On 21 May, 2007, close to midnight,
at 11.00 pm, the closed session of the court of the district of Koptevsky,
Moscow, found the Russian translations of 14 books of the famous Muslim
intellectual Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1877-1960), which are well-known
under the name of the “Collection of Risale-i Nur,” as an extremist
literature passing of the finalized verdict on the ban of Said Nursi’s
books in Russia. The books were found to be inciting inter-religious
and inter-racial hatred (Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, article
282, clause 1), promoting exclusivity and superiority on the basis of
According to the law, the decision
of the court comes into force after ten days if there is no appeal.
The publication and circulation of these books in the territory of Russia,
according to the Article 13 of Federal Law “On Combating Extremist
Activities,” will be illegal after decision of the court comes into
Nine Years in the Russian Courts
Said Nursi is a renowned scholar
all over the world for ideas advocating peace and dialogue with non-Muslims.
Parts of his magnum opus, the Collection of Risale-i Nur,
are published in forty languages of the world. Hundreds of researches
are done on his heritage by Muslim as well as non-Muslim scholars.
Thomas Michel, Professor of University of Notre Dame, the member
of the Academic Council of the “Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding”
in Georgetown University of Washington, the Advisory Board of the Centre
for Civilizational Dialogue at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia, Ian Markham, Dean of Hartford Seminary and Professor
of Theology and Ethics, USA, Ibrahim Abu Rabi’, Professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim
Relations at the latter mentioned seminary, Oliver Leaman, Professor
of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky and many other famous scholars
all concur that Said Nursi was an advocate of a form of Islam strongly
committed to non-violence and constructive engagement with the West
Ironically, the Russian court
found the same works of Nursi guilty of “inciting inter-religious
and inter-racial hatred” and decided to ban them. In addition, the
accusation against the works of Said Nursi in Russia has been continuing
for nine years, with Moscow hearings being the third one. The first
case was brought in the city of Yekaterinburg in 1999. Literature was
confiscated by the police and experts were appointed to examine the
contents of the books. However, experts could not come to an agreement
in evaluating the essence of the teachings of Said Nursi. The case was
dismissed as the appraisal of the experts was disagreed.
Then, in 2004, the next case
was brought before the court in the city of Omsk. Some 4000 copies of
the lawfully published book entitled “Fruits of Faith” of Nursi
were confiscated. Experts were appointed for a new investigation, but
they were not able to reach an agreement once again. Hence, the case
was again dismissed
The third case was brought
in the Republic of Tatarstan on 28 March 2005 and the books were again
blamed for inciting interfaith and racial hatred and enmity. Investigations
continued for a year, but prosecutors all over again could not establish
a corpus delicti. Then, instead of dismissing it, in accordance
with the application of K.F. Amirov, the prosecutor of the Republic
of Tatarstan, the case was sent to the Koptevsky district court in Moscow.
Accordingly, a civil case was brought on 8 August of last year and continued
behind the closed doors.
Behind the Closed Doors
The Cultural and Educational
Fund of “Nuru Badi,” which had published the works of Said Nursi
in Russia, participated in the process as an interested party. Lawyer
Sergey Siychev, who represented them in the court, avowed that all constitutional
rights of “Nuru Badi” were violated during the process as the Judge
Mitushev rejected every petition declared by the Fund.
The accusation was proved on
the bases of the complex socio-psychological and psycho-linguistic textual
examination results, conducted by experts of the Institute of Language
and the Institute of Psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
According to the representatives of the Fund, this kind of textual investigation
was just a formality as multiple applications to include other experts,
especially in the sphere of religions, to the examination Committee
were rejected by the Judge Mitushev.
The head of the Russian Council
of Muftis Ravil Gainuddin also stressed on incompetence of appointed
experts on the subject. The 35-page document prepared by the commission
of experts at the Russian Council of Muftis extensively reviewed the
findings of psycho-linguistic examination and denied the existence of
any “call for the infringement of rights of non-Muslims and atheists”
in the books of Said Nursi.
While the hearings were going
on behind the closed doors, a number of experts, scholars, religious
and political figures all over the world, including experts of the Institute
of Religions and Human Rights, Russian Academy of Sciences, School of
Asian and African Studies, School of Oriental Studies, the Vatican,
the Islamic Council of Europe, the Organization of Islamic Conference
(OIC), International Islamic University of Malaysia, al-Azhar University
sent letters to the court defending the works of Said Nursi.
An official letter from the
OIC stated that there are no expressions in the works of Said Nursi
that can be considered as inciting hostility toward religions other
than Islam. As was mentioned in this letter, International Islamic University
of Malaysia (IIUM) called Said Nursi as a man of ideas, love, peace
and dialogue. “His ideas are far from any kind of extremism. On the
contrary, he logically proved the falseness of ideas of yearning for
the destruction of human values and dignity. Once he said that nothing
is more deserving of love than love.”
Professor ÑAbd al-Rahim of al-Azhar University
concluded that the books of Said Nursi bear solely educational nature
and teach religion: “A believer in hereafter where he will be accounted
for all his deeds committed in this world cannot hurt anybody.”
At the last hearing, opinions
of Rafiq Muhammadshin, the rector of the Russian Islamic University,
Doctor in Political Sciences, the famous Russian Orientalist Leonid
Syukiyaynen and a number of scholars from the Academy of Sciences of
Siberia were attached to the file.
However, these opinions of eminent figures and institutions, all justifications for the defense, and other attached documents to the file were completely ignored by the Judge Mitushev. He preferred the opinion of psychologists from the Mental Hospital to that of eminent specialists, famous politicians and religious leaders, including the Pope. Even the appeal of Vladimir Lukin, Human Rights commissioner in the Russian Federation, was disregarded. The court also disregarded the letter of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Turkey, which pointed out that these books are not considered in Said Nursi’s native Turkey as extremist literature. It also paid no attention to the opinions of the experts of the OIC, where Russia obtained the status of the observer. Accordingly, Russian Muslims and human rights activists do not know how to interpret now the statement of Putin that Russia constitutes the part of the Muslim world and will always be a protector of its interests.
Fabrication of a New Rationale for Repressions?
When the decision of the court was announced, Nafigulla Ashirov, the Head of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Asian Part of Russia, said: “What can I say? I just can express my deep regrets at the ban of the Islamic theological literature. There is no logic at all in what is going on. The world-renowned intellectual Said Nursi belongs to a Sufi trend, and it is completely impossible to accuse him of Wahhabism or displaying any extremist tendencies. If today the hostility is already directed against Sufi scholars, then, I do not know even how to comment on this.”
According to political, religious and human rights experts, prohibition of Said Nursi’s books would have dire consequences. It is simply a disgrace for Russia. Also, the ban of this prominent scholar actually means a ban of one-fourth of the Islamic theological heritage in Russia.
Nafigullah Ashirov stated that, since the books were defended by well-known figures of al-Azhar, the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Turkey, the expert council of the OIC, where Russia is a member with observer status, the consequences of the decision of the court for Russia can be quite severe. Firstly, it affects the image of Russia in the Muslim world and all efforts of the President Putin in the international arena are in jeopardy now. Secondly, as these books are legal in all democratic countries, Russia in the eyes of the civilized world once again appears as going back to the stagnant era of the USSR.
Meanwhile, experts and human
rights activists in one voice argued that the prohibition of the works
of Said Nursi is a strong argument for the existence of certain forces
in Russia, planning to spin a flywheel of repressions against Muslims.
According to the observers, this negative decision of the court may
become a first step in the anti-Islamic campaign in Russia. It may follow
by repressions of Muslims resulting in the destruction of lives of hundreds
if not thousands of Russian citizens of Muslim faith.
Therefore, the President of the “Nuru Badi” Fund Ibrahim Ibrahimov added that “Harm from this decision will affect not only us. Currently, there is a huge number of people reading the books of Said Nursi in Russia. It is horrible to imagine what will happen now. They are visibly demonstrating to the people that they will not find the truth at all, and, in order to convict somebody, not guilt but desire is required. Indeed, the economic and political consequences of this decision are unpredictable.”
Now Russian Muslims are deeply
concerned about their and Islam’s future in the country. They are
trying to find out who is behind this and other anti-Islamic acts frequently
happening in Russia. Some Russian Muslims link what is happening directly
to the existence of certain powers, which are trying to display Russian
Muslims as an anti-Putin force and discredit the efforts of the Russian
President to revive relations with the Middle East and Asia.
Others blame the President
Putin for his negligence and lack of respect toward Muslims, who constitute
15 % of total population of Russia (about 20 million out of 140 million).
According to them, the voice of this great number, which was smartly
used in local and international arena in getting the observer status
at the OIC and multi-billion dollar deals in the Middle East, now became
too insignificant for Mr. Putin.
Also, a few Muslims see the outcome of the court decision purely as personal antipathy of the Judge toward Muslims. They strongly believe that to file an appeal against the court decision in higher courts shall get positive results. Perhaps, this is possible under active involvement of the International Community. However, the psychological and emotional damage to Russian Muslims is already done. And it is already proven that the Russian Courts can decide whatever they like by justifying it “on the bases of the complex psycho-social and psycho-linguistic examination results,” while ignoring the voice and opinions of 20 million citizens, and also domestic and international prominent figures and institutions.