Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Chechens Should Return to the Arabic Script, Grozny Official Says

Paul Goble


         Staunton, June 10 – Islam Saidayev, an official of the Chechen education ministry, says that Chechens should return to the modified Arabic script their ancestors used rather than continue to employ the Cyrillic-based one the Soviets imposed in order to popularize the language, provide education for medrassah-trained Chechens, and fight extremism.


         While working in Chechnya’s ministry for nationality policy, the media and information as the head of the department for work with public and religious organizations, Saidbayev says, he was frequently struck by the difficulties Chechens had with learning their language beyond a conversational level (


         At present, especially in urban schools, many parents don’t want their children to overload their programs with an extra course in their native language, especially because the tests they will have to take are in Russian. They feel that a conversational level of knowledge of Chechen is sufficient for their children.


         As a result of such attitudes, Saidbayev continues, the only people who really know Chechen are those who have either studied in rural public schools or are mullahs or imams. “The latter,” of course, “studied this language not so much in school as in medrassahs “on the basis of old textbooks written in Chechen using the Arabic script.”


         His own experience of learning Chechen, Saidbayev says, has convinced him that Chechen alphabet based on the Arabic script is “more appropriate” for Chechen than is the Cyrillic based one.  He notes that there are several additional letters in the Chechen Arabic script because there are several sounds that do not exist in Arabic.


         Saidbayev also notes that there was a period in Chechen history when “part of the Chechens who professed Christianity in the pre-Islamic period wrote in Chechen with the Georgian alphabet.”  And he says that the Latin script, first imposed by the Soviets and then unsuccessfully revived in the 1990s, is also better than Cyrillic but not as good as Arabic.


         He says that he recognizes that the reason the Soviets got rid of Arabic and imposed Cyrillic instead was because they were engaged in “a struggle ‘with religious prejudices.’ But now, when this era has already passed, [he] considers it important and necessary for the preservation of Chechen to return to the alphabet developed by our greatest scholars, the Sufis of the past, and that is, to return to the Arabic script.”


            Such a move, Saidbayev suggests, would not only help to “popularize” Chechen but also would “give a multitude of jobs to Arabists and graduates of Islamic institutions who in great numbers have finished spiritual higher education institutions in our republic and often cannot find work except in the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD).”


            Moreover, he continues, returning to the Arabic script would “eliminate the problem of religious illiteracy among the population” and immunize people from Islamist radicalism because “an individual who knows the Arabic alphabet can easily read Arabic texts and compare them with the original,” rather than simply accepting what someone else says.


            There is no indication, of course, that Saidbayev is speaking for more than himself and a handful of colleagues, but his push for this is intriguing because it would be certain to provoke a violent reaction in Moscow where any shift away from the Russian Cyrillic alphabet is not only currently illegal but would be viewed by Russians as a threat to Putin's "Russian world.”

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