10/26/2021, 09.04
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Two 20-year-old Dagestani women flee to Tatarstan: debate rages on role of Muslim women

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The two young women were found and returned to their families. They fled to escape the condition of submission imposed by their relatives. Tatar women are freer than Caucasian women, given in marriage at 16-17 and denied access to an education.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - The story of two 20-year-old girls who secretly fled from the Russian republic of Dagestan to Kazan, capital of Tatarstan, to escape the pressure of their relatives has sparked uproar throughout the country.

After discovering their hideout, the authorities handed them over to one of the two families. The two young women, as stated by some human rights activists on Idel.Realii, denounced "were not allowed to study and work, but had to sit at home under the control of a husband or parents."

The epsidoe dates to October 18 and has triggered a debate in the following days across Russia about the status of women in Muslim-majority federal territories, and whether an "Islamic feminism" is possible.

In Tatarstan, and in the nearby Ural republic of Bashkortostan (two areas with a population of Tatar-Mongolian origin) women are used to leading a very active lifestyle, participating freely in all dimensions of social life. Against the background of these realities, however, the situation in Dagestan, a North-Caucasian republic overlooking the Caspian Sea, where women are traditionally very submissive, is striking.

Between the Uralic and Caucasian areas there is not an excessive distance, less than a thousand kilometers, which for Russia is an almost proximity, yet they seem two different worlds in the conception of women and family relations. Several Russian intellectuals, Islamologists and writers have tried to answer this question.

Entrepreneur and blogger Naila Akhmadeeva, a native of Kazan, believes that the Tatar women's spirit of initiative comes from their history and upbringing. At the time of Tatar rule over the Russians, which ended in the mid-16th century with the very conquest of Kazan by Ivan the Terrible, Tatar women outnumbered the men and became accustomed to doing the heaviest jobs. Men had largely died in the fighting, and their children were raised by their mothers, creating a male dependence on women.

"In our country, men are not used to making decisions," Naila says. "I myself learned everything from my mother, and I raised my family by inculcating in females the sense of 'running ahead of the locomotive,' according to a Tatar saying. It was only later that I realized this was incorrect, and I urged my husband to take matters into his own hands."

In Chechnya, Dagestan, Azerbaijan, and other regions of the Caucasus, women are used to remaining under the protection of men, as Akhmadeeva explains, insisting that "it must be explained to men that their wives should not be passive and illiterate." When women in these areas behave too freely, husbands and parents are admonished in this way, "You see, your wife is walking around Kazan."

Writer Gulnara Ghinjatullina, who is of Dagestani origin but lives in Irkutsk, Siberia, recently published the book "My Salafist Sister," which recounts the many letters she received about the oppression of women in Dagestan. Visiting Kazan, Gulnara sees "how strong Muslim women are here, free and autonomous, I am encouraged by them." According to the author, it can be said that in Tatarstan the institution of women "abystaj" (in Tatar, the wives of mullahs, educated women) is placed at the same level as imams, when the woman can be the leader of the community.

Dagestani girls are normally given in marriage around the age of 16-17, without having received any education, and never having experienced independent life. Ghinjatullina urges, however, not to generalize too much: "Even in Dagestan [the situation] depends on the country and the family context, which is not always so oppressive." After all, in the Dagestan republic different ethnic groups live together, such as the avartsy, darghintsy, tabarasantsy and others.

Dagestani Islamologist and ethnologist Akhmet Jarlykanov, a member of the Academy of Historical Sciences, believes that the difference in the conception of women in Islam depends on several factors, from different "maskhab" (theological-legal schools) to historical development and various ethnic traditions. "Now the important thing is that the two girls brought back from Kazan remain alive," Jarlykanov comments. "Perhaps this story will be an important lesson for everyone. The state should not interfere, as long as no crimes are committed, but all of society must react."

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