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ISLAMIC RENAISSANCE PARTY. Surfacing in the Soviet Union during the summer of 1990, the Islamic Renaissance/Revival Party (IRP, or Hizb-i Nahzat-i Islami) developed as opportunities for religious expression expanded under the policy of glasnost (openness) introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev. Just as the Soviet Tatars persuaded Stalin in 1942 to allow the formal Islamic hierarchy to function, so too the formation of the IRP began under Tatar Islamic leadership. The movement for Islamic revival represents the convergence of two streams in Soviet Islam-one official and represented by the four official directorates (at Ufa, Makhachkala, Tashkent, and Baku), and the other unofficial and underground. As the Soviet Union disintegrated; the support system for the maintenance of the official and restricted structure of Islam, marked by a limited number of functioning mosques, trained clergy, and seminaries (madrasahs), also began to diminish. This shifting situation allowed the emergence of young, educated, outspoken clerics who were less subservient to the directives of the Communist Party, and it removed the fear of persecution that had kept influential religious leaders underground. While some clerics were removed as a result of popular protest (for example, Mufti Ziauddin Babakhanov), others achieved wide influence (Mufti Tajuddin and Qazi Akbar Turajonzoda among them). During the period between 1990 and 1991 when the political situation in all parts of the former Soviet Union was fluid, the divisions between official and unofficial Islam became blurred, only to separate again in those parts of Central Asia where Islamic political activity unsuccessfully challenged the political dominance of the reemerging elites of the old order. The surfacing of unofficial Islam and the organized activities of the IRP have resulted in a transformation of Islam in Russia and in Central Asia into a more confident, moralistic, and potentially powerful force.


Organization. The IRP was established on the broad pattern of the Communist Party in that it was an all USSR party initially, with individual parties in each of the republics; parties were formed in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan, and possibly also in Moldavia and Georgia. Where forced to remain an underground organization, the IRP was organized into cells. It declared itself an all-Union religio-political organization of Muslims. Its three fundamental goals are spiritual revival, economic freedom, and the political and legal awakening of Muslims with the aim of activating in everyday life the basics of the Qur’an and the sunnah. Three methods to achieve these goals are outlined in the party bylaws: “to spread Islam by all the communications means available among all people; active participation by Muslims in the economic, political and spiritual life of the country; living, on a daily basis, by every member of the IRP a life according to the precepts of Islam.”

By the summer of 1991, one year after its official formation, the party functioned openly throughout the Soviet Union, although it was formally banned in some republics, including Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The existence of the IRP, even under the ban, exerted influence on the religious establishments of these two republics perhaps more than elsewhere. In Uzbekistan, the Office of the Mufti promoted Islamic precepts through all media, especially with regard to moral family life, proscription of alcohol, and Qur’anic education. Moreover, the influence of the IRP could be seen in the extensive programs for the education of women in proper Muslim decorum and dress, conducted through the official Islamic establishment. In Tajikistan the IRP played a pivotal role in the opposition movement (1992) and in the subsequent civil war that has spilled over into Afghanistan.

Membership in the IRP is open to Muslim men and women fifteen years and older, regardless of ethnic background. Republic parties were urged to avoid ethnic exclusiveness and to concentrate on the Muslim ummah. Members must live according to Islamic precepts, support the program of the IRP, and be recommended for membership by two current members. Any member who joins another party would be excluded from membership, a provision that was intended specifically to exclude Communist Party members.

The members of the IRP are mainly small-town and village youth who have received advanced education in cities but whose formative years were spent in unobtrusively religious surroundings. Because the IRP agenda is specifically attuned to the concerns of youth and professionals as well as to the propagation of Islamic principles, the party attracts students. It takes a conciliatory stance vis-a-vis the religious establishment, although its political agenda keeps some clerics aloof from the party. However, the existence of the party allows for a more visible advocacy of Islamic customs such as observation of fasts, modest female attire, and national celebration of religious occasions. Agenda. The thirty-two-point agenda of the IRP is marked by a call for active Islamic practice in all sectors of society, especially cultural, social, and economic. To this end it stresses moral interpersonal actions, the defense of Islam against the grafting on to it of any “ignorant contemporary” (i.e., non-Islamic) doctrine, and the resolution of disputes through the Qur’an and sunnah. In addition, the agenda supports the promotion of sports and health programs, provision of welfare for the needy, private ownership of property, and support of ecological activity to restore human-caused damage to nature. The last acknowledges the degradation of the Aral Sea, which affects most of the Muslims of the former Soviet Union. The establishment of an Islamic society is the ultimate goal of the IRP; however, it remains unclear whether this means the formation of an Islamic government, as the IRP has yet to gain sufficient political power to put its agenda into action.

Activity in Tajikistan. The IRP officially formed in Tajikistan on 26 October 1991, although it had become active long before, especially at universities, polytechnics, and pedagogical institutions, and among skilled workers at factories and state farms. Its semiclandestine newspaper, Najot (Salvation), appeared sporadically during the spring of z991. During the national elections in November 1991, the IRP did not endorse any of the eight candidates; its membership appeared split between the two leading candidates, although the youth tended to favor the candidate standing in opposition to the Communist Party slate. After the election the IRP gained legal status in Tajikistan for a period until, after the political turmoil of civil war, it was banned again on 21 June 1993 together with all other active parties in the country. Perhaps because its past was unblemished by Communist Party association (a problem for leaders of the other parties), the IRP was widely regarded as able to muster popular support from the outlying regions as well as in the capital, Dushanbe. For this reason it held a place of importance in the coalition that formed in opposition to Rahman Nabiev in late i991 and throughout 1992. Additionally, Akbar Turajonzoda, the qazi (Ar., qadi) of Tajikistan, a vigorous man in his late thirties-though appointed by the official directorate in Tashkent-was regarded as a progressive activist by much of the IRP membership. The IRP became part of the coalition, to which Turajonzoda lent his active support.

Months of opposition activity and the division of Tajikistan into armed camps along lines of regional allegiance erupted into a civil war that forced many among the opposition to flee into Afghanistan. Many of these opposition figures were stripped of immunity as legislative deputies and indicted in absentia on criminal charges for “terrorism,” a tactic specifically prohibited by the IRP.

Relations with Outside Countries. The IRP looks south to the rest of the Islamic world for models and for moral support. Some members regard Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as a courageous if not model Muslim, particularly for inviting Mikhail Gorbachev to accept Islam or risk destruction. Others regard the Afghan mujahidin, including the controversial Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as praiseworthy Muslims. Within their own historical background, Tajik IRP members prefer to think of themselves as following in the path carved by the Jadidists or reformists of the early twentieth century. They share with the Jadidists both anti-imperialism (against the West and Russia) and progressive ideas for the betterment of society. Because most Jadidists perished at the hands of the Communists, they may be models for the idealists of the IRP. However, unlike the IRP, Jadidism in general did not regard any religion, even Islam, as the route to sociopolitical development. The IRP has as its ultimate goal stepping into the modern world through the morals and concepts of Islam.

[See also Islam, article on Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus; Jadidism; and Tajikistan.]


Gretsky, Sergei. “Qadi Akbar Turajonzoda.” Central Asia Monitor i (1994): 16-24. Extensive article by an employee of the qazi of Tajikistan about the role of the Islamic opposition after 1990. Malashenko, Alexie V. “Islam versus Communism: The Experience of Coexistence.” In Russia’s Muslim Frontiers: New Directions in CrossCultural Analysis, edited by Dale F. Eickeleman, pp. 63-78. Bloomington, 1993. A presentation of the role of the IRP in Central Asia by a leading member of the (Soviet) Russian Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences who gives the Moscow perspective.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/islamic-renaissance-party/

  • writerPosted On: June 12, 2014
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