On December 25 1991, 30 years ago, the Soviet Union died.
This has been the occasion for many Western pundits to ponder over the reasons why all of this happened, but for us, Muslims, it should be a reminder of the communist crimes against Islam.
Let’s begin with a quote from Ernest Gellner, one of the most respected names in the social sciences, who wrote these lines just after this “total collapse” of this secular faith, in an article where he’ll later contrast it with the vitality of Islam:
This total collapse is a unique situation twice over, because this was the first secular ideocracy in the world’s history. A society was built on a belief-system that claimed the monopoly of truth, but on one that-was built entirely from what were, officially, this-worldly elements. There was no appeal to any other world (…) I can think of no comparable total collapse of faith.
Karl Marx and Islam
As we’re analyzing communism and its contradictory relation with Islam, let’s know what the founder of this secular religion, Karl Marx, thought about our own religion.
Ian Almond, in his History of Islam in German Thought, dedicates the 7th chapter to Marx’s view of Islam, and while he notes his “sympathy” with Muslims based on an “anti-imperialist stance” (doesn’t that remind you of tankies?), Almond does also write that he was against Islam as a way of life:
If Marx spoke about Muslims as noble victims in his anti-imperialist voice, and even sought to combat Western charges of primitivism in his own critique of the ‘civilizing mission’, Marx’s teleology took a much less positive view of the Muslim world (and Ottoman Turkey in particular), seeing both the chronos and topos of Islam not so much as something to be defended, but rather as something to be overcome.
So the spiritual father of Marxism basically wanted to “overcome” (i.e., a euphemism for “eradicate”) Islam… after all, this is just natural for someone subscribing to dialectical materialism.
The De-Islamization of Central Asia
After looking at the theory regarding Marx’s inherent hate for Islam, let’s look at the practice.
Many Muslims have wondered why Central Asia, which produced scholars such as al-Bukhari (rahimahullah), and thousands of others over the centuries till the modern era, suddenly stopped being a center of Islamic knowledge-production. It was due to the Soviets.
Their repression was so strong that it created an armed counter-reaction, the Basmachi movement, which reached its height under the Ottoman military officer Enver Pasha, in the early 20s.
Writing for the Washington Post, Amanda Erickson notes:
About 90 percent of the population there was Muslim, but atheism was the state religion of the USSR. So in the early 1920s, the Soviet government effectively banned Islam in Central Asia. Books written in Arabic were burned, and Muslims weren’t allowed to hold office. Koranic tribunals and schools were shuttered, and conducting Muslim rituals became almost impossible. In 1912, there were about 26,000 mosques in Central Asia. By 1941, there were just 1,000.
This is of course reminiscent of what’s happening to the Uighurs in contemporary communist China.
Adeeb Khalid in his Islam After Communism also notes the long-lasting effects which are as as bad as what we just read, if not worse:
Two major effects of the Soviet assault on Islam may be noted. First, Islam was localized and rendered synonymous with custom and tradition (…) the second effect was a significant de-Islamization of the terms of public discourse.
Khalid’s point is that the Soviet Union’s atheist and secular propaganda was so strong that the Muslims internalized its materialistic epistemology, so even when there’s a “revival of Islam” after the death of the Soviet Union, it’s still done through Soviet Orientalism (for ex. one embraces Islam because “it’s part of my historical heritage,” not so much as something faith-driven).
By the way, Khalid also notes the role played by the “Jadidis,” who were reformist-liberal theologians in the former Russian Empire, and who welcomed the Boslhevik revolution. They were the modernist reformers and the Compassionate Imams of their time!
These other crimes against Muslims include Stalin’s deportations of Muslims populations, such as the Chechens and the Ingush, which amounts to ethnic cleansing.
Kazbek Chanturiya, a Chechen journalist, writes:
According to official figures, more than 496,000 people were forcibly evicted from Chechnya and Ingushetia, 411,000 were sent to Kazakhstan and 86,000 to Kyrgyzstan. Other sources put the number much higher, at over 650,000. Chechen historians claim that about 400,000 people died during the eviction.
On 26 February 2004, the European Parliament recognised the deportation of 23 February 1944 as genocide.
 Ernest Gellner, “Islam and Marxism: Some Comparisons”, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 67, No. 1 (Jan., 1991), p. 1.
 Ian Almond, History of Islam in German Thought: From Leibniz to Nietzsche, Routledge, 2009, pp. 139-140.
 Adeeb Khalid, Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia, University of California Press, 2014, p. 82.