Rabbi of Makhachkala Synagogue embraced Islam


Every person has a different way of coming to the Truth. For Moisha Krivitsky this way led through a faculty of law, a synagogue and a prison. The lawyer-to-be becomes a Rabbi, then he converts into Islam and finds himself in prison. Today Musa (this is the name he has adopted when he became a Muslim) lives in a small mosque in Al-Burikent, a mountain area of Makhachkala, and works as a watchman in the Central Juma mosque.

- Musa, before we began talking, you asked what we were going to talk about. I said: ‘About you.’ ‘What’s so interesting about me?’ you wondered. ‘I live in the mosque’. How did you come to live in the mosque?

- Well, I just dropped in... and stayed.

- Did you find the way easily?

- With great difficulty. It was hard then, and it isn’t much easier now. When you go deeply into Islam’s inner meaning, you understand that this religion is very simple, but the way that leads to it may be extremely difficult. Often, people don’t understand how a person could be converted into Islam ‘from the other side’, as it were. But there are no ‘sides’ here: Islam is everything there is, both what we imagine and what we don’t imagine.

- Musa, as a matter of fact, we were given this fact as a certain sensation: a Rabbi has turned Muslim.

- Well, it has been no sensation for quite a long while already - it’s more than a year that I did this. It was strange for me at first, too. But it wasn’t an off-the-cuff decision. When I came into Islam, I had read books about it, I had been interested.

- Did you finish any high school before coming to the synagogue?

- Yes, I finished a clerical high school. After graduation, I came to Makhachkala, and became the local Rabbi.

- And where did you come from?

- Oh, from far away. But I’ve already become a true Daghestani, I’ve got a lot of friends here - both among Muslims and people who are far from Islam.

- Let’s return to your work in the synagogue.

- It was quite a paradoxical situation: there was a mosque near my synagogue, the town mosque. Sometimes my fiends who were its parishioners would come to me - just to chat. I sometimes would come to the mosque myself, to see how the services were carried out. I was very interested. So we lived like good neighbours. And once, during Ramadan, a woman came to me - as I now understand, she belonged to a people that was historically Muslim - and she asked me to comment the Russian translation of the Qur'an made by Krachkovsky.

- She brought the Qur'an to you - a Rabbi?!

- Yes, and she asked me to give her the Torah to read in return. So I tried to read the Qur'an - about ten times. It was really hard, but gradually I began to understand, and to get a basic notion of Islam. (Here, Musa looked at my friend’s son, the six-year old Ahmed, who had fallen asleep in the mosque courtyard. “Should we probably take him inside the mosque?”, asked Musa.) And that woman had brought back the Torah. It turned out to be very difficult for her to read and understand it, because religious literature requires extreme concentration and attention.

- Musa, and when you were reading the translation, you must have begun to compare it with the Torah?

- I had found answers to many questions in the Qur'an. Not to all of them, of course, because it wasn’t the Arabic original, but the translation. But I had begun to understand things.

- Does it mean that you couldn’t find some answers in Judaism?

- I don’t know, there’s Allah’s will in everything. Apparently, those Jews who became Muslims in the times of the Prophet (let Allah bless and greet him), couldn’t find some answers in Judaism, but found them in Islam. Perhaps, they were attracted by the personality of the Prophet (let Allah bless him!), his behaviour, his way of communicating with people. It’s an important topic.

- And what exactly were the questions that you couldn’t find answers to in Judaism?

- Before I came into contact with Islam, there were questions which I had never even tried to find answers to. Probably, an important part here had been played by a book written by Ahmad Didat, a South African scholar, comparing the Qur'an and the Bible. There is a key phrase, well-known to those who are familiar with religious issues: “Follow the Prophet who is yet to come”. And when I studied Islam, I understood that the Prophet Muhammad (let Allah bless him!) is the very Prophet to be followed. Both the Bible and the Torah tell us to do it. I haven’t invented anything here.

- And what does the Torah say about the Prophet (let Allah bless him!)?

- We won’t be able to find this name in the Torah. But we can figure it out using a special key. For example, we can understand what god this or that particular person in history worships. The formula describing the last Prophet (let Allah bless and greet him) is that he would worship One God, the Sole Creator of the world. The Prophet Muhammad (let Allah bless him!) matches this description exactly. When I read this, I got very interested. I hadn’t known anything about Islam before that. Then I decided to look deeper into the matter and see whether there were any miracles and signs connected with the name of the Prophet (let Allah bless him!). The Bible tells us that the Lord sends miracles to the prophets to confirm their special mission in people’s eyes. I asked the alims about this, and they said: “Here’s a collection of true hadiths which describe the miracles connected with the Prophet (let Allah bless him!)”.

Then I read that the Prophet (let Allah bless him) had always said that there had been prophets and messengers before him (let Allah be content with them). We can find their names both in the Torah and in the Bible. When I was only starting to get interested, it sounded somewhat strange for me. And then... Well, my own actions led to what happened to me. Sometimes I get to thinking: why did I read all this? Perhaps, I should say the tauba (a prayer of repenting) right now for having thoughts like that.

- Should I understand you, Musa, that you now feel a great responsibility for becoming a Muslim, or do you have some other feelings?

- Yes, responsibility, but something else as well. I can’t put my finger on it now. When a person knows Islam well, he’s got both his feet firmly on the ground. Islam helps a person understand who he is, where he comes from, what he is there for.

I would be insincere if I said that the all the Daghestani are such ‘knowing’ Muslims. We sometimes talk about it in the mosque and I like to say that there are not so many real Muslims in Daghestan - only the ustaths (learned theologians) and their students, and the rest of us are just candidates. I can’t say that we do what the sunna requires, we’re only trying to. And when we don’t do what we should, we’re trying to invent some clever excuses. These efforts should have better been applied to doing our duty. It’s hard for me to watch this. Sometimes, I’m distracted by what is happening around me, as well. I haven’t got strength enough to fight this, and the weakness of my nature shows clearly here. I can’t say I’m totally helpless, but I have no right to say that I’ve achieved anything in Islam. I’ve only got torments.

When I understood that I had to become a Muslim, I thought that Islam was a single whole - one common road, or a huge indivisible ocean. Then I saw that there were a lot of trends in Islam, and new questions appeared. All these trends are like whirlpools, they whirl and whirl... it’s very hard! If a person tells you: “Look, we fulfil all the hadiths, only we understand еру Qur'an correctly”, then you follow this person, because you think that he speaks true things, and because you want to please Allah. But then, after a couple of months, you understand that these claims were false. Allah controls us. And you think: if this way is the right way, then why is there something that goes the wrong way?..

- Musa, and what brought you into the prison?

- A good question, this, isn’t it?

- Who welcomed you there?

- If there’s Allah’s will to everything, then this was His will as well. Regarding life from behind the barbed wire, going through all of this, that was a certain school for me.

- How did it happen?

- I’ve recently seen a programme on the TV, and a representative of the Chechen republic in Moscow - I forget his name now, I believe he had some beautiful, French-sounding name, something like Binaud - he said that if the authorities were going to carry on like they had done before - barging into homes, planting drugs and weapons on people - then the people would be out in the streets protesting. This has happened to many here. So there was something planted on me. Then they came and took me away at night.

Before that, I had had a certain notion about he forces of the law here... well, I couldn’t think they would use such, well, not very polite methods. Islam doesn’t let me use a stronger word. Allah estimates what every man does, and those people will have to answer for what they have done.

But the three months I spent in prison, they probably helped me to make my faith stronger. I saw how people behaved under the extreme circumstances, both Muslims and non-Muslims, how I behaved.

It would be good, of course, if the people in power would pay their attention to this problem. They shouldn’t be trying to eradicate Islam with such unsavoury methods.

- Musa, why were the authorities frightened by you?

- No idea. Even children aren’t afraid of me.

At this moment, our conversation was interrupted by a stunningly beautiful azan.

- Is there a muezzin in your mosque?

- Yes, his name is Muamat Tarif, it was him that we’ve just heard.

- And there’s only you and him who works in this mosque?

- Well, as a matter of fact, only he works. He allows me... I still can’t get used to things after prison. He allows me to live here. It’s hard to recall this. I had a certain trouble with the people whose flat I was living in, the understanding between us somehow failed. I started perceiving them in a different way. But it’s probably bad to be looking for other people’s drawbacks, I’ve probably got more.

People started arriving to the mosque. We rose and hastened for the prayer, too.

After the prayer, we tarried a little, but I thought as I was walking towards this bench we're sitting on: "It's all right, Musa seems to have a lot of spare time". Is that right?

- Well, it depends on what we mean by time. As for every Muslim, my time is divided into certain stretches, between the prayers. The time to do something.

- And what do you do here in this mosque?

- I just live here after some very unpleasant things that happened to me. Before that, I had lived here, an Al-burikent, at a flat. I don't even want to think about it now. I remember being taken out of bed at one or two in the morning, feeling a hand grenade in my bed and cuffs on my wrists: "What do you need Islam for, you Jew?" Well... Then they tried to shoot me, then I was beaten. At first a friend helped me with my ablutions, because I couldn't walk. But then I recovered, alhamdulillah, in about two months.It's a bit funny, because it reminds of a doctor who prescribes guillotine for headache. They say: t here are a lot of problems in Daghestan, in Islam. That's a mistake. The problems are in the people.

- And what was the crime you were accused of, and why has your conviction not been stricken off your record?

- Well, there's been an amnesty recently, they've cut me a little slack. But the police and the Ministry of internal affairs still control us, it's their job. The main thing is to make them see what Islam really is, and that's what we're trying to explain to them. The seventy years building of Communism hasn't left Daghestan unchanged. Although it still remains the stronghold of Islam in Russia, we have the Islamic traditions well preserved. But sometimes when I walk the streets of the town, I get to thinking that the people don't quite understand what Islam is. Some, so-called, ethnic Muslims... words fail me.

- Did you avoid the question on the nature of your crime on purpose?

- No, it was illegal weapon keeping. I've forgiven those people, of
course, although I used to be very angry with them. What matters is the Islam, and the things that are good for it.

Everyone's been somehow shaken up by all this. Those who were not interested in Islam, became interested. Those who were only fake Muslims, moved away. I know many examples, I've often met people like this, sometimes these people were close to me. They would sometimes use the word extremism, or would claim that they had a fundamental knowledge of the Qur'an and the Sunna. But it turnead out to be a tree that is rotten. I would advise people to read the sifats (signs) of hypocrites before they go to bed every night, like fairy-tales. I used to be interested in this issue too.

It's really strange, when you think of it. Say, among the Duma deputies there are people who came to the Chechen village of Karamakhi, brought medicines to the people. The Karamaknians are still using those medicines. No one would tear them out of their beds at night or try to 'educa te' them in non-traditional methods. And still, the way that most of the people perceive Islam...

This, in fact, is the problem of Islam. I thought: you become a Muslim and all the problems go away. I hoped they would. I hoped to find Paradise. As the Qur'an says: "Allah calls into the peaceful abode, and those He loves He guides on the straight way". I thought I would find this peaceful abode. And I've been searching ever since I came into Islam, both here, in Daghestan, and in the neighbouring Chechnya, through the so-called Sharia enclaves. They say, for example: "The law of this or that place is Sharia in the shortened form". Sometimes it's just a slogan. Here, in Russia, we're used to slogan thinking. For example, our neighbours had a slogan: "Sharia rules here!" But this wasn't the case.

- Musa, and what kind of secular education did you have?

- Various, I could say. Well, I can read and write. I don't know what else to say. I studied at a prestigious in stitute. I don't think it was actually very useful in any way. But then yes, it was. It had something to do with law. One teacher had a joke: "Sincere confession relieves one's feelings and lengthens the time one does one's term". A law paradox.

- What is the most difficult thing for you now?

- Endurance. Sabr. Sometimes I feel so desperate I could jump into the Caspian sea.

- And the desperation comes from the fact that you want to see the "peaceful abode" around you, but find something completely different instead?

- Yes. There's much misunderstanding. I see the noble and high principles if Islam, and I see the abyss we're in. We try to get out of it, each one the way he can. But unfortunately, we don't often see our ustathes, it's not always we can reach them.

- Well, but they're always there to meet you.

- Are they? Then my way to them must be very long. Apparently, just pronouncing the shahada (the confession of faith, which, when said by a person, signifies their belonging to Islam) is not enough. In fact, you should always confirm your being Muslim, every day. At least five times a day. Sometimes it's hard, when you argue with someone, or someone hurts you, or you see something that's going wrong. And you have to force yourself to be a true Muslim. Where are you, the "peaceful abode"? Where should I look for you?

- In the self, probably?

- The self is to be sorted out as well. Don't forget that I came into Islam from a parallel world, and I still can't forget it. Sometimes I'm reminded of it. It's hard to educate such people.

The Qur'an tells us: not everyone believes. We have to face that it's predestined and we can do nothing about it. What we have to do is tell the truth about Islam, to show it by our own example. Unfortunately, I'm not always an example. I'm still looking for my way. I don't know if it's to the point, but I'd like to adduce the hadith of the Prophet (let Allah ble
ss him) which tells us that the Jews will be divided into 71 group, the Christians - into 72, the Muslims - into 73 groups.The Qur'an tells us: "Be with those who tell the truth and act according to the truth". But the truth is very hard to find. Daghestan is simmering. For me, a person from the outside trying to become part of it, it's really hard. I follow these people, then those people. All the painful lessons I've learned were not in vain. Allah was teaching me. As the Qur'an says: "If you think this evil, this is truly good. And that which is good for you, may turn out to be evil". Now that I'm past the nervous stage, I analyse things and say: everything's for the better.

It would be good if our ustathes would communicate with us, or appear on the TV. We would feel they are there. I live here in Al-burikent, like on an island. Sometimes they broadcast programmes on Islam on the radio. But it would be better if the call to Islam would always be there. I wish that we were constantly told: Islam is good for the people, it's profitable. This sounds awful - very mean and ugly, but in actual fact, Islam is profitable. What state can give you common brotherhood, mutual assistance, social guarantees, a minimal tax of 2,5 per cent? Islam gives all that, it prescribes all that. It prescribes the correct way of life, the one which is necessary for a man. I wish there were more talk about that.

What we hear instead is that if a Muslim is wearing a beard, he's an extremist. I have such tags attached to all I'm wearing. It's ridiculous. Each religion has its extreme forms. Even the heathens, who are far from the faith in the Sole God, have such extremities.

I think that an institute should be established for studying Islam, helping it develop. That was the question I wanted to ask when I was searching, and following different people: where are you, the ones who can show me the way to become a true Muslim? I think that what happens to me is right. And what I want now is to come to people who don't understand me, to tell them about my ideas, to explain what Islam is. We're all in the same boat, anyway. Especially here in Daghestan: we know everything about one another. Why then should we be trying to find enemies in one another? Life is going by, and finally, we'll all have to answer for what we're doing.

- And to round up, Musa: what would you wish to the people who are probably in the same position now as you were two years ago?

- I'll try to recall the 155 ayat of the second sura: "Allah will try thee with fear, with loss of thy fee, with loss of thy closest ones, with loss of the fruit of thy labours. But tell thee the good news to them who are patient and enduring: their reward will be great". Patience and endurance are the basis of faith - probably, the basis of Islam. Insha Allah, everything's going to be alright.

Interview taken by Laila Husyainova


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