic of the Qur’an and seeks to interpret reality by the analogic method. The relegation of the qiyas to the fourth, penultimate place in Hanafite practice renders their madhhab protected from the arbitrary power of the theologians. But here, too, the traditions within the madhhab often lead the qadi (judge) not to dare to interpret the Qur’an freely.

They then pass to the fifth and culminating stage – the istihsan, that is, the judgment of common sense, which can contradict the qiyas, but is obviously more equal to the situation. In the latter case, popular customs (urf or adat), national traditions, or simply civil legislation in force are often taken into account. For example, proceeding from this principle the judge will never enter a decision that would justify or instigate the commission of a crime.

Thus, the Hanafis are the most liberal and moderate movement in Sunni Islam, and in the Crimea they are the most suited to the peaceful coexistence of the huge Islamic community with the state and with non-Muslims.

The Hanafi traditions in the Crimea are fairly old. At least from the times of the Crimean Khanate it was the official movement throughout the territory of the state. Hanafism was also confessed by the majority of the population of Turkey, which facilitated reciprocal exchange of experience and the application of Islamic practice to local conditions.

Contemporary Hanafism is represented by the most ancient institution of reborn Crimean Islam – the Crimean muftiate or Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Crimea (DUMK). DUMK was created at the moment when the repatriation of the Crimean Tatars to their homeland began, after their half-century deportation, and has existed ever since. From the beginning, the influence of Hanafism had no competition, because in those places where the Crimean Tatars spent their permanent exile – Central Asia – the Hanafi places of worship also dominated.

The Crimean mufti is an elected person who has not so much an authority of his own, as he personifies the authority of the entire community; he is essentially the president of an administration, a hired employee of all the Muslims in the country. Although the mufti may, if he wishes, occupy a special position, relying on his own authority, even then his thoughts and expressions will not have any greater influence than the collective ratification of the entire muftiate.

Thus, in the mid-1990s the first mufti of the Crimea, Seit Jalil Ibrahimov, sought to become an independent figure, entering into a conflict with the Mejlis and trying by all possible means to remove the DUMK from the political care of this “shadow government” of the Crimean Tatars. Seeing the key limitations to which Crimean traditions and Hanafism had subjected him, blocking the Mufti’s voluntarism, Ibrahimov planned to call an assembly of the Muslims of the European part of the former USSR, so that he might assume the post of spiritual leader of the Muslims of Eastern Europe. These plans came to nothing due to the events of 1995, as a result of which the DUMK simply replaced its leader with another.

Nuri Mustafaiev, who was elected the second mufti of the Crimea, was a fiery and creative individual, who fully supported the Mejlis and did all he could to embody the actual growth of both structures – the Mejlis and the Muftiate – in the two wings of the Crimean Tatar national movement, the civil and the spiritual. After completing this mission – for he held office for only a single term – the second mufti conducted himself like a true dervish – he left the organs of leadership, dedicating himself in his old age to scholarship, of which he had dreamed all his life.

The third and up to now the chief mufti of DUMK, Emirali Ablaiev, who has practically removed himself from the role of leader, is a full supporter of the Mejlis and in fact always acts after consultation and agreement with the head of the Crimean movement, Mustafa Jemilev.

This position has aroused a protest from a part of the Muslim communities, and thus a process has begun of the separation of the discontents not only from DUMK, but also from Hanafism as such. This essentially limits the freedom of the Crimean imams to freely decide practical and religious issues.

Thus, it has been precisely the liberalism of the Hanafites and their loyalty to both the government and the Crimean Tatar national liberation movement that has caused the secession of part of the believers and the communities organized by them from this madhhab.

The Shafi’ites and Hizb-ut-Tahrir al-Islami

Disagreement with the overly secularist and conformist positions of DUMK, as the more radical Islamic activists see it, has led to  their turning to other madhhabs which, while they do not make enemies of the Hanafi (enmity between madhhabs is severely prohibited in Islam), allow greater freedom in interpretation and action.

Thus, in the midst of the first decade of the twenty-first century, independent communities were formed, which united under the slogans of the popular Near Eastern party Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (Party of Rebirth of Islam). They are often known colloquially as the Hyzbis or Hizbis, which is more grammatically correct. 

The political views of the Crimean Hizbis can be summarized as follows. There exists an ideal state order, the Caliphate, headed by an elected and most worthy leader, the Caliph. They consider him to be the Prophet’s representative on earth and the one who unites the spiritual and civil authorities in an indivisible whole. In their opinion, the advent of the Caliphate is inevitable, but it is not known when it will happen, and in what country. Thus, the chief goal of every Hizbi is to prepare the ground for the coming of the Caliph into the world. The principal method is to propagandize the lay population, and to foster, at a minimum, a loyal attitude on the part of non-Muslims to the future Caliphate, and at a maximum, the conversion of the infidels. Besides this, the ideas of socialism have had a strong effect on Hizb ut-Tahrir – this party is confident that the Caliphate is a social state, opposed to the capitalist world.

Theoretically, the Hizbis prefer the Shafi’ite madhhab and seek in the first place to utilize its theoretical achievements. However, as they conduct essentially proselytizing activity, that is, “reconverting” the already converted Muslims to their communities, the Hizbis willingly make compromises with the Hanafi majority in the Crimea. Classical Shafi’ism has a different system of priorities in decision-making than the Hanafis. We will take the opportunity to compare these approaches.

In the first place, the Shafi’ites consider the combination of the Qur’an and the Sunna as the only integral source of knowledge, understanding the Sunna as an interpreter for all cases when the Qur’an does not provide direct answers to questions (which, as a rule, happens). It must be noted that in the tradition and practice of the Shafi’ites, the tendency to discern direct indications in texts is significantly greater: they consider their doctors (the fuqaha’) and imams sufficiently competent in cases where it is necessary not only to read a text literally, but also to interpret it.

In cases where the Qur’an and the Sunna still “do not help,” they are supplemented by the ijma, that is, the recollections and guidance of Muslims of the “golden age,” the first century of the Caliphate. This significantly increases the range of sources, and in combination with a liberal approach to their treatment practically makes this the last stage (though formally it is the penultimate).

The final stage is the qiyas, judgment by analogy, but this is permitted exclusively in the framework of the above-mentioned sources and not as independent decision-making. In practice, the stage of qiyas is present from the start, when the Shafi’ite doctor may take the text of an aya of the Qur’an, a hadith of the Sunna or a parable of the ijma, and discern or reject an analogy described in a fragment of the situation with the question that has arisen.

The Shafi’ites, and accordingly the Hizbis, categorically reject the istihsan, that is, the logical speculations beyond the corpus of Qur’anic literature, and the istislah, ethical opinions based on general humanistic principles and considerations of pure expediency. It is on this position that the views of the Hizbis and the Hanafi of the Crimea diverge to the greatest and most principled extent, for the former do not recognize this practice at all, while the Hanafi utilize it almost more than any other.

Organizationally, Hizb ut-Tahrir was created in the Crimea not as a single party or official structure, but as an association of like-minded communities and individual members. This was fostered by the highly negative opinions that accompany the activity of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Russia as well as in Turkey, Central Asia, and Europe. In many countries, the Hizbis are regarded as a terrorist party. For this reason, from the very beginning their legalization in Ukraine took a different path.

The Hizbis have their own highly developed structure which, however, remains entirely in the shadows. The rank-and-file members associate in cells of five personal acquaintances, whose relations can be described as fraternal. But every cell of five has further contacts with at least five others, and with the passage of time almost every ordinary Hizbi becomes the leader of a cell of five members, then of five groups of five, and so on. This has all the indicia of a classic network, in which the ascent of the hierarchical steps depends on the individual member’s activity.

Coming out of a forced conspiracy, the Hizbis have significant strategic and tactical advantages over other Muslim structures. They can join other organizations without informing them of their “party” membership, as they call it, but only of their “observant” status (that is, they try to conscientiously observe all the basics of Islam in their daily lives). Thus, the Hizbis often unexpectedly infiltrate religious communities and even head them, and only later, knowing with certainty that there is a critical mass of “observants” among the members, do they begin open propaganda of the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir.

It is thus that the Hizbis succeeded in achieving significant control over the “Avdet” ecstatic movement, which had earlier been under the “supervision” of the Salafi. This significantly contributed to the schism in that organization, and the “socialist” part (in full agreement with the Hizbis’ concept of Islamic socialism) broke away, forming a new organization called “Sebat.”

In this manner the Hizbis have “seized” many mosques and religious communities. Their decisive attack took place at the middle and end of the first decade of the century, when they twice attempted to remove the acting mufti from office and to replace him with their own or a compromise candidate. The failure of this attempt, which was due to the consolidation of the Hanafis and the Hizbis’ overestimation of their own strength, marked a dividing line, after which DUMK began to promote the “purification” of religious institution of Hizbi “agents,” and the Hizbis decided to break away and to find a way to some kind of formal organization.

There was immediately formed the religious association “Davet,” which formally is only one of many communities, but which in practice coordinates the activity of other like-minded individuals and communities that have converted to the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Now, at least, there is a center with which other Muslims may, if they wish, enter into contact, discussion, and even clarification of their relations. Nevertheless, the names of the ordinary Hizbis as well as of the leaders – the mushrifs and the naqibs (the lower and middle levels), not to mention the musaids, masulas and mutamadas (the leaders of the Crimean and all-Ukrainian networks) are carefully concealed. The Hizbis planned to finally break with DUMK at the beginning of 2011, but an unexpected turn of events awaited them. A new movement appeared in the Crimean arena and shrilly made itself known – the Habashites, who formed their own structure and immediately advanced boldly against both the Hizbis and the Hanafis. This froze the stand-off between the muftiate and Hizb ut-Tahrir for some time, though to a great extent it was unilateral: the muftiate continues the struggle against the Hizbis despite their declarations about a temporary truce and a search for compromise. The reason is competition, which has grown too strong, and the desire of the muftiate to win back the positions that they lost to the Hizbis. The competition also concerns material objects such as mosques and lands – which is why it is constantly fueled by issues remote from ideology, but intertwined with the economic interests of the leaders of both organizations.

The Habashites and the Muftiate of the DTsMK

The Habashites appeared in the Crimea relatively recently – the movement arose from the debates of the time of the second mufti (Nuri Mustafaiev) about the attributes of “traditional Crimean Islam” on the one hand, and “the political responsibility of Muslims” on the other. At that time, a part of the communities declared themselves “autonomous” not so much in relation to the muftiate as to the Mejlis, which controls the muftiate, and came out against the ideas of mobilization of a spiritual and civil movement of the Crimean Tatars in a nationalist direction.

Soon, the greater part of the “autonomous communities” went over to the Hizbis and Salafites, but in Evpatoria, in the suburb of Ismail-Bey, a kind of enclave arose which affirmatively sought to determine its own identification. They did not find a common language with the Salafites and the Hizbis because they actively supported the spiritual heritage of Sufism and worked for the revival of the Crimea’s mystical locales – of the Azizes, of Evliya, and other places that serve as memorials honoring the “Crimean saints” who lived or were buried there.

Gradually, one of the all-Ukrainian muftiates, the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Ukraine (DUMU), began to assert control over the Ismail-Bey group, which was headed Ridvan Veliev, the imam of a mosque. The head of DUMU, sheik Ahmed Tamim, belongs to the Habashite movement. Thus, the influence of this religious movement began to expand throughout the Crimea, at first covertly, then openly.

The Habashites are an extremely original movement, which, though it formally belongs to the Shafi’ite madhhab, in practice has nothing in common with it. Its direct predecessors are the formerly powerful Sufi orders, which in the times of the Crimean khanate were widespread on the peninsula and successfully competed with official Hanafism. It is to the Sufis and the dervishes that the majority of monuments of medieval veneration belongs – nearly every conspicuous mountain, spring, or gorge bore the name of some Sufi “saint” who had lived or died there. In the mid- to late 1990s, Sufism was very fashionable among the Muslims of Evpatoria, and this laid an additional foundation for the rapprochement of the “autonomous communities” and the Habashite missionaries.

By contrast with most movements, the Habashites cultivate prayers to deceased saints, recognize the mediation of such saints between Allah and man, allow rather liberal interpretations of the Qur’an, and recommend that in every region, their followers observe the predominant customs and traditions which do not formally contradict the basic pillars of Islam. This peculiarity can be explained by the origins of the first adherents of Habashism – they lived in such heterogeneous regions as Ethiopia (Habash is the Arabic for “Abyssinia”) and Lebanon, where Muslims of different stripes, Christians, and Jews, as well as marginal, mixed and experimental sects live side by side.

In the Crimea, the Habashites’ ace card was the locals’ interest in Sufism, as well as the rebirth of ancient, often not altogether Islamic traditions of veneration of azizes and natural memorials. The political factor also played a role – much of the intelligentsia found themselves in a fronde or in opposition to the Mejlis, and during the exacerbation of social-political life they became a “white and blue” minority among their own people in opposition to the “orange” orientation of the muftiate and the Mejlis.

Attempts to turn the Habashites into a branch of the All-Ukrainian Muftiate – DUMU – met with such a consolidated rebuff from the Crimean Tatars that the hard-core Habashites had to change their tactics.    

At the end of 2010, before the liquidation of the Ukrainian State Committee on Religion, the almost dismantled state organ suddenly registered a new religious association – the Spiritual Center of Muslims of the Crimea (DTsMK) with a second name – the Crimean Muftiate.

Thus there was created a unique precedent, whereby from the beginning of 2011 two muftiates are functioning practically simultaneously in the Crimea.

For now, there can be no question of their equal weight. But the very fact of the DTsMK’s claim to act as an “alternative muftiate” gives it a competitive advantage in relation to all other alternative Muslim projects. The consequences have not been slow in coming: “Mili Firka,” a group in opposition to the Mejlis and DUMK, has already undertaken systematic political tutelage over the Habashites. Another opposition organization, “Advet,” was also inclined to cooperate, but at the last moment it opted for the Hizbis, who had infiltrated the leadership of “Advet.”

If the business aspect of the spread of the cult of Muslim holy places is successfully developed -- in the field of their exploitation as objects of tourism and pilgrimage – then the Habashites will additionally obtain a material base for the consolidation of their positions in many regions of the peninsula.

The only impediment to this project could be the protest of radical Muslim activists who oppose the cult of saints, prayers to the dead, and other pagan, as they see it, rituals. On this issue, DUMK takes a neutral stance, while Hizb ut-Tahrir is critical. And the fourth (by influence and by order of our enumeration) Muslim movement in the Crimea, the Salafites, at least by their words threatens to attack such objects if they offend their notion of the purity of the faith.

The Wahhabis and as-Salafiya as-Salih

This movement is called Wahhabi mostly by its opponents or by detached reporters. This is a typical exonym, because the adherents of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhaba at-Tamimi – the founder of the movement – call themselves Salafites.

The basis of the Wahhabi movement are appeals for the rebirth of pristine Islam in the form in which it existed at the time of Muhammad and his earliest disciples, the Salafis (whence comes the name by which the movement calls itself: Salafiya or the Salafites). Accordingly, they reject all innovations that have appeared in the world in the last millennium and a half as inappropriate.

The Wahhabi movement is modernizing and Protestant by its nature (we recall the Christian Protestants, who called upon the Catholics to renounce all superstructures, including the Church, and to return to Old Testament texts), but as its ideological basis it has taken the madhhab of the Hanbalites, which is currently official in Saudi Arabia.

Let us compare this madhhab with those that we have already examined in this article. In the fashioning of any decision, priority is given to the Nassi, which refers to the Qur’an and the Sunna together, and constitutes the indubitable and only authority. If the Nassi provides a direct indication of the decision, then other considerations are considered irrelevant.

In second place are the fatwas – legal principles of the first generations of Muhammad’s followers, promulgated during the “golden century” of the Caliphate. The fatwas and the narrations about the acts of the first lawgivers after Muhammad (the Salafi) are in effect ready recommendations for action, if the situation fits that described in the hadiths. Qiyas – that is, the method of drawing analogies – is applied only by way of direct comparison of situations and finding them to be incontestably and obviously analogous.

All other innovations which are not mentioned in the enumerated sources are regarded as either undesirable or simply forbidden. This applies to the veneration of graves, monuments, and all man-made things, not to mention the cult of saints, prophets, and all the more to calendar holidays of pagan or foreign (to the Arabs) origin, civil customs, and such.

It will suffice to mention that during the struggles in Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabis seized and plundered monuments that were sacred to other madhhabs, including the grave of the prophet Muhammad, and that they even consider the holiday Mevlud – the birthday of Muhammad – to be modeled after pagan customs (simply because the Prophet himself and his advisers did not leave clear directives to celebrate it).

The Wahhabis appeared in the Crimea together with the first mosques, which Saudi Arabia helped them to build. Of relevance are the words of Mustafa Jemilev, who estimated that the Saudis had built, or sponsored the construction of, half the mosques on the peninsula.  This allows us to imagine the reach of the Hanbalite preachers, who even before this, often became the first imams of newly built mosques.

But such a rapid spread of Wahhabism did not take place. The reason was the direct clashes between their ideology and the Crimean Tatars’ national customs, which with increasing frequency ended in standoffs. As a result, the Salafites were unable to disseminate their views among a Muslim nation numbering many thousands, and with time became a closed group, which remains isolated and does not welcome closer contact between its members and Muslims of other persuasions.

A kind of status quo or non-aggression pact has been established between the Hanafis and the Salafites: the Salafites do not claim a majority of mosques and communities and do not conduct aggressive recruitment among the faithful, but only concentrate on the neophytes, that is, on the non-believers who have converted to Islam and on the adherents of other confessions. For its part, DUMK condemns Wahhabism in words, but in practice does not interfere in their affairs and does not attempt to regain control over those few communities which have remained Salafite. Individual distinguished activists among the Crimean Salafites have been integrated into local mejlis as well as into friendly projects. Out of tactical considerations, the Hanafites and the Salafites can cooperate in other ways, from protest actions to political processes. For example, as long as it was controlled by the Salafite Danial Ametov, the “Advet” movement, as an alternative to the Mejlis, had entirely business-like and partnerly relations with the Crimean Tatar leadership. 

Translated from the Ukrainian by Andrew Sorokowski   

By Ali Tatar-zadeh

"Media Krym," 4 July 2011