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Islam was initially embraced by the Volga Bulgars who used to trade with both the West and Arabia. Through merchants and travellers, the belief in one God – Allah – spread.
In 921, the Bulgar Khan requested the Baghdad Caliph to send architects, urban developers and religious instructors of Islam. A representative delegation from Baghdad arrived, headed by the famous scholar Ibn Fadlan. He left a detailed record of the Bulgar Khan and his subordinates embracing the Islamic religion.
The further history of Islam dissemination is connected with the Tatar-Mongol conquest. By 1237, the Kipchak, Eastern Bulgars, and the whole area along the western slopes of the Urals western Bashkirs had been occupied by the Mongols.
The Mongol state used to have a religion of its own but it eventually lost its former influence. More developed religions – Christianity of various manifestations and Buddhism – started to be embraced by the Mongols. The top echelons of the Golden Horde took an interest in Islam. Bereke Khan, who reigned between 1255 and 1266, was the first to accept Islam. The further spread of Islam in the Golden Horde is connected with Uzbek Khan who was in power between 1312 and 1342. He made Islam the state religion of the Golden Horde. The dissemination of Islam was accompanied by the development of cities, by the construction of mosques, medrese, mausoleums and palaces. Mosques were constructed in the Crimea, in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Joining Russia was a turning point for Bashkiria. A Spiritual Board was created in the 18th century to guide Moslems spiritual life and to coordinate the activities of mosques. The relevant ukase by Empress Catherine II instituting the Orenburg Mohammedan Spiritual Assembly was signed on September 22, 1788 (the office was later renamed into the board). The Tsarist Government used to appoint muftis from among representatives of rich Moslem families, the first being Mukhamedzhan mufti Guseinov (Khusainov), who headed the Spiritual Board for 36 years. His father being a rich merchant from Orenburg, he was trained in Bukhara and Kabul, served as an officer and participated in Russias campaigns in the Caucasus. Salimgarei Tevkelev was appointed mufti for similar accomplishments, having participated in the Balkan campaign and quelling the Polish Rebellion. He was decorated with the Orders of St. Anna, of Prince Vladimir and received gifts of value. There had been only seven Muftis before 1917: Mukhamedzhan mufti Guseinov (Khusainov) (1788-1824), Gabdulsalyam mufti Gabdrakhimov (1825-1839), Gabdulvakhit mufti Suleimanov (1840-1862), Salimgarei mufti Tevkelev (1865-1885), Mukhamadiyar mufti Sultanov (1886-1915), Mukhametsafa mufti Bayazitov, (1915-1917), Galimzhan mufti Barudi (February 1917-November 1917).
The establishment of the Spiritual Board resulted in the formation of a complicated network of spiritual organizations distinguished by centralism and three-tier hierarchy embracing the whole of Russia. Before the February 1917 Revolution, the Spiritual Board of Inland Russia and Siberia comprised about 7,000 mahallahs and about 100 mukhtasibs boards. 24,500 mosques were functioning all over the Russian empire with 123,000 imams and mullahs. Each Bashkir village used to have at least one mosque. In 1897 Orenburg Guberniya numbered 577 mosques and Ufimskaya – 1,609.
Publishing religious literature was on the rise. Whereas previously only manuscript versions of Koran had been circulated, this sacred book of Islam started to be printed in St. Petersburg, Kazan, Orenburg and Ufa in the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Also published were Korans interpretations, textbooks, translations of literature coming from Central Asia, Persia, Arabic countries and especially from Turkey. Secular literature appeared along with religious writings. The outlook of literate people developed which contributed to disseminating knowledge among illiterate co-religionists.
The Spiritual Board paid much attention to moral fostering of believers. It did not restrict itself to embedding the instructions of Koran into believers minds, but proceeded from the Sunnah — the Hadith, the body of tradition and legend about Mohammed and his followers. Islams moral principles demanded respect for parents and seniors, mercy for juniors and helpless elderly people, responsibility for the family wellbeing, bringing up children, decent behaviour. Alcoholic beverages and drugs were strictly prohibited. Appreciated were care for nature and laboriousness. Such vices as jealousy, pride, greediness and slander were denounced, and praised were mercy, conciseness and patience. Not all prohibitions of Islam were recognized and followed, though. For example, the requirement of womens seclusion was hardly implemented, and Bashkir women never wore yashmaks. The Islamic clergy did not allow believers to possess musical instruments, to sing songs and to participate in entertainments. In spite of these prohibitions, however, Bashkir songs could be heard resounding over the expanses of the Urals. Islam prohibited painting and drawing humans, but it was not possible to suppress this art completely.
1909 saw the development of the «Chygtai mullah case». The mullah, who was also a journalist and a writer, published a book in which he denied Mohammad his prophetical mission and tried to prove that though Mohammad had been great, he had been just a human. He further wrote that Islam was not contributing to progress and that Moslem nations were, including Arabia itself were the most backward countries. It was an attempted criticism of several provisions of Islam.
The publication of this book infuriated the clergy. The Board threatened to deprive Chygtai of his mullah title and to fire him. Under such pressure Chygtai repented his convictions and his book, this move generating irony and criticism from Gabdullah Tukai and the representatives of the democratic press. Later Chygtai would return to his initial theses and substantiate them in a greater detail. After the Revolution of 1917, Chygtai relinquished his mullah position and started to critically rethink Koran and other religious books. He used to live in Ufa at that time. In 1925 he was appointed editor of the Tatar-language magazine «Science and Religion» which was published in Moscow until 1932.
Gabdrakhman Rasulev was the Mufti (1936-1950) during the severest years of WWII. There was an official announcement that the Spiritual Board was a member of the antifascist front and that it was ready to render all kinds of assistance to the heroic Soviet Army. The influence of the Board was significantly enhanced when Joseph Stalin decided to appeal to and make use of religious organizations. The Central Moslem Spiritual Board headquartered in Ufa underwent structural changes. New Spiritual Boards of Moslems were established: of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, of the Northern Caucasus, of Transcaucasia. The scope of activities of the Ufa-based Board was thus reduced. The Moslems Congress of 1948 approved of these decisions and the Ufa Office acquired the title of the Spiritual Board of Moslems of the European Part of the USSR and Siberia.
Heading the Board between 1951 and 1974 was Mufti Shakiryan Sheikh-ul-Islam Khiyaletdinov, a prominent scholar of Islam. He continued the policy of loyal attitude to the Soviets and made an important contribution to patriotic upbringing of believers, instructing them to work honestly for the benefit of the society and to adhere to supreme moral principles. Under his leadership the Spiritual Board established ties with Moslem centres in foreign countries. Such ties are currently maintained with several dozens of countries. The Mufti attended international conferences in defence of peace and social justice. Everywhere, he acted and spoke as a loyal Soviet citizen. He authored numerous books, one of the best known in Bashkortostan being «Islam and Rites»(«Islam hem Gibadat»).
Next Muftis were Akhmetzyan Mustafin (1974-75) and Abdulbarii Isayev (1975-1980). Since 1980, the office of Supreme Mufti, Chairman of the Central Spiritual Board of Moslems of Russia has been held by Sheikh-ul-Islam Talgat Safa Tadzhuddin. He graduated from the „Mir-arab“ Medrese in Bukhara and the world-famous „Al-Azhar“ University in Egypt and is considered to be a well-known Islamic scholar.
The history of its establishment is the following: in accordance with the Decree of Catherine the II «About establishment of Orenburg Moslem Clerical Board», issued on September 1788, Clerical Board of Moslems had been opened on December 4, 1789, in Ufa. Opening mosques, appointment and approval of Moslem clergy was one of its main tasks and for education of this clergy religious educational institutions under mosques were founded everywhere. The personnel were educated mainly in Madrasah. Later «Muhammadia» and «Mardjani»in Kazan, «Galya» and «Usmania» in Ufa and «Husania» in Orenburg became the most popular.
At the beginning of the XX century more than 1 million and a half people lived in Ufa province and Moslem education in their own languages was mostly private. Thanks to initiatives and efforts of Ufa Moslems nobles, merchants and officials Madrasah «Galya» was opened on November 15, 1906, under the Second Cathedral Mosque. Its educational facilities were erected in 1906 with the help of means of local patrons. Education here lasted for six years and history and philosophy of Islam, Koran interpretation and languages Arab, Persian, Russian and Tatar were the main subjects along with mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, pedagogics, psychology and others. Education in the Madrasah was kept on the level of theological faculties in Islam countries and here well-known religious pedagogues, educated in Egypt, Syria and Turkey, worked. There are three stages in history of the Madrasah «Galya»: the first one is dated by 1906-1907 it was the period of foundation for the Madrasah, when the main principles and directions in education were determined. The second stage belongs to 1908- 1912, when the Madrasah was being developed as the center of temporal education, actively using new methods of education. The third stage (1913-1917) was different by widening of its temporal educational program with development of democratic traditions in education. For ten years of Madrasah existence (1906-1916) many prominent activists of culture and enlightenment have left its walls: Majit Gafuri, Sheikhzade Babitch, Hasan Tufan, Saifi Kudasch and others. 250 graduates have become teachers of primary and secondary schools, more than 300 doctors and engineers, researchers and agronomists.
On January 2001 former facilities of Madrasah «Galya» were transferred to Russian Islamic University of Central Clerical Moslem Dept of Russia.