2nd “Bigiev readings” in St Petersburg
The 2nd International Science Education Conference “Bigiev readings” entitled “Islamic thought in the 21st century: the unity of tradition and renewal” took place in the Russian city of St. Petersburg on May 17-20.

The event was organized by Russia’s Religious Board of Muslims together with a number of local and international scientific and educational as well as spiritual institutions. The conference was attended by religious leaders, prominent theologians and researchers from Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Germany, the UK, Belgium, Holland, the US, Belarus, Estonia, Ukraine and other countries. Speakers representing the Muslim community of different continents, cultures and legal systems gathered to discuss the possible current contribution of Muslim scholars and ulamas into the development of the Ummah worldwide and future goals which should be set by the leading thinkers of the Muslim nation today.

St. Petersburg was not coincidentally chosen as a venue for the conference - it holds a very important place in the history of Islam on Russian soil.

In due time, St. Petersburg was the place where prominent religious figures and Russian Muslim scholars carried out their work. Among such people were the future Mufti of the Russian Empire Abdulvahid Suleymani, the author of the education reform concept of the Russian Muslims Hussain Faizhan, the founder of the Tatar press Ataullah Bayazitov. In 1913 the city opened its Grand Mosque in the framework of the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the ascension to the throne of the Romanov dynasty. 

Musa Yarulla Bigiev (1874 – 1949), an outstanding Tatar Muslim theologian, author of dozens of scientific and philosophical works, stands out among his other colleagues. His works can be distinguished by encyclopedic depth and consistency in the description of the object of study as well as the expression of his original ideas and theological views.
Musa Bigiev began his scientific research during student years. He acquired knowledge in Kazan, Bukhara, Istanbul, Cairo, Medina, Beirut, St. Petersburg and many other cities. Bigiev’s views sparked hostility and rejection among some of his contemporaries, while among others he gained genuine interest and profound respect.

Nonetheless, Bigiev’s authority, fundamental nature of his knowledge as well as his reasoning was recognized by his critics. According to the Sheikh-ul-Islam of Istanbul (the senior cleric of the Ottoman Empire of his time), Mustafa Sabri, Bigiev was the only person among his contemporary reformers of Islamic thought with whom you could have had a genuine conversation.

At the beginning of the conference the Secretary General of the International Union of Muslim Scholars Ali Mohyi al-Din al-Qaradaghi stressed that Bigiev was ahead of his time.

“Musa Yarulla Bigiev was one of the theologians who played a prominent role in reforming and renewing (Islah) Islamic religion in the 20th century. Bigiev was ahead of his time, a century ago he wrote about women's rights, human rights, the need to reform views on Islam, while maintaining unchanged the canonical part of religion,” he stated.
The President of Moscow State University’s Institute of African and Asian Studies Mikhail Meyer stressed the relevance of the scientific conference in memory of Bigiev.

“Bigiev’s figure is interesting to one not only because he was a person of great religious knowledge, but he was also a teacher with a background in secular education thus representing the union of religious and secular knowledge. This is what we today would like to implement in our modern secular educational institutions and Islamic religious universities, thereby bringing up experts who are concerned about the welfare of society as a whole,” he said. 

Russian authorities, the heads of academic research and education centers as well as major theologians discussed their standpoints during the conference. In particular, speeches were made by the head of the Culture Department of Russia’s Government Pyotr Skorospelov, the rector of the Kazan Federal University Ilshat Gafurov, the acting rector of St. Petersburg State University Aleksey Zavarzin, the deputy rector of the Al-Mustafa International University (Qom, Iran) Mohamed Hassan Mahdawi, the rector of the Nur-Mubarak Egyptian University of Islamic Culture Juda Abd al-Gani Basyuni, a member of the National Constituent Assembly (Parliament) of the Republic of Tunisia, Assistant Secretary General of the World Union of Muslim Scholars, head of the Committee for translation and publication Abd al-Madzhid al-Najjar and others.

The keynote address was made by the Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gaynutdin. The spiritual leader of Russia’s Muslims outlined the key philosophical goals faced by Muslim scholars in the 21st century. Among them was the search for a philosophical alternative of the globalization process and new approaches to the issue of religious diversity inherent to many modern societies.

The speakers were unanimous in taking the stance that at the present stage of the Muslim Ummah’s life, people with knowledge should send the impulse for development, while its direction should foremost provide intellectual renewal.
The organizers of “Bigiev readings” have made all efforts to convey an important message to the gathered. It said that despite the fact that Russia’s Muslim community has been located on the geographical periphery of the Islamic world, today its experience and glorious traditions can be the source which will inspire to take important and beneficial steps for making progress in the whole Ummah.