RELIGION IN POST-SOVIET DAGHESTAN: SOCIOLOGICAL ASPECTS
Garun Kurbanov, D.Sc. (Philos.), professor, Cultural Studies Department, Daghestan State University (Makhachkala, Russian Federation)
The religious processes going on in the post-Soviet space have shown how far from the truth great Hegel was when he maintained in his lectures on the history of philosophy that “Islam has long left the world historical arena and returned once more to its place of rest in the East.” Of course, I am not criticizing the brilliant philosopher. I am merely pointing out the complexity and contradictoriness of the events going on in the religious life of society, and how difficult it is to predict and direct them. The thing is probably that Islam, as a tool for understanding the reality of social development, is oriented toward overcoming the fundamental antipodes of human existence, on the one hand, and toward affirming the system of values accepted in society, and supporting and sanctioning certain norms of behavior, on the other. This functional contradiction places Islam, like any other religion, among the most complex social phenomena for analysis. However, this does not mean there is no need to conduct a scientific study of Islam as a sociocultural phenomenon; on the contrary, this kind of study is imperative. Such an analysis is particularly important in Daghestan, and not only because its people associate the era of Islamization with the beginning of civilizational existence, but also because today questions of religion are closely related to the political, cultural, educational, and everyday life of many of the republic’s residents. Statistics present a graphic picture of this.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, religion has been playing a perceptible role in the life of Daghestan society. The number of mosques has increased a hundred-fold. According to some data, the republic has more than 1,500 mosques and 422 religious educational establishments, including 45 institutes and their branches, at which a total of approximately 14,000 students are enrolled. In the capital, Makhachkala, alone, there are currently a total of 57 active mosques, 16 Sufi brotherhoods, and 800 ziarats (holy places). By way of comparison, during the 1920s, there were 1,700 mosques, 740 mosque schools, and 400 madrasahs in Daghestan, whereas by 1985 the number of mosques had dwindled to twenty-seven. Religious newspapers are in circulation: Assalam, Nurul islam, Islamskiy vestnik, and others. Various religious movements, unions, foundations, and associations participate in the republic’s political life. A rather large group of professional clergy has formed, which actively preaches religious values and defends its corporate interests. In 1998 alone, 14,000 Daghestanians made pilgrimages to Mecca, and in the past few years a total of more than 100,000 people have undertaken this journey. Foreign Islamic centers participate in many Muslim projects implemented in the republic. For example, the Islamic organization, Rabitatul Alam, the headquarters of which is in Saudi Arabia, allotted $15,000 to build mosques in Makhachkala. More than a thousand young Daghestanians study in various Muslim countries. Researchers are talking about a religious revival in Daghestan. It is manifested in the opportunity to freely profess any religion. Confessional and cultural ties are being restored with people of the same faith abroad, the Muslim education system is being resurrected, and so-called classical or canonical forms of religious life are being revived. Thousands of the republic’s citizens are being drawn into its orbit.
Religion today is also an important component in international relations. By making use of historical traditions and rituals, it is helping to shape the ethnocultural characteristics of Daghestanians, and has become a vital aspect in emphasizing the uniqueness of the people living here.
When evaluating the religious situation in the republic, we can say that a complex full-scale religious revival is going on. This is primarily expressed in the unprecedented enhancement of Islam, and its social standpoints and political activity, and is also confirmed by the activity of Islamic parties in the republic: the Islamic Democratic Party, the Russian Muslim Union, and the Nur Public Movement. The growing influence of Islamic ideology is also indicated by the fact that the leader of the Russian Muslim Union obtained a deputy mandate to the State Duma. Religious and national movements, as well as many quite influential people in Daghestan, openly “play” on the Islamic factor, and it is also effectively used by the opposition and the republic’s leadership. Religious-state relations have been supplemented with new content.
The heads of spiritual administrations are invited to participate in public undertakings of state importance and to bless important events. This policy makes it possible not only to count on support from a significant percentage of the republic’s population, but also view traditional Islam as the national-cultural property of the peoples of Daghestan. The status of Islam is also gaining a stronger foothold in the education system. For example, general education schools are offering electives in religion, and religious teaching is undergoing a revival in military units and prisons. Prayer rooms are open in many state educational institutions, organizations, and establishments, and boulevards and streets are being named after famous historical Islamic figures. The state is increasing its financial support of religion. For example, in 1995, 350 million rubles were allotted from the state budget for building mosques in Makhachkala, and in 1997 this figure increased to 450 million rubles. According to mufti Akhmed-haji Abdullaev, the spiritual administration has received a total of one billion rubles from the state for building mosques alone. In 1998, 250,000 rubles were allotted from the republic treasury to repair the building of the Spiritual Muslim Administration of Daghestan (SMAD), and 3 million rubles were allotted to build an Islamic center. In essence, the former “alliance” relations between the state and religion are being restored. An example of this is the law adopted in the republic On the Protection of Personal and Social Morality, which in particular envisages creating public experts’ commissions which will include representatives of religious organizations. They will be engaged in streamlining activity in the sphere of art, in the moral upbringing of children and adolescents, in carrying out entertainment undertakings, and so on. It is worth noting that the republic’s mass media, particularly the Daghestan Television and Radio Company, have begun participating in forming the Islamic factor. The clergy is gaining access to the mass media in order to widely publicize its teaching.
The role of religion in society and in the culture of our people is being reassessed in radio and television programs and its patriotic aspects are being emphasized. Religious publications are being made available as means for overcoming the lack of spirituality with which many people are afflicted. The Islamic theme has already gone beyond individual newspaper and TV features and become the essence of independent radio and television programs.
On the whole, Islam is becoming a factor for legitimizing almost all social forms and actions. Religion has this opportunity because nongovernmental support of conformist behavior and stability through morals, customs, traditions, and rituals continues to be of significance in the republic. Daghestan is still a traditional society, where morals prescribe committing some deeds, refraining from others, and respecting certain freedoms. These morals are also a manifestation of specific values. These values are also observed in political conduct as precepts in relations with government structures. The need to legitimize political power promotes (along with developing a system of dogma) the formation of religious figures who become the political elite, thus raising the function of religion to a new level. Islam is essentially becoming a majority state-national religion.
All of this creates the need to find answers to the following questions: what are the social, political, and spiritual-moral orientations of believers and the clergy, what is the relationship between religious associations and the outside world, secular authorities, and social and cultural structures, and what is the relationship between believers and non-believers in the republic, and between the representatives of different religious trends? A long-term sociological project called “The Religious Situation in the Republic of Daghestan. Trends and Prospects” will help to answer them. Under this project, we conducted a selective poll of approximately 2,000 respondents who represent various ethnic, social, and age-related groups of the republic’s residents.
The social and political events going on in the republic during recent years have had a serious impact on the attitude of Daghestanians toward faith in God. The sociological poll shows an increase in religiosity among the population following the slight drop observed in 1999-2000. The survey conducted in 2001 revealed that 67.3% of the respondents are believers. One of the many reasons for the drop in this index at the end of 1999 was possibly the understanding that, just as a century ago, those who want to establish order by violent means may still find refuge in religion. This could be seen from the responses to the question: “Has your attitude toward religion changed due to the terrorism and hostilities conducted by religious extremists in Daghestan?” At the end of 1999, approximately 25.7% of the respondents admitted that their attitude toward religion had worsened.
Today, a rather stable orientation is observed toward religious values and religiosity in the mass consciousness. In terms of world outlook, believers are offset by approximately 13% of respondents who are convinced of their “non-religiosity,” while 10.1% are unsure, and 10.2% do not know how to define their attitude toward faith. In general, the social portraits of believers and non-believers do not show any significant differences. Both groups are represented by equal numbers of men and women. It is interesting that among the different age groups of believers, citizens between the ages of 20 and 40 constitute a relatively large percentage.
The standpoint of the student corps draws attention to itself—63.5% of the respondents in this group are convinced of their religiosity. A poll conducted in 1987 showed that the percentage of students who declared themselves to be believers fluctuated between 27.5% and 33.3%. A study of the world outlook of today’s youth shows that it is being shaped by different trends, with the role and influence of religion becoming of paramount importance. The poll results confirm that former stereotypes, such as “religion is for old people,” are disappearing, and age differences do not have a significant effect on people’s religiosity and world outlook.
What is more, the level of religiosity is not as dependent on education. Religion has also found a relatively strong foothold among the most educated stratum of the republic’s population. Believers constituted 41.4% of those polled who at one time graduated from higher educational institutions, and 48.8% of those with secondary education. There is an increase in the number of people who do not see any major non-correlation between religious and scientific knowledge. This confirms the thesis recently put forward by the Russian Academy of Sciences Presidium that Russian science and education have been besieged by an unimpeded spread in mystic beliefs: astrology, shamanism, occultism, fortune-telling, and parascientific myths. The poll shows that mythological consciousness is relentlessly expanding and drawing increasingly closer to the educational process. Evidence of this is the attitude to the question, “Should religion be taught in general education schools?” Forty point two percent of the respondents think that it should be, 40.1% responded “no,” and 17.3% did not know.
Various indices of religiosity were identified in ethnic groups. They are high among Avars (82%), Darghins, Kumyks, and Lakhs (61%), and Lezghians, Tabasarantsy, and Russians (47-50%). This gives rise to several questions, primarily why the public consciousness of most Daghestanians is oriented toward religious values and norms. The answer should most probably be sought both in internal and external factors. The internal are related to the fact that for quite a long time, religion played an important role in forming national communities. Daghestanian ethnic groups with their traditions and culture have undergone their own unique religious evolution. Elements of the ethnic psychology of many Daghestanian nationalities, which define their experience, as well as their value orientations, were shaped by a particular religion.
If we take a broader look at this problem, we find several differing factors: deep-rooted sociopolitical changes, the absence of stability in society, increasing material inequality, bribery, exodus of the rural population to the cities, the increase in unemployment, inflation, the lack of legal protection, and so on.
Some researchers see a form of social protest in the current turning toward religion, others consider it not simply a superstructure, or ideology, but some independent category with its own methods for correcting the situation, and still others believe that the religious revival is directly aimed at restoring an important ethnocultural stratum among the Daghestani peoples. In our opinion, this outburst is primarily due to the profound socioeconomic crisis that has engulfed the republic in recent years. This is also shown by the unemployment mentioned above, the officially registered level of which amounted to 7.2% as early as January 1996, which is two-fold higher that on average in the Russian Federation, and by the rapid rate of urbanization and overt property stratification. According to some data, 200 families control vast financial resources. We can also talk about other factors: Chechen and Arabian propaganda, and pilgrimage. To a large degree, this process is also promoted by the adoption of the federal and republic laws On Freedom of Conscience… and the loss of the ideological precepts adhered to during the years of Soviet power.
The study we conducted shows that people are living in a certain state of anxiety. To the question, “How do you evaluate your current psychological and emotional state?” only 12.7% of the respondents considered it upbeat and positive. The rest defined it as desperate, subdued, and depressed. There is no doubt that we are seeing an increase in people’s alienation from society and, as a result, a shift in value orientation.
As for the external reasons, they are most likely caused by the international geopolitical interests in the region.
It should be noted that the religiosity of Daghestanians is not homogeneous. It is characterized, on the one hand, by religious consciousness, and on the other, by secularized religiosity, which plays the role of ethnocultural identifier. A type of religiosity or believers predominates, which is not related to regular religious practice. Whereas 64.1% of the respondents consider themselves believers, only 29.1% observe all the religious rituals, and 39% observe a few.
The conclusion can be drawn that for many faith “does not fit” into the framework of traditional religion and the religious system, but is of a rather amorphous and situational nature, which is also confirmed by the self-appraisal of believers who think that only 20-25% of the total number of those who consider themselves believers are in actual fact such. This indicates that the religious consciousness of Daghestanians is not strictly confessional-related. The matter concerns a certain conformism. Evidence of this is the appearance in recent years in the republic of various non-traditional faiths, teachings, and “family”, “cloister,” and Protestant cults and so on, the popularity of which cannot be explained if they are viewed in isolation from everyday reality, and from spiritual nihilism concealed by hypocrisy and sanctimony. The phenomenon of non-confessional religiosity can also be explained by the disillusion of believers in traditional religion and in its clergy.
We can also talk about the fact that for most of the respondents, religion is more of a moralizing factor. This is illustrated quite graphically by the responses to the question on the mission of religion (see Table 1).
What in Your Opinion Is the Main Mission of Religion? (%)
It promotes moral improvement
It improves relations among people
It prepares people for life after death
On the other hand, the poll reveals a rationalization of faith and the recognition of its significance in resolving earthly problems. Approximately 27% of the respondents believe that religion should define family and everyday relations. The matter concerns the recognition of religious regulators in the everyday life of Daghestanians. This makes it possible to prohibit parties and celebrations, including wedding receptions, concerts, and television and radio broadcasting in some population settlements of the republic. A large part of society sees religion as providing “problem-free” ideological support in adapting to the new economic, social-psychological and political realities.
Religion and Politics
One of the fundamental questions determining the place and role of religious organizations in society is the ratio of religion to politics in this society’s activity. A lot of people who think in religious terms are trying to find ways to resolve current problems with the help of religion. This is shown by the responses to the question, “Should religious organizations participate in the republic’s political life?” Almost 41% of the respondents replied that they should. The responses to the question, “In which kind of state would you like to live, a secular or a religious one?” are also interesting in this respect. Only 50% of the respondents said they would like to live in a secular state, whereas 26% chose a theocratic one, and 24.1% did not know. An ethnic breakdown in the responses to this question showed that 45.6% Avars, 16% Darghins, from 10 to 14% Kumyks, Lakhs, and Lezghians would like to live in a theocratic state. The greatest caution toward theocracy was found among Russians, 1.9%, and Tats, 1%, which is largely explained by the one-sidedness of official policy in the religious sphere. Possibly for this reason, 24.6% of the respondents said in response to the question, “How do you evaluate the republic Law on Freedom of Conscience, Religion, and Religious Organizations?”, that it does not work. An example is the open disdain for “people of other faiths” and “atheists,” which is manifested in the public statements of the leaders of various Islamic and state organizations.
On the whole, the analysis allows us to talk about an increase in clerical trends in society, about the incorporation of religious figures into the political process, and, most important, about the growing hopes of some nationalities that religion and the church will play a significant role in overcoming the crisis afflicting society. Under Daghestan’s conditions, this is an extremely alarming symptom, which shows the willingness of most of its residents to rely on Islamic political ideas and Muslim models of state structure. These trends can also be traced in the responses to the question, “Should religious organizations act according to republican laws?” Only 68.4% of the respondents replied in the affirmative, while 17% believe that religion should not act in accordance with Russian and republican laws, and 14.7% did not know.
The poll also revealed diffusion in the public consciousness in its interpretation of constitutional principles and the concept of a secular state. To the question, “Do you support separation of religion from the state?” only 36.3% replied “yes,” whereas 46.5% think that religion and religious organizations should not be separated from the state. Moreover, approximately 17% of the respondents allow the possibility of forced imposition of religion. Such responses give serious food for thought. And this is because such sentiments are used to justify the strivings of religious organizations to conduct a “symphony” with the state, on the one hand, while some state figures or ideologized groups are trying to be the “first violin” in this “symphony” and draw religion into political projects, on the other. These precepts are being embodied in behind-the-scenes rapprochement between representatives of the state and religious bureaucracy by reducing their activity to imitation, that is, to creating the semblance of serving the people.
On the whole, sentiments are being manifested that directly promote the politicization of religion, which frequently finds its expression in the support of charismatic leaders who use religious rhetoric. It is enough to recall the Shari‘a law declared by the Wahhabis in the Kadar zone with its armed formations, emir, and courts. The creation of the so-called People’s Congress of Chechnia and Daghestan, the seizure (in May 1998) of the government building in Makhachkala, and the attack by Chechen illegal armed formations in 1999 on Daghestan were also conducted under the cover of Islamic slogans. What is more, some political parties are successfully playing the Islamic card. There have also been attempts to reduce the constitutional right of citizens to freedom of conscience exclusively to the freedom of religion.
A percentage of Daghestan society sees religious freedom as activity that is not controlled by anyone or anything. The matter basically concerns the absence of publicity and openness in the activity of the Tariqat (Sufi) brotherhoods with their secret knowledge and narrow circle of elect.
In the opinion of the author of this article, the attitude toward religion as a factor for influencing real life is related to the fact that the republic has no active democratic political forces, movements, and parties which could see and resolve the political and economic problems of the transition period.
According to the republic’s Ministry of Justice, by 11 May, 2001, 495 Islamic, 16 Christian, and 4 Judaic religious organizations were registered by the state. Researchers divide most of the population upholding Islamic values or tending toward them into three groups: “traditionalists,” “Tariqat followers,” and “fundamentalists.”
Three specific groups of relations can be singled out in the rather homogenous religious and confessional structure of contemporary Daghestan. The first and largest is formed by the followers of Islam, Russian Orthodoxy, and Judaism. The second consists of the adherents to various trends of Islam: Sunnites, Shi‘ites, followers of the Tariqat, and Wahhabis. Finally, the third (and most extensive) includes representatives of the so-called confessions that are traditional for Daghestan, on the one hand, and of new, mainly Protestant, religious movements, on the other. Admittedly, despite all the specificity of the religious and confessional relations in each of these groups, the main vector is drawn between Islam and any of the other faiths. This is determined by the fact that Islam is the largest religious system in our republic.
At the level of institutional structures themselves, these relations are still underdeveloped and are manifested episodically. On the whole, they boil down to an exchange of opinions on legislative questions that are of common interest. Whereby such meetings are usually initiated by the republic authorities. In each of the groups we designated, relations are formed in their own way. Whereas in the first they are relatively correct, in the other two, they are tense and explosive. This is caused in no small measure by proselytism. The heterogeneous confessional structure prompts religious organizations to engage in intense rivalry and a struggle to recruit their congregation. The symptoms of this can clearly be traced in the mass media. It is also shown by the public and blatantly demonstrative religious and confessional preference by some state functionaries and the mass media. An example of this is the publications in the newspapers Assalam, Nurul islam, and Derbentskie novosti. The matter concerns the open opposition of Muslim and Russian Orthodox organizations against the Protestant communities.
The ambiguous understanding of the principle of religious equality is confirmed by the results of our surveys. To the question, “Do you agree with the opinion that all religions have the equal right to preach their views in the Republic of Daghestan?” only 53% of the respondents answered in the affirmative, 27.7% did not agree with the principle of religious equality, and 18.3% did not know. An ethnic breakdown in the responses to this question shows that approximately 30% Lakhs and Lezghians, 27% Avars, 20% Darghins, and 16% Kumyks do not recognize the equal right of all religions to preach their views in Daghestan.
It is obvious that religions are divided into “preeminent,” “tolerable,” and “persecuted.” This gives rise to tension which it would seem had long receded into the past. It also prompts representatives of the traditional confessions to turn to the republic’s leadership and law enforcement agencies with insistent requests to restrict and even prohibit Protestant missionary work.
Due to Daghestan’s special ethnic-confessional features, the problems of interconfessional relations directly affect ethnic relations. The close relationship between religion and ethnic group and the affiliation of the conflicting sides to different ethnic groups frequently leads to a confrontation, which also acquires an ethnic nature. In such cases, religion is used as an ethnic mobilizing factor. Many Daghestanians are aware of these features of religion. Only 33.1% of the respondents believe that it has a positive influence on ethnic relations, 28.6% share the opinion that religion and its institutions are not capable of improving ethnic relations, and even aggravate them, and 20.4% think that it does not have any influence on ethnic relations in the republic.
1. The study conducted allows us to assert that the social and political changes in the republic during the 1990s have significantly transformed the religious situation in Daghestan.
2. The role and importance of the religious component in the population’s public consciousness has perceptibly increased, and society has a greater understanding of the laws governing the existence of religion and its institutions. Religion, mainly Islam, is perceived not only as a religious system, but also as a natural cultural environment for the republic’s peoples, a national way of life. In this sense, religiosity has great potential for alienating liberal, western values, including pro-western economic reforms.
3. It is obvious that the influence of religion on various spheres of public life will increase in the next few years, although a relative level of religiosity will be maintained by formal believers who demonstrate their affiliation to a specific confession out of conformism or a sense of prestige.
4. There are still trends toward politicization of the clergy and clericalism of society, with the striving of some state structures and government figures to use religious rhetoric and the sentiments of the believers in their political interests.
5. Such previously vivid interrelations between religiosity and age and religiosity and education, for example, are no longer pertinent. The analysis revealed trends toward a certain rejuvenation in the membership of religious communities, and toward the formation of a new type of believer. However, under the influence of religious education and the active propaganda of dogma, we can expect the mass consciousness to be replenished with religious information, and in the future a religious center to be formed capable of posing and carrying out common strategic tasks.
6. We can presume that interconfessional relations will continue to be afflicted by negative attitudes toward the missionary work carried out by Protestant associations in the republic and toward extremist Islamic trends.
1. In our opinion, strategy should proceed from the need to de-politicize religion. Religion should not be adopted as the official ideology, and practical and law-making policy should not proceed from its prescriptions. According to the republic’s Constitution, Islamic and other religious organizations cannot perform the functions of state power and local self-government structures, or participate in the activity of political parties or in elections to the state power structures. These restrictions are an important prerequisite for the non-conflict functioning of religion and for ensuring the equality of all citizens of Daghestan.
2. The main task lies in neutralizing the striving of religious parties and movements toward restoring former “alliance” relations with the state, when religious organizations served as a cover for the activity of various special services and in exchange received all kinds of privileges. We need to get away from the situation where, in gratitude for their loyalty to the authorities, religious organizations are entrusted to perform certain state functions. Of course, it is very convenient that these structures substitute for certain inactive state bodies, but in the long run this will only aggravate intra- and interconfessional conflicts and increase the claims of religious organizations to power.
3. It is very important to abandon the illusion that the state should be apathetic in the religious sphere. The state should see that religious organizations observe the republican Law on Freedom of Conscience, Religion, and Religious Organizations and assume control over the religious situation in general. In so doing, it should be kept in mind that real regulation can only be achieved by adhering to the principle of equal remoteness and mutual respect of each side: state agencies and religious organizations.
4. We must not allow publicly significant undertakings, television broadcasting, and teaching in general education schools to be conducted with the permission or approval of a religious organization. Giving permission is the prerogative of the state and its structures. The constitutional principles of a secular state must be restored in full.
5. It is also obvious that the social and political orientations of the clergy should be kept under constant surveillance, as well as the relations of religious organizations among themselves and with the outside world, that is, with public, state, and international structures.