The deputy premier of the Russian republic of Tatarstan, Marat Khusnullin, has approved plans for the celebration of 1,100 years since the conversion to Islam of the Volga Bulgarians, an ancient population of the Ural region at the time of Kievan Rus’.
In 2022, 71 events are planned. The most important is the construction in Kazan – capital of the Tatar republic – of a huge complex called the “Sobornaja” Mosque or “Cathedral” (see model photo): the sacred building will include a museum, a library and several exhibition and reading rooms (madrassas). There will also be major initiatives in the nearby regions of Ulyanovsk and Nizhny Novgorod, and in Moscow.
A scientific center for the study and dissemination of manuscripts of Islamic sources will be opened in Kazan. It will be made accessible to researchers and the people, enhancing all the documents preserved by the various libraries and scientific institutions.
A series of conferences on “Russia and the Islamic World” are also scheduled, with the participation of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, the KazanSummit center for economic studies and UNESCO, which will hold the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee in Kazan.
The Volga Bulgarians were the original population of the eastern part of present-day European Russia. In 988, at the time of the Christian baptism of Rus’, the prince of Kiev Vladimir had asked them, uncertain about which religion to adopt. According to the ancient Chronicle of Nestor, their poor hygiene in prayer meetings and rejection of alcoholic beverages made the Russians lean toward Byzantine Christianity, which captivated the Kievan envoys with the splendor of the rites of St. Sophia in Constantinople.
The invasion of Kievan Rus’ by the Tatar-Mongolian hordes in the early thirteenth century, just after the death of Genghis Khan, was preceded by the annihilation of the Eastern Bulgarians, who thus disappeared from history. The Tatars did not have an official religion and admitted local cults, thus assimilating themselves to the Islam of Kazan, while the Khanates of Asia and the Middle East converted to the Muslim religion only at the end of the 1300s.
Later conquered by the Russians under the leadership of the first Tsar Ivan the Terrible in the mid-1500s, Kazan became integrated into the Moscow court. Because of these historical dynamics, the Islam of the Russian Tatars has always lived in harmony with Orthodox Christianity as the second traditional religion of the Russian state.
Kazan’s celebrations are considered a kind of accompaniment to the exaltation of Christian Russia, and do not constitute a reason for interreligious conflict. Rather, on the contrary, they testify to the specificity of Russia as a country capable of realizing the harmony of the great religions, unlike the historical Western conflict between Christianity and Islam.