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Islam in the Soviet Union: Translated Reports from the Joint Publications Research Service

Posted on 10/08/2014

Source: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection

From an earlier release of Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1994, we recently highlighted five reports concerning religion and atheism in the USSR in the 1960s. The September 2014 release of JPRS also includes translations from the Soviet Union on this same broad topic with particular attention paid to Islam.

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Entry on “Islam” in Great Soviet Encyclopedia

This seven-page entry translated from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia includes sections on the origin of Islam, Islam in the feudal period, and Islam in the period of capitalism. The first paragraph makes it clear how the writers of the encyclopedia regarded Islam and religion in general. They state that Islam…

…like other religions, has always played a reactionary role, being in the hands of the exploiting classes a weapon of spiritual oppression of the workers.  It was used by foreign colonizers for the enslavement of the peoples of the East.

The entry provides a cogent, if ideological, history of the Moslem faith, concluding with what was then the current status of the religion in 1966:

In the USSR, as a result of the victory of Socialism and the elimination of exploiter classes, the social roots of I.[Islam], like those of any religion, are destroyed. In USSR I. exists only as a survival of one of the forms of ideology of exploiter society.

“Islamic Ethics” and Its Social Significance

The author asserts that while the various aspects of Islamic ideology have been extensively analyzed by right-thinking Marxists, the ethical side of the doctrine has been largely ignored. He warns that ignoring the ethical aspects of Islam is a serious error…

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…when it is precisely this side of Moslem religion which is advanced by its ideologists as the main and basic (but often the only) ideological reference-point on the road to the independent development of ‘Moslem’ countries. Some see in ‘Islamic ethics’ the expression of their own national spiritual heritage; others affirm that only this religion is able to save the East from the degrading influence of the bourgeois West; a third group hope to use the ethical dogmas of Islam as a basic counterweight of spreading advanced ideology, first of all: Marxism-Leninism.

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Ritualism in Islam and its Social Essence

This essay reaffirms the general themes found elsewhere in Soviet literature which dismiss religion as a means of oppression of the masses by the elite. Rituals are examined in this light and discussed as having been adapted from Eastern tribal “religions which have produced a system of the cult, stressing seclusion and isolation of its adherents.” Despite this history of oppression, the future is promising to the author who trumpets this success:

For the first time in the history of mankind, Socialism, having eliminated the social roots of religion and having undermined its influence upon the masses, is creating all the conditions for a final liberation of toilers from the religious narcotic and for a full dying-off of religion.

The author explains the persistent observation of religious rites in some places as simply deeply rooted traditions, “passed down to them by their fathers and grandfathers,” or, in the words of a 17th-century French atheist,

God reminds of that old, useless and constraining furniture which, however, is being passed down from hands to hands in the family and is being reverently preserved because the son obtained it from the father and the father from the grandfather.

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Communist Atheism and the Moslem Faith

This publication includes two articles reprinted from the Russian-language periodical Nauka i Religiya (Science and Religion). The first describes the challenge of “Atheism Being Inculcated Upon the Women of the Derbent ‘Magals’” which were the ancient quarters of the city of Derbent in Dagestan. A team of volunteer women atheists organized and began intensive outreach work among the Moslem women believers. This article was written after the group had three years of experience which has been successful in leading the believers away from the mosque and ritual.

The second essay, titled “Communism Versus the Teachings and Practices of the Koran,” concerns what the author sees as an intolerable aspect of the Islamic faith, the acceptance of fate, the passive submission to what is wrongly understood as God's will. This submission is particularly galling when it involves women and their response to oppression and subservience:

In the interests of the exploiters the Koran instructs believers to satisfy themselves with their lot and to remember that social inequality is the work of the hands of God himself.

The author imagines a sermon consisting of verses from the Koran all advising, even urging, patience with one's fate such as “verily Allah is with those who patiently endure!” and concludes that “Commentaries to this sermon of patience and obedience are superfluous.”

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Atheistic Propaganda against Islam

This publication includes five articles translated from the same periodical, Nauka i Religiya, referenced above. The titles of the articles include “Older than Islam,” “Betrayal of Holiness,” and “Poet, Scholar, Freethinker.” In a lively essay entitled “The Women's Magazine Azat Khatyn (Liberated Woman),” the writer is angered by the treatment of women within Islam and as they are referred to in the Koran. She engages in a debate with an elderly woman about marriage, a pious Moslem who tells her that “In the Koran it's written love and respect each other, be faithful to each other all your life...” The author reports, "I listened in astonishment because the Koran says nothing about that...the thought that woman is the initial cause of all people's sufferings and the destroyer of the human race runs as a red thread through all the ‘sacred writings.’ And in Islam it finds its crassest embodiment.” She enlarges on this conversation in order to describe how daunting, and how necessary, the campaign to bring these other women to atheism is.

For more information about Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1994, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

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