Crimean Tatars - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs and Practices. The principal religion of the Crimean Tatars is Islam, and as Muslims they are Sunnis of the Hanafi school. Founded in the eighth century by abu-Hanafa and being one of the four approaches to Islamic jurisprudence—differing by emphasizing secondary principles determining law, after the Quran—the Hanafi school is more liberal than the others in its insistence on the right of juridical speculation, particularly analogical deduction. Almost one-half of all Muslims adhere to this school. Its traditional center was the Ottoman Empire, with which the Crimean Tatars were closely tied. During the history of the khanate, religion and culture were intimately linked, not an atypical relationship within an Islamic society.

At the time of the Russian conquest, a survey revealed 1,542 mosques, 25 madrassas (higher schools of theology), and 35 maktabs (primary schools) scattered about the peninsula. Following the peninsula's incorporation into the Russian Empire, these numbers declined precipitously, along with the reduction of the population resulting from emigration. The Muslim clergy were brought within the Russian bureaucratic structure and granted salaries. Until the early twentieth century, the status of the Islamic religion among Crimean Tatars was low and subject to frequent criticism, although calls for reform were beginning to have their effect. Not long after the October Revolution, the militant atheism of Bolshevik ideology, coupled with Soviet power, virtually eliminated all public practice of the faith (there are no mosques for the Tatar population), but it was never able to root out the sociocultural influences of Islam affecting the private rites of birth, marriage, and death. When out of necessity during World War II Stalin's regime conceded some official organization to Soviet Muslims, Crimean Tatars were placed nominally under the Spiritual Directorate of Central Asia and Kazakhstan. More recently, demands for restoration of religious rights have been made to the authorities, including reestablishment of a separate directorate for Crimean Tatars alone; in addition, appeals for support from Muslims abroad have been issued, suggesting a turn to religion as an alternative to the uninspiring dicta of Marxism-Leninism. The influence of Islam finds current expression in the practice of circumcision as well as in the exercise of religious rites associated with marriage and burial. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is observed, although how widely is not clear; and at least some applications for travel visas to perform the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) have been made.

Arts. Tatar culture has a rich tradition of oral and written poetry, chronicle prose, music, and visual arts drawn from Turkic roots as well as the Arabo-Persian sources of Islam. In the sixteenth century, for example, a whole school of poetry, much influenced by contemporary Ottoman poetry, evolved around the alim Kefevi Alshayh Abu Bakr Efendi. Although examples of written literature from the pre-1783 centuries do not abound, a number of historical chronicles have survived, including Tarih-i Sahib Giray, Tevarih Dest-i Kipcak, Ucuncu Islam Giray Khan Tarihi, and the most useful for Tatar history and culture, Asseb' o-sseiiar'. Traditional Tatar folk music was typically Turkic in composition and instrumentation, with the most prominent instruments being the zuma (flute), tulup-zurna (a kind of bagpipe), varieties of dumbelek (drums), as well as string devices such as the kemanche (played with a bow), the santyr (struck with hammers), and the saz (plucked).

Tatar literate culture suffered immensely in consequence of the Russian conquest until its revival was inspired by Ismail Bey Gasprinskii, a Tatar social critic and reformer, beginning in the late 1870s. A pioneer of the Turkic-language press in the Russian Empire, Gasprinskii published Terc man, perhaps the most famous and influential newspaper in the Turkic world from 1883 until Gasprinskii's death in 1914. On its pages he articulated a program that advocated secularization of culture, fundamental reform of education, language reform, economic development, emancipation of women, and a transformation of social attitudes, all along modern lines. In the process he fostered literary creativity not only among his own Crimean Tatars but within the larger Turkic world. Among those of his compatriots who rose to prominence writing belles lettres as well as didactic prose and poetry by the turn of the twentieth century were Abd rreshid Mediev, Osman Akchokrakly, Bekir Emek, Ali Bodaninskii, Hasan Sabri Aivazov, Ismail Lemanov, and Husein Shamil Toktargazy. The peak of creativity came in the 1920s just as the Soviet regime began cracking down on independent cultural activity. The easing of such restraints in the late 1980s has produced an outpouring in Crimean Tatar expressive culture, one of the most important vehicles for which is the literary journal Yildiz.

Medicine. Despite limitations on the delivery of health care in the Soviet Union, the country is generally modern in its health facilities, and Tatars have full access to those facilities.

Death and Afterlife. There have been no studies of Tatar attitudes toward death and afterlife, although traditionally their Islamic faith would have instilled in them beliefs in the continued existence of the soul after the death of the body and in the soul enjoying the rewards of heaven for a righteous life or the pains of hell as punishment for sin.

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