Dagestan labels open and modern Islamic theology as 'extremist'
by Vladimir Rozanskij

The young Ilgar Aliev will be imprisoned for eight years as a member of the "Nurzhular" sect, of the followers of the Turkish theologian Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. Fethullah Gülen was inspired by his thought. Russia fears Ottoman nationalist ideology.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Izberbash court in Dagestan, in the Caucasus, has sentenced 21-year-old Ilgar Aliev, of Azeri ethnicity, to an eight-year prison sentence on charges of organizing a cell of the "Nurzhular" sect. This group, formed by followers of the Turkish theologian Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1878-1960) has been declared "extremist". 

The Kurdish Sunni thinker Nursi is the author of the Risale-i Nur (Epistola of the Light), a Koranic commentary of over 6 thousand pages. During the First World War, as a member of the Special Organization of the Ottoman Empire, he taken prisoner of war by Russia where he remained for over two years and attracted followers. On escaping from the prison camp in 1918, he returned to Istanbul. He was a convinced supporter of the joint path that science and faith in modern times and fought for the teaching of the history of religions in secular schools and modern sciences in religious schools.

Listed among the mujaddid (renovators) of the Islamic 13th century, he inspired an Islamic religious spirituality movement that has contributed considerably to the rebirth of Islam in Turkey, and which today counts several million followers around the world. One of the personalities who have been inspired by his thought is Fethullah Gülen, the main opponent of the Turkish president Erdogan, who is in exile in the United States.

The young Aliev is charged with carrying out propaganda for the Islamic group, recruiting many young people and organizing study meetings on the texts of Nursi, in various cities of Dagestan. The accusation also specifies that Aliev has often travelled abroad to attend international conferences and forums of followers of the Kurdish theologian. Aliev was arrested in April 2017, but has only now been sentenced.

The "Nurzhular" group was banned in Russia as early as 2008, well before the restrictive "Jarovoj law" of 2016, which prevents any private gathering for religious propaganda purposes. Even the texts of Nursi are prohibited in the country, as extremist materials, even if in reality there are no appeals to terrorism or "holy war", indeed, according to the Russian specialists of the inter-religious center Sova, they do not pose any danger to society.

The Russian prohibition derives in reality from a misunderstanding, under which Nursi is considered the founder of a "pan-Turkish" ideology that hypothetically foresees a threat to the integrity of the territory and the stability of Russia.

In Russia, not only in Dagestan, several "Nurzhular cases", have been artificially fabricated in which citizens are charged with membership of fictional organizations, because of their interests in Islamic culture. In recent years, sentences of this kind have already been issued, but the one against young Aliev appears to be the most severe and demonstrative.

Russia's hostility towards the Ottoman nationalist ideology, rather than political Islam in general, is the legacy of a very troubled past, which has led to many Russian-Turkish wars since 1600. In the nineteenth century, it was the Russian imperial ideology that foresaw the conquest of the "second Rome" of Istanbul, to unify the Slavic Christian peoples of  the world triumph (the so-called "panslavism"). The Russians current struggle against "religious heresies" is therefore also coloured by Eastern Slavic triumphalism, and by apocalyptic tension towards the victory of the true faith.

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