By Elmira Akhmetova

Musa Jārullāh Bigiyev was a Muslim Tatar religious scholar, journalist, politician, educator and a prolific writer, who devoted his entire life to reconciling Islam with modern progress. He published more than sixty books in Arabic and Old Ottoman dealing with the issues of Islamic jurisprudence, theology, sciences of the Qur’an, sciences of the hadith, literature, economics, law, politics and history.

Life and Times

Musa Jārullāh was born in 1875 in Novo-Cherkassk, a Russian city near Rostov-on-Don to a middle-class, scholarly Tatar family. His father died when Jārullāh was six years old. Jārullāh’s mother, Fatima, strove to raise her two sons – Zahir and Musa – as religious scholars. Rostov-on-Don was inhabited mostly by ethnic Russians and was a business centre and not conductive for Islamic learning.  Consequently, his mother sent Jārullāh in 1888 to the city of Qazan, where he enrolled in the most famous local religious schools of that time, Apanay, and, later, in the Kul Buye madrasah. Two years later, Jārullāh returned to Rostov-on-Don and completed his studies at the Rostov-on-Don Real Technical lyceum. Then he went to Central Asia, particularly to Bukhara and Samarqand. Unable to satisfy his religious and intellectual curiosity in the educational system prevalent in Central Asia and Russia, Jārullāh journeyed to Istanbul, and then, after spending a short time there, to Egypt. Here, he studied under Shaykh Muḥammad Bakhit al-Mutiʿī (d.1935), one of the most influential scholars of the country, a student and follower of the ideas of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897) and a close friend of Muhammad ‘Abduh (1849-1905).[1] Jārullāh also attended public lectures given by ‘Abduh. In the meanwhile, he researched the history of the Qur’ānic studies at the National Library of Egypt. Later on, Jārullāh went to perform the hajj. He stayed in Makkah and Medina for two years, seriously  and  continuously  studying  the  Qur’ān  and  Aḥādīth  of  the  Prophet Muḥammad  (PBUH).  He later travelled to India, spent about a year in Uttar Pradesh and learnt Sanskrit in order to be able to read the Mahabharata. From India, he  travelled  back  to  Egypt  and  continued  his  research  at  the  National  Library  for another three years. Then he went to Beirut, and from there he walked to Damascus.

In 1904, Jārullāh returned to Russia very depressed upon seeing the miserable situation of educational system prevailed in the Muslim world. He settled down in St Petersburg and joined the Law Faculty at the university.[2] Jārullāh’s move to the Russian capital coincided with the Revolution of 1905 and, as its consequence, the proclamation of the freedom of press, political activities and religious practices for all peoples of Russia, including the Muslim community. Jārullāh eagerly joined the political and educational activities of Russia’s Muslims, who tried to benefit from this piece of liberalism and freedom provided by the Tsarist government under the pressure of revolutionary upheavals. Together with his comrade, a famous Tatar Pan-Islamist activist and thinker, ‘Abd Rashid Ibrahimov (1857-1944), Jārullāh founded the Ülfet and Tilmiz newspapers in St Petersburg. Jārullāh was also active in organising the All-Russian Muslim Congresses during 1905-1917, which had aimed at uniting all Muslims living under the Tsarist rule and to find the exact solutions for their social, religious, educational and political dilemmas. He also served as the Central Committee member of the Russian Pan-Islamist party, Russiya Musulmannarining Ittifaqi (Union of Russia’s Muslims), throughout 1906-1917. In 1910, he was appointed as an imām at the St. Petersburg mosque.

Jārullāh welcomed the Russian February Revolution of 1917 claiming, perhaps naively, that “slavery is gone, and will never return back.”[3] When the Bolsheviks came to power following the October Revolution, his confidence in freedom for Russia’s Muslims did not decrease. The new regime had issued “A Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia” (October 26, 1917), which proclaimed the equality and sovereignty of the peoples living in Russia and confirmed their rights to self-determination. Jārullāh consequently considered the Soviet regime a potential ally of world-wide Muslims against the European imperialism, primarily the British. However, when the civil war ended in 1920 with the establishment of the undisputed authority of the Soviet regime in Russia including the Muslim populated territories of the Volga-Urals region, Caucasian area and Central Asia, the Communists began doing everything in their power to liquidate Islam. In 1920, Jārullāh wrote his Alphabet of Islam in response to The Alphabet of Communism (1919) of Nikolai Bukharin, the main theorist of the Communist identity. Two months later, due to his harsh criticism of the Marxist ideology, Jārullāh was arrested by Cheka in St Petersburg but was later released under the pressure from international Muslim communities. In 1926, Jārullāh attended International Islamic Conference at Makkah, as one of the seven elected Russian delegates. Very soon, he was accused by the Soviet regime of being a “spy of Turkey and India,” and, consequently, left the Soviet Russia secretly in 1930.

Jārullāh travelled extensively in the Muslim word, India, China, Japan and Europe. In 1933, he  founded  an  Islamic  Publishing  House  in  Berlin  with  the intention of transforming it into  a  religious and scientific  Islamic  Centre, which shall  unite  all  European Muslim intellectuals. In the following year Jārullāh visited Finland and from there he went to Iran and Iraq to learn about the situation of Muslims in those countries and to study the Shi’ah branch of Islamic belief. By the end of 1935, he returned to Cairo and continued his research on the Qurʾānic studies. In 1937, Jārullāh went to India, moving from Bombay to Benares, studying Hindu Vedas. In 1938, he was invited by his friend Ibrahimov to Japan. Afterwards, they  together visited  China,  Java,  Sumatra  (Indonesia)  and  Singapore  as  preachers  of  Islam.  In 1939, with the outbreak of World War II, Jārullāh had to leave Japan for India. He decided to settle down and end his expeditions, thus heading for Kabul, Afghanistan. He, however, was arrested by the British in Peshawar and imprisoned for several years without any charge. The ruler of Bhopal, Muḥammad Ḥamidullāh Khan (1894-1960),  managed  to  secure  his  release  from  the  prison,  but  Jārullāh  was  put  under house arrest by the British until 1945. Though difficult, these were the most fruitful years of his scholarship evidenced by the publication of ten major works on different issues.[4] Jārullāh passed away in Cairo in the charitable hospice in October of 1949.

Views on Islam and Civilizational Renewal

In his numerous writings, Jārullāh deliberated about the problems faced by the Muslim world, the reasons for Muslims’ backwardness in current realities and proposed certain ways to achieve progress and virtue in the near future. In his significant work, entitled Khaliq Nazarina Bernicha Mas’ala (Several Issues for Public Attention, published in 1912), Jārullāh praised Europe (he called it a ‘civilised world’) for freedom of thought generated by Protestant Reformation, and, at the same time, he decried the miserable situation in the Muslims world, wherein will, reason and thoughts of people became a captive of the restrictions favoured by the followers of the madhhabs. Jārullāh consequently asserted that constriction of the unlimited potential of Islam into the narrow circles of the existing madhhabs was the main reason for the decline of Islamic civilisation.[5]

Jārullāh also believed that educational stagnation prevalent in the Muslim societies confines deeply Muslims’ willpower and reasoning. After returning from his educational journey across the Middle East, Jārullāh expressed his dissatisfaction with the existing Muslim educational system accordingly:

Seeds of love for religious sciences were planted into my heart by the hands of the Almighty; after wasting ten years in religious schools of Qazan and Mawaraennahr, I departed to the Muslim countries full of hopes. I used  to travel in Islamic lands of Turkey,  Egypt,  Ḥijāz,  India  and  Shām  for  nearly  five  years;  and  was  staying  at religious  madrasahs of those countries for either short or long periods. I have seen every famous religious school of those lands. But, unfortunately, the thing that I was able to find least in these ‘great religious madrasahs’ was religious education.[6]

Jārullāh consequently stated that an urgent educational reform could be the only way to achieve real success and progress in the Muslim world. At the same time, he acknowledged that the defect of Muslim educational system was not due to the incompetence of the teaching staff, but because of the wrong selection of text-books, which were not capable to train students to deliberate or apply their knowledge into current realities.[7] Thus Jārullāh sat to write proper text-books for Islamic educational institutions, which were promised to activate brains, will and deliberation of Muslim youth. In 1909, Jārullāh began teaching at the Husainiyah madrasah in Orenburg, which was renowned for its diverse and progressive teaching staff. Yet, he lost this the only paid job for his entire life shortly due to the propagation of the idea of universality of God’s Mercy. The theses of this idea were expounded in his two books published in 1911, entitled Rahmat Ilahiyye Borhannary (Evidences on the Mercy of God) and Insannarning ‘Aqidah Ilahiyatlarene Ber Nazar (A Glimpse at the People’s Belief in God). In the same year, Jārullāh published another controversial work, entitled Ozin Konnarda Ruza: Ijtihad Kitaby (Fasting during Long Days: A Book of Ijtihad), a result of his journey to Finland. Based on his ijtihad, Jārullāh suggested that there is no obligation for Muslims to fast during the phenomenon of polar nights, but they are required to pay fidya. A Russian scholarly periodical Mir Islama (The World of Islam) appraised the publication of these books as a significant event in the Muslim world that: “Works of Musa Bigiyev suddenly became an object of special attention. The ideas of the Tatar philosopher began to spread increasingly among the Muslims of Constantinople. His courageous critique of traditional interpretations began to please many.”[8] A famous Turkish periodical, Türk Yurdu, labelled Jārullāh as a mujaddid of the fourteenth century Islam. Yet, Mustafa Sabri, shaykh al-Islam of the Osmanli Sultanate, banned several ground-breaking books of Jārullāh from circulation in 1913. Very often, Jārullāh was labelled as ‘Luther of Islam’ and ‘Islamic Reformist.’[9] He repeatedly opposed equating him with Luther, saying that his aim was not to reform the religion since: “Islam has no need for religion reformation. It is not Islam, but we ourselves who have social, religious and political diseases. For sure, we should seek remedies for these diseases. Therefore… we need to reform ourselves … It is improper to apply Christian Reformation to Islam.”[10]

Political Views

Jārullāh lived during a time when the ideas of nationalism had become one of the principal ideologies in the modern world, successfully spreading in the Muslim world as an impact of European colonialism and offering an alternative to the traditional ummah identity. In Russia, the Muslim nations became the members of the Soviet regime, which denounced both Islam and nationalistic inspirations as superstation and sources of deviation from communism. Jārullāh in his writings tried to expound the modern ideologies of nationalism, socialism and secularism through their relationship with the universal values of rights, justice, equality and mutual assistance, principles which are essential for maintaining peace, social stability and human security. He disowned racial ideas of nationalism like exalting a certain nation as in Turkism, or offering privileges to more progressed nations while ignoring the rights of other ‘backward’ communities as in the Soviet form of nationalism. At the same time, Jārullāh questioned ‘Proletarian Internationalism’ policy of the Soviet Union, i.e. the unification of proletariat from all over the world on the basis of hatred against capitalists, and called it as ‘myth’ and artificial remedy,’ which hinder attempts at improving the social conditions of people. Class-based civil uprisings and enmity destroy the true human civilisation, ruin any aspiration for social progress; consequently, they develop only the desire to promote personal interests in individuals, and improve nothing in human society and do not offer any benefit for humanity.[11] According to Jārullāh, protection of natural rights of nationalities and offering universal equality among all nations alone would provide the world with real progress and social harmony. As he affirmed, there was only one system capable of bringing equality to all small and big nations in their rights and dignity, and that was Islam. He assumed that, unlike the principles of nationalism, racism or communism, Islam saw all ethnic groups to be equal peers. Jārullāh consequently believed in the equality of all people of the world regardless of their religious and ethnic peculiarities, or the ideologies they follow. According to him, the words of Allah “As long as these stand true to you, stand ye true to them: for Allah doth love the righteous” (The Qur’an 9:7) constitute the basic principle of Islam for relations of Muslims with other peoples. Adhering to this, Jārullāh called for equality between all nations living in Russia and the entire world, all genders and social groups, in terms of rights and responsibilities.[12]


Further Reading:

Akhmetova. (2008). “Musa Jārullāh Bigiev (1875-1949): Political Thought of a Tatar Muslim Scholar,” Intellectual Discourse, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 49-71.

Akhmetova. (2009). Ideas of Muslim Unity at the Age of Nationalism: A Comparative Study of the Concept of the Ummah in the Writings of Musa Jārullāh and Said Nursi. Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing.

Akhmetova. (2013, October). “Impact of Nationalism on Civilisational Development and Human Security,” Islam and Civilisational Renewal, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 615-633.

Kanlıdere, Ahmet. (1997). Reform Within Islam: The Tajdid and Jadid Movement among the Kazan Tatars. Istanbul: Eren.

Kanlıdere, Ahmet. (2002). “Musa Jarullah Bigiyef: Why Did the Muslim World Decline While the Civilized World Advanced?”. C. Kurzman (ed.), Modernist Islam 1840-1940: A Source Book. New York: Oxford University Press. Pp. 254-256.


[1] Ahmet Kanlıdere, Reform Within Islam: The Tajdid and Jadid Movement among the Kazan Tatars (Istanbul: Eren, 1997), 53-54.

[2] Abdullah Battal-Taymas, Musa Carullah Bigi: Kişiligi, Fikir Hayatı ve Eserleri (Istanbul: M. Sıralar Matbaası, 1958), 8.

[3] Ibid, 17; and Elmira Akhmetova, “Musa Jārullāh Bigiev (1875-1949): Political Thought of a Tatar Muslim Scholar,” Intellectual Discourse, vol. 16, no. 1 (2008), 53.

[4] Akhmetova, “Musa Jārullāh Bigiev,” 57.

[5] Jārullāh, Khaliq Nazarina Bernicha Mas’ala (Qazan: Electro-Tipografiya Umid, 1912), 38-39.

[6] Jārullāh, Al-Luzumiyyat (Qazan: Sharaf Publishing House, 1907), 2.

[7] Ibid.

[8] See, Akhmetova, Ideas of Muslim Unity at the Age of Nationalism: A Comparative Study of the Concept of the Ummah in the Writings of Musa Jārullāh and Said Nursi (Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing, 2009), 24.

[9] See, Kanlıdere, Reform Within Islam, 58-71.

[10] Jārullāh, Buyuk Maudu’larda Ufaq Fikerler (St Petersburg: M-A. Maqsutov Publishing House, 1914), 5.

[11] Akhmetova, “Musa Jārullāh Bigiev,” 58-59.

[12] Akhmetova, “Impact of Nationalism,” 626.

Writer is a Faculty Member at Department of History and Civilization, International Islamic University Malaysia.

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