The Legacy of the Caesars in the Arab Countries… Russian Orientalism and the Islamic World

Relations between Russia and the Islamic world began at an early age, when the Abbasid caliphs exchanged embassies with Russia, and when Russia annexed some regions with a Muslim majority, interest in Islamic studies increased, and after accepting Christianity as a religion in Russia in 988, Russia's relations with the East were firmly established.

In his book "Russian Orientalism and the Islamic World" – issued in 2022 by the Wa'i Foundation for Studies and Research in Doha – the Syrian academic Mahmoud Al-Hamza deals extensively and comprehensively with studies from the history of Orientalism and scientific Arabization in Russia. He also devoted this book to talking about the history of Russian Orientalism over more than 300 years old.

The author traces the spiritual relations between Russia and the Islamic and Christian Arab East over a thousand years.

"Russian Orientalism and the Islamic World" is part of a large scientific project that Al-Hamza has worked on for more than 20 years in the field of the history of Russian Orientalism and the history of the study of Arab sciences.

Ancient cultural relations between Russia and the Arab East

The author states that Islam entered Russia during the reign of Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab (23 AH) – beginning in the seventh century AD – through the city of "Bab al-Abwab" (Darband) in Dagestan.

The interest of the Russians in the history and culture of the Arabs began from the beginning of trade trips and Orthodox religious missions to the holy places in Palestine, which were taking place between the merchants of the Arab East – specifically the merchants of Baghdad – and the merchants of the peoples of Asia, to extend to the Kievan-Russian market.

The Russian orientalist B.M. Danzig (1896-1973) states that some medical, chemical, astronomical, and literary terms of Arabic origin entered the Russian language in the late eighteenth century, through Western orientalists, writers, and tourists.

As the Arab historian and geographer Ibn Khordadbeh (d.: 280 AH) wrote, "The Russians of the Slavic tribe used to sell sable fur and black foxes on the shores of the Mediterranean." The author states that large groups of Arab coins dating back to the eighth and ninth centuries have been discovered in different regions of Russia, confirming the existence of ancient links between the Russians and the Arabs.

Russian Orientalism… From Kazan to Petersburg

The author continues to narrate the details of the beginnings of Russian Orientalism, and says: In 1716, Emperor Peter I (1672-1725) ordered the translation of the Noble Qur’an into Russian in St. He died 1672), after which the first Russian translation of the book "One Thousand and One Nights" was published.

Kharkov University established in 1804 a chair for teaching oriental languages, and Kazan University began teaching Arabic studies in 1811. The beginnings of Russian Orientalism were in Kazan, the capital of Orientalism in the country, before it turned to Petersburg, according to the author.

Oriental influences.. travelers and orientalists

The Russian orientalist Ignatius Krachkovsky (1883-1951) mentions in his book Brief History of Russian Arabization that the scientific traditions in the field of Russian Arabization took shape at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and there were signs of getting to know Arab culture in Kievan Russia (relative to the city of Kiev, the capital of contemporary Ukraine) and Russia. Muscovite (relative to Moscow).

Dr. Montaser Al-Hamad, an academic at Qatar University who specializes in Semitic languages, applied and comparative linguistics, and teaching Arabic to non-Arabs, explains, saying, "The stage of scientific institutionalization of Russian Orientalists began in the early nineteenth century and continued on that approach, and many of them insist – especially after Karachovsky – on launching The Arabization school is based on their studies, considering them a part of the East that is inseparable from it historically, religiously, heritage or geographically.

The author of the book "Russian Orientalism and the Islamic World" indicates that the journey of the explorer, geographer, and diplomat Ahmed bin Fadlan (877-960) to the Emirate of the Bulgars on the banks of the Volga in the tenth century AD had a mutual impact on the Russians and the Arabs, as it became famous at the beginning of the twelfth century AD. In Kiev, Dr. Boutros the Syrian, who represented the Syriac-Arabic school written in both Arabic and Syriac.

Krachkovsky believes that some Arabic words were transferred to Russia thanks to the Tatars in the thirteenth century AD, as well as thanks to the Kazans and Bukharians (relative to the cities of Kazan and Bukhara) during their commercial operations.

The author explains that with the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Russian library acquired literary masterpieces translated from Arabic from Indian origins, such as the story "Kalila wa Dimna" and the Assyrian story "The Wisdom of Ahiqar" dating back to the seventh century BC, and the home of the story is Mesopotamia.

Regarding the Arabs' benefit from Russian Orientalism, the Saudi researcher, Dr. Majid bin Abdulaziz Al-Turki, head of the Center for Media and Arab-Russian Studies, says, "The Arabs benefited from the service of Russian researchers for the Arabic language, and we in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia relied a lot on the sources of Russian Arabism."

negative opinions

Mahmoud Al-Hamza points out that there are writings allowed by Russia against Islam in the sixteenth century, and perhaps the most important of these writings is the study of the Italian writer Riccadlos de Monte Crotzies, and the writings of the Catholic Polish tendency, Martin Balski, which was translated into Russian between the years (1578-1580), and the writings of Peter Alphonse And others that gave a biased image of the West regarding the conflict that was taking place between the representatives of the Eastern Church and the rulers of Turkey and Egypt, and distorted the true view of the Arab-Islamic mentality.

In this regard, the writer says, "In the Soviet Union, the idea of fighting religions was prevalent." Mahmoud Al-Hamza explains – in his interview with Al-Jazeera Net – that "during the reign of President Vladimir Putin, there was a Russian interest in the Islamic world, and despite that there was harassment of Muslims and a ban on building mosques, which is what (Russian) Muslims consider a kind of restriction on religious freedoms."

The author says in his book that the Russian Arabization environment witnessed – from time to time – anti-Islamic positions, such as the position of "the president of Kazan University, who put forward some negative opinions towards Arab and Islamic culture."

Regarding the existence of an extremist current in Russia within the field of Russian Orientalism, Dr. Majid al-Turki answers – to Al-Jazeera Net – saying, "During the period of the former Soviet Union: Yes, but after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, this matter is not apparent, as there became individual activities of Russian researchers."

Hidden intentions and apparent evidence

Mahmoud Al-Hamza confirms that Arab culture did not reach Russia directly from the Arab world, but rather passed through the Western European refinery, and most of it was distorted away from scientific objectivity.

Dr. Montaser Al-Hamad comments: "Although the Arabization scholars are keen on methodology, impartiality, and scientificity, some of them may succumb to the symptoms of passion and exaggeration in the rivalry."

The author shows that there are some European (German and French), Greek and Byzantine studies that were transferred to the Russians and influenced by some, as Russia wanted to use the Western European viewpoint on Islam, to be based on intellectual documents employed by the Russian intellectual Christian Orthodoxy against the "Islamic Tatar dogmatism".

Mahmoud Al-Hamza points out that among the steps taken by Empress Katerina II (1729-1796) in her propaganda program: she delegated academics in Petersburg and Kazan to reprint the Holy Qur’an and distribute it in large quantities among the Muslims of Tsarist Russia in Central Asia.

The academic at Qatar University, Montaser Al-Hamad, said, in his interview with Al-Jazeera Net, "The state, as the entity that incubates thought and culture, and finances its enlightenment and philosophical schools and the academies that are based on its institutionalization, is the main guide for the Orientalism or Arabization movement."

New scientific traditions

The pages of the book "Russian Orientalism and the Islamic World" tell that the Russian Arabization soon began to form itself, relying directly on Eastern and Islamic sources. The author explains – to Al-Jazeera Net – "The orientations of the Arabists in the Arabist school in the Caucasus were different, as they were studying Islamic issues such as jurisprudence, the history of Islam and the history of the Islamic caliphate."

He added, "We find in the Institute of Oriental Studies encouraging the Russians – including the Jews – to study Arabization, so that the percentage of Russian Arabists has become large at the expense of Muslim Arabists, and this is not a coincidence."

The writer notes that Professor Bernadette worked to establish new scientific traditions in teaching oriental languages, followed by the German orientalist Ramel (1771-1859), who admired the Arabic language and described it as "a wonderful and very rich language." His presence in Russia was purely coincidental during Napoleon's attack on Germany, where he was contracted by the University of Kharkov and began working there (1811-1814). He left a collection of scientific works, including: "Reflections on the Arabs."

In Moscow, the Russian professor Boldyrev (1780-1842), who was a student at the hands of German and French orientalists, such as the French orientalist Sylvester de Sacy (1758-1838), was active, where Boldyrev then taught Arabic at Moscow University, and his book became “Teaching.” Arabic" is a basic reference at Moscow University for 40 years.

Love of the east and oriental spirit

The writer says that the Arab and Islamic culture spread in Russia thanks to the Arab scholars, who came to Russia since the nineteenth century, and contributed to the dissemination of the Arabic language, and he mentions among them: the Egyptian Sheikh Muhammad Ayad al-Tantawi (worked in Petersburg in the nineteenth century), and Ahmed Hussein al-Makki ( From Mecca and worked in Kazan since 1852), the Syrians Michael Ataya and Gerges Ibrahim Morcos (in Moscow in the nineteenth century), the Palestinians Bendaly Saliba Jozi, Kulthum Odeh Vasilieva, Michael Naima, Abdullah Qalzi, Fadlallah Saruf, Antoine Khashab, and Tawfiq Gibran Quzma .

The major libraries in Kazan, Petersburg, Moscow, Dagestan and Bukhara contained hundreds of thousands of Arabic manuscripts, some of which are rare.

As a result, a number of Russian pioneers were influenced by Arab culture. The Russian writer Maxim Gorky (1868-1936) proudly declared his influence on Arab culture, and before him the Russian writer who authored the novel "War and Peace" Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), who drowned in the love of the East, He was impressed by the Holy Qur’an, which he read well, and “Tolstoy had a deep respect for the sublime values that Islam called for, and he praised the personality of the Arab Messenger, may God bless him and grant him peace.”

And he went towards what Tolstoy went to famous Russian writers and poets, such as the poet Alexander Pushkin (1799-1838), who was influenced by the Qur’an and its eloquence, and was also influenced by the biography of the Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, as he was influenced by Arab folk literature, and wrote many poetic writings influenced by the East, its literature and arts.

in the service of politics

The pages of the book "Russian Orientalism and the Islamic World" tell how the Russians tried to subjugate Russian Arabism to political and ideological trends, by linking Orientalism to Marxism, just as the Stalinist authorities imprisoned a number of Orientalists, and fought the Orientalist Ignatius Krachkovsky, who was subjected to tremendous pressure until he died.

Dr. Mahmoud Al-Hamza comments on this, saying, "The Russian authorities used to assign orientalists, travelers who go to the East, diplomats, and merchants to write reports about their observations, and through that the Soviet Union was intellectually and ideologically colonizing countries in the Arab and Islamic East."

While researcher Majid al-Turki believes, "The association of the Russian orientalists and Arabists with the Russian political and intelligence circles is natural and certain, and their funding, support and movement are all of this and all the activities of the state with all its activities were subject to the Russian intelligence agency."

Al-Turki added – while speaking to Al-Jazeera Net – "However, after 1990, Russian researchers became essentially independent. I notice this in their writings and analyzes that contradict the official approach of Russian policy, in addition to their lack of funding because the Russian government abandoned them, so the Russian Arabization entered a stage aging.”

The Syrian-Russian author, Mahmoud Al-Hamza, was born in Al-Hasakah, Syria, in 1954. He obtained a doctorate in mathematics in Moscow and taught in many Arab and foreign universities. He has published more than 70 scientific papers in pure mathematics and in the history of Arabic mathematics in the Middle Ages.

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