St Petersburg University has held the 7th All-Russian Research and Practical Conference 'The Bigiev Readings'. This year, its focus is ‘Islamic Theological Thought: Global Crises and Ways to Overcome Them'.  The conference brought together representatives of the religious and academic communities across Russia and the CIS countries.

It was organised by the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation, the Moscow Islamic Institute, and St Petersburg University.

The plenary session was opened by Marina Lavrikova, Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities at St Petersburg University. ' For us, it is essential that our University was among the first in Russia to open an academic programme in Islamic studies largely due to combining the efforts with Islamic universities and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia. Today, we have a considerable experience in preparing bachelor’s and master’s students. We also have students who have completed postgraduate studies', said Marina Lavrikova. The Centre for Islamic Studies that was opened at St Petersburg University marks a new stage in the development of Islamic studies in Russia, she added.

Musa Bigiev is world-recognised among experts in the Old Ottoman and Arabic languages, and European researchers complain that few of his works have been translated in English, said Damir Mukhetdinov, Head of the Centre for Islamic Studies, First Deputy Chairman of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation, Doctor of Theology. Ignoring studying the heritage of the past means being unable to move forward, said Professor Mukhetdinov.

St Petersburg University is at the forefront of reconstruction of the school of the Russian theological and Islamic studies. We are grateful to the Rector Nikolay Kropachev, all our colleagues, and researchers who have been making a positive contribution into preparing experts in the field since our programme was opened.
Damir Mukhetdinov, Head of the Centre for Islamic Studies, First Deputy Chairman of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation, Doctor of Theology

On behalf of Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, Chairman of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation, Damir Khusainov welcomed the participants of the conference. Damir Khusainov is the Chairman of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of St Petersburg and the Leningrad Region. 'Musa Bigiev lived in the epoch of global crises. He survived two world wars, two revolutions in Russia, the fall of three empires, and the emergence and development of the era of national states. Much of what Musa Bigiev witnessed was reflected in his research, theological, and journalistic works. In the epoch of global transformations, the Quran was where he was looking for a standing point and a solid basis for understanding those changes, with a particular focus on the humanistic essence of the Quran', said Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin.

Alexey Rodionov, Senior Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies at St Petersburg University, delivered a welcoming address by Mikhail Piotrovsky, Dean of the Faculty of African and Asian Studies, Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The programme with a focus on preparing experts in the Islamic studies is a step forward to benefit the University, Russian theology, and society as a whole, he said. ‘Our programme is up-to-date. We could achieve it only through collaborations and partnerships', said Alexey Rodionov.

Professor Irina Popova, Director of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that it was crucial to hold the Bigiev Readings at the University in St Petersburg where the classical Russian Islamic studies originated.

The fact that the University has a particular focus on theological education is an achievement for the whole Russian Federation.
Professor Irina Popova, Director of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences

The opening ceremony was attended by: Menachem Mendel Pevzner, Chief Rabbi of St Petersburg; Damir Khairetdinov, Deputy Director of the Foundation for Support of Islamic Culture; and Vasily Kuznetsov, Head of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The first report of the plenary session was delivered by Professor Damir Mukhetdinov. It focused on the book series 'Revival and Renewal' ('Al-Islah wa-t-tajdid'). The series, which was initially set to include 33 translations of works by the greatest Islamic thinkers of the 19th, 20th and the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, features additional 11 works of Islamic scholars of this century. 'The Muslim thought in our country has never been developed in isolation from the global Islamic thought', said Professor Mukhetdinov, paying attention to the need to introduce little-known works of Russian thinkers and the works belonging to the world's Islamic studies heritage into scientific and religious communities.

Nikolai Diakov, Professor Emeritus at St Petersburg University, Head of the Department of History of the Middle East Countries, delivered a report that focused on Mohammed  Arkoun (1928–2010), a great scholar and thinker who contributed to the reformist movement in Islam. 'From his childhood, Mohammed Arkoun had been witnessing the events in the Maghreb countries occupied by France. The most vivid impression he had was associated with the events of the post-war period, i.e. the events associated with the Algerian War, which is recognised as the fiercest and longest anti-colonial war in the world. For eight years of confrontation on the territory of Algeria, at least a million people died, most of them were local Muslims’, he said. Searching for points of mutual understanding led Mohammed Arkoun to developing the idea of ​​interaction and mutual tolerance between nationalities and religions. Yet, relying on his life experience, the process of fierce confrontation was not over with the end of World War II. Mohammed  Arkoun referred to this phenomenon as antihumanism, added Professor Diakov.

The fifth book of the series 'Rebirth and Renewal' (in Russian, ‘Humanism and Islam'), focuses on the works by Mohammed Arkoun. Its scientific reviewer was Professor Nikolai Diakov.

Professor Efim Rezvan, Director for Research of the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, spoke about the tasks facing the St Petersburg Museum of Islamic Culture. He summarised the main results of what had been done and shared the plans for the future. Russia has been included in the large-scale programme of the European Union 'Islam in Europe'. It is set to describe and introduce into the international scientific community the objects of Muslim culture stored in the museums in Russia. Additionally, Professor Rezvan spoke about digitisation of the large collection of Arabic manuscripts stored at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts at the Russian Academy of Sciences. This will benefit those who are enthusiastic about reading them. These documents may feature the whole layers of Islamic culture that have little been studied by experts, he said.

At the end of the plenary session, Professor Apollinariia Avrutina, Director of the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Turkey and Russia-Turkey Relations at St Petersburg University also delivered a report and moderated the session.

She spoke about the Turkish period in the life and work of Musa Bigiev, paying particular attention to the fact that although Musa Bigiev stayed in Turkey for a short period of time, he had a considerable influence on the Turkish Muslim thought. She also spoke about Musa Bigiev's attitude to the reforms during the reign of Kemal Atatürk and the achievements in the struggle for independence, which the Tatar thinker perceived with enthusiasm. Nevertheless, he did not approve of blindly following the Western example in the legal sphere, and also criticised the government's desire to replace the Arabic alphabet with Latin or Cyrillic: in his opinion, this could provoke a 'severing of ties with Islamic religious culture'.

The readings had two more sessions. Among them are ‘Understanding the crisis and ways out of the crisis in scientific knowledge' and 'The potential of religion and theology in the crisis: theory and practice'. They were attended by Oleg Sokolov, a lecturer in the Department of Arabic Philology at St Petersburg University. He delivered a report on ‘Ideas of rethinking of the Muslim history in the works by Arab thinkers in the late 20th and early 21st centuries’. Mikhail Suvorov, Professor in the Department of Arabic Philology at St Petersburg University, spoke about how Islamic theological thought was presented in the Russian language.