The Russian Heart

The Russian Heart
A. Solzhenitsyn's desk before exile. Courtesy of A. Solzhenitsyn House of Russian Expatriates

Whenever I get the opportunity to visit Russia, I would, God willing, do two things–not necessarily in order–before anything else. I would visit Leo Tolstoy’s grave at Yasnaya Polyana and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s grave at the Donskoy Monastery. My journey through Russia can only properly begin after these two momentous meetings with two of the greatest Russians the 20th century has witnessed. I do not think meeting President Putin would be possible, otherwise, he would be the third. Apart from that, I would love to dedicate a whole week to attend concerts at the Mariinsky Theatre featuring, I would like to dream, the best of Dimitry Shostakovich, and it must be conducted by Valery Gergiev. In the year 2014, I had the wonderful and rare opportunity to attend a music concert in Singapore conducted by Valery Gergiev, only that there was no Shostakovich. Perhaps Singapore does not care much about Shostakovich. Hosting Gergiev to conduct in Singapore without including anything from Shostakovich was such a loss that cannot be made up for. With the war in Ukraine now, never can we hope to listen to Shostakovich in Singapore or anywhere in the West, let alone conducted by such a powerful maestro as Valery Gergiev, no matter how much the media might want the world to hate him now. However, let me return to the possible. Visiting the graves and the museums of Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn would I think mark the beginning of my real encounter with the vast lands of Russia and her people. I do not want to enter Russia through any other door.

Anyone who is serious about understanding Rūm (modern day Russia) and the events of the end times, cannot bypass these two great voices of modern Russia. A Muslim-Christian alliance prophesied by Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, is a Muslim-Orthodox Christian alliance. This is because, firstly, the Quran clearly identifies these Christians who will be closest in love and affection towards the Muslims to be those who are not only learned in their religion but also guard and preserve the institution of monasticism and who do not seek superiority over others; over those they consider to exist outside the boundaries they have drawn to define their own people. A community of people who do not display a complex for superiority over the Other. In political terms, they respect the sovereignty of nation states other than their own.

Within the two camps of Christendom that emerged after the Great Schism of 1054, we do not find such traits amongst Western Christians who split away from Constantinople and the Greek Church. Their monasteries are all practically non-existent. The USA and Western Europe who now lead Western Christianity as a world community, have engaged in more than two centuries of imperialist warfare imposing their political, economic, martial and cultural ideals over the rest of the world. They have displayed absolute disrespect towards the sovereignty of nation states who they do not consider their allies, or who they consider vulnerable to exploitation.

The other camp, however, that remained in Constantinople, eventually moved its seat to the Muscovy lands after the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II unjustifiably conquered Constantinople in 1453 and then sinfully converted Hagia Sophia into a masjid. That subject of Mehmet II’s conquest is one for another day. Others remained in Greece. This faction continued to be known as Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is amongst these people that we find the institution of monasticism preserved; it is these Christians, who within the capacity of their political power, do not seek to prove like Iblis, that they are superior to others. In short, they are not arrogant in this sense. The proof for this is half a millennium of the political, economic, military, and cultural history of Russia. It is undisputed that Russia is the political leader of Eastern Orthodox Christendom. This is the first trait we recognise from the Quran concerning those Christians who will be closest in love and affection towards the Muslims.

The second is more apparent and important than the first. The Quran prohibits the Muslims from alliance with Christians and Jews who are themselves allies of each other (al-Mā’idah:51). The thousand-year effort of the Crusader European Christian Community to bring the Jews back to the holy land, not only to reclaim it as their own but to establish the state of Israel on behalf of the Jews and then arm that state to its teeth, is the very undeniable proof of this alliance between Christians and Jews. It is a thousand-year demonstration for anyone to overlook this fact. This alliance was mysterious before Sheikh Imran Hosein published his book Jerusalem in the Quran, but ever since that book was published, the reason behind that alliance gradually became lesser and lesser mysterious and has today become crystal clear. Throughout the Crusades, the Eastern Orthodox Christians were persecuted. It is noteworthy that the Eastern Orthodox Christians never joined the Crusades. The Ottoman Muslims at times joined forces with the Judaeo-Christian alliance against Russia, like in the Crimean War, but the Eastern Orthodox Christians never did so. In fact, the Russians considered the Sultan’s turban better than the Cardinal’s hat. Atheist Soviet Russia only briefly joined hands with the US and her pool of allies, but ever since the fall of the Berlin wall, and eventually the exit of Yeltsin from the Russian political stage, Putin’s Russia has returned to her Christian past and because of the intense spiritual development Soviet Russia had ironically triggered in Russian society, any possibility of friendship between the Russian Christian civilisation and the Godless Judaeo-Christian alliance has completely disappeared. To be more specific, the impossibility of such a friendship, alliance and cooperation between the West and Russia manifested in the year 2003 with the Second Iraq war. This is the second and more important reason that it is Russia today that qualifies to those Christians who are closest in love and affection towards the Muslims.

All of this was articulated eloquently and projected in Solzhenitsyn’s controversial Harvard Speech (1978) in front of the cream of American society. The outraged American society (including the West) and the media that had celebrated him and and had granted him the Nobel Prize for literature only some years ago represented by the Swedish Academy, could not digest what he expressed in their face. The next day, the media called him by all the evil names they could. They thought he would come to speak the truth against Soviet Socialism as he had always courageously done and for which he had gone to the Gulag for 8 years, due to which he had suffered cancer and from which he had miraculously recovered. On the contrary, Solzhenitsyn came on stage dramatically in front of the throngs of the American people to express the truth about Western Democracy and liberalism as the very failure of humanism. He called for a return to God and morality and the freedom to say no rather than to say yes. He reminded the West that human obligations are more important than rights. Until the West recognises this, he said they had no freedom. However, they could not destroy him no matter how hard they tried because he commenced the speech by saying that he had come as no adversary but as a friend.

Solzhenitsyn was granted the Nobel Prize for literature for his Dostoevskian novel The First Circle and all his courageous yet profound writings up till that time. 20 odd years later, when he finally ended his self-imposed exile and returned to Russia, the same America that had granted him asylum, turned against him and threw mud on his name. He did not accept their asylum with any such condition that he must speak in the favour of American ideals and humanism, therefore when he was there, he was able to witness yet another manifestation of the same bitter Truth he had witnessed in Soviet Russia. When he returned to Russia, he defended Russian culture and civilisation. He told the West that Russia must be considered a civilisation of its own, like China, India, the Muslim world, and Africa. He stressed that Russia does not belong to the West.

He soon found Putin at his door.

Minal qalbi ilal qalbi sabeelan – From one heart to another, there is a path. Putin’s Russian heart was attracted to Solzhenitsyn’s Russian heart.

If one reads Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago–and of course all of his other works–it opens a window into the Russian heart, but such an encounter with the Russian heart would dramatically develop if one simultaneously listens to Shostakovich, especially from Symphony 4 onwards. What Solzhenitsyn wrote in the Russian language Shostakovich wrote in the language of music. Shostakovich was the proof of Solzhenitsyn’s claim that the Soviet era triggered an intense spiritual development in the Russian people. Though under the personal scrutiny of Stalin, dangerously so, nothing could stop the profound and intense music that came out of the genuine Russian heart in Shostakovich. In the early days, Stalin could not do anything to Solzhenitsyn except throw him in the Gulag and to Shostakovich except walk out of his opera. Neck in the tiger’s jaw, when his life was hanging by a thread, Shostakovich wrote Symphony 4. That is the reality of the Russian heart that the Soviet Union could not deal with. In sufic terms we call this futuwwah. Under that great totalitarian pressure only the best came out of Shostakovich. After Symphony 4 everything else flowed from Shostakovich like a torrent against oppression with brilliant sarcasm. His last symphony, in its last parts, echoed his fourth symphony and that is not by coincidence. It was the consistency of his thought and the continuity of his vigorous response to the changing world order, to the loss of all values. If not for the Russian heart that Solzhenitsyn had–who called modern music in his Harvard speech intolerable–that is, the gestalt of the Russian heart, Shostakovich would have gone unnoticed or even effortlessly killed like all the millions of Russians who were killed like flies during the Soviet era. On the contrary, as soon as his music was performed, the Russian population caught the message. They could passionately take courage listening to Symphony 7 in the middle of 1942 during the Leningrad siege and at such time when 27 million Russians had died in the war and half a million Russians had died due to the siege and while even the musicians could not find food to eat.

In fact, Solzhenitsyn in the very early years of his arrest, had already realised that this Atheist Russia cannot defeat the Russian heart and will not succeed. He could already calculate at that time, or should I say prophesy, that the USSR had already failed and will be succeeded by the historical Christian Russian civilisation. He had already played the music that was heard in the language of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and the great Russian minds. Shostakovich had only done the same. One Russian musician said, "Shostakovich was giving the finger to the USSR in his pocket, which they could not see."

What about Tolstoy? It would suffice to say, if Tolstoy had lived to see Solzhenitsyn and Shostakovich, he would have given them the spiritual training they yearned for. He is the spiritual father and monk of the Russian heart. I would not be surprised if I heard that when Tolstoy died, such and such a Muslim Imam had performed the funeral prayer for him like the Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alayhi wa sallam had performed the funeral prayer for Najasha, the Christian King of Abyssinia. Tolstoy had paved the Christian spiritual path for the dangerous century ahead for men like Solzhenitsyn and Shostakovich to tread. Tolstoy died 7 years before the success of the Bolshevik revolution. As Malaparte noted, the revolution was Trotsky and not Lenin. While Trotsky was technically training his men boldly in the open to take over the state–a short-lived training though it was for he was soon murdered by Stalin–and  Lenin merely waiting for news in the Parliament, Tolstoy, like a spiritual farmer in retreat, had already planted the seeds that would take the natural course and grow into trees throughout the difficult century and bear fruits to nourish the hearts of the Russian people to not only survive the first circle of hell in Russian history, but to emerge stronger than ever to play the important role it is destined to play in the end times.

If there was Shostakovich to add music to our understanding of Solzhenitsyn, then there was Dostoevsky to prove that Solzhenitsyn had continued the legacy of Christian and moral Russia. As Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned, escaped death by cancer and exiled, so was Dostoevsky imprisoned, escaped death by execution and exiled. Dostoevsky’s books had already influenced and shaped Solzhenitsyn when they were banned in Soviet Russia. Dostoevsky was an engineer and Solzhenitsyn a teacher of Physics and Mathematics. They bore the same heart.

Love for language more importantly means one must study the great minds of the language. This is embedded in the literature of the language. It is not the Russian language Muslims need to study in their efforts towards a Muslim-Christian alliance, it is the language of Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn they must study; it is the language of Dostoevsky and Shostakovich they must study. Their language is too powerful to be lost in translation and interpretation.

The Russian heart throughout the 20th century bore remarkable optimism and hope despite all the damage, devastation and destruction they were subjected to. To shove away and move through all the heaps of garbage the media has placed in front of us concerning Russia today, the Muslim must first of all go to the Quran to identify those Christians who are closest in love and affection towards them, and then seek to encounter that Rūm through her great minds so that the tryst between the Muslims and the Christians who follow Jesus–not Santa Claus–written in the destinies of the human race at the end of history may be understood in perspective.

Therefore, I say I would like to enter Russia only through the doors of Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn.