Muslims upset by Russian court verdict on Risale-i Nur

Moscow, Russia - A Russian court has banned the publication of Said Nursi's 14-volume work "Risale-i Nur."

The verdict, reached in the late hours of Monday by the Koptevskaya Regional Court in Moscow, attracted widespread attention, particularly since the work has been positively received by hundreds of scholars and institutions such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, the Turkish Interior Ministry, the Vatican and Egypt's world-famous Islamic university, Al-Azhar.

Vladimir Lukin, spokesman for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, made a statement in court and recalled that the 14-volume work had previously been tried by a court in the city of Omsk but was acquitted since it wasn't found to contain anything illegal or inciteful.

The Nuri Bedi Foundation, which translated the work, will appeal to a higher court and also to the European Court of Human Rights. In an assessment of the verdict, Nefiullah Aşirov, the co-president of the Russian Council of Muftis, said: "The verdict has upset Muslims. There are misunderstandings. I don't think Russia backs the verdict at the administrative level. Risale-i Nur is among the fundamental works of Islam. We are awaiting a positive result with the eradication of the lack of information."

Aşirov noted that Russia had recently taken steps to better its relations with the Islamic world. "I think these kinds of decisions will cause Russia to be misunderstood in the international arena," he added.

The court is expected to release the justification for its decision in a couple of days. The indictment argues that the work "differentiates between those who believe and who don't, and engages in propaganda of religious and racist supremacy [of Muslim Turks]."

‘Is the term ‘The Community of Mohammed’ discrimination?’

Sergei Sichov, lawyer for the Nuri Bedi Culture and Education Foundation, said the verdict would be annulled by the European Court of Human Rights. Sichov also recalled that many similar verdicts rendered in the context of religious freedom had previously been reversed by the court. The verdict contains errors, the lawyer asserted, adding that one of them was made in the methodology employed and that a more important one was made in the determination of the committee of experts.

He also noted that all such works were inspected by a group of linguistics experts, who then drew up a report and emphasized that the mathematical methods employed by the group could not be applied to an abstract area such as religion. The same group of experts ascribed a saying of the Prophet Mohammed to Said Nursi, the author, which is "Mention death often," and claimed that he encouraged people to die, thereby demoralizing them, Sichov said.

"These people are even incapable of differentiation between the words of the author and the words of the Prophet. How can the court reach a verdict based on a report written by these people?"

Sichov also said that the use of "The community of Mohammed" (Ummah) in the work was claimed to cause a rift and enmity between religions. He articulated that if he were to apply the same reasoning, the term "Christian community" would also cause the same type of enmity between faiths.

Hundreds of reports disregarded

The court's decision came as a striking development considering that it was made despite hundreds of reports written by various venerable institutions.

Among those who wrote positive reports about the work is Leonid Sukyanin, a professor of Islamic jurisprudence at the Russian Economy University. "The Russian authorities should be extremely careful in order to reach accurate results in their fight against extremist streams, but also so as not to hurt Muslims in and outside Russia. It is known that the work was acquitted in Turkey, a secular and democratic country. Russia should take this into consideration."

He further noted that the verdict was based on the Russian translation of the work, which could contain mistakes in comparison to the original text of the work.

Speaking to the court during one of the hearings, Lukin said that Said Nursi was among the most prominent theologians who ever lived and that his works were greatly extolled and venerated in the Muslim world. In addition, Protestant and Orthodox clergymen and civil society organizations submitted a report that presented a positive view of the work to the Supreme Council of Russian Religious Affairs.

A similar lawsuit was filed against the work in Tatarstan in 2005; however, it was dropped a year later, whereupon the Moscow Chief Prosecutor's Office took over the case upon the demand of the Tatar Chief Prosecutor's Office.