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Said Ismagilov was the mufti of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine and one of the most important Muslim leaders of the country for over 13 years. Many know him as a reviewer of the translation of the Koran into Ukrainian. After Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Saeed joined the Bucha terrorist defense, where he lived, and in June finally resigned as mufti. He is now a sniper driver in the ASAP Hottabich medical unit, which evacuates the wounded on the front line.
The editor-in-chief of the Ban, Kateryna Sergatskova, met with the former mufti near the front line in Kostiantynivka, Donetsk region, and talked about what he saw on the front line, how he helps the wounded and why he decided to become a soldier.
For many years you were the Mufti of the Muslim Ummah of Ukraine. You have now resigned. Now you work in Donbas as a military medic. How did you take this change?
The life of Ukrainians was divided on February 24 and after. Despite the fact that the war has lasted for more than eight years – especially here in Donbas, people see and know this war well. But for most Ukrainians, the problem was that the war was somewhere far away. War is for professional soldiers, and it does not concern them, civilian people. When Russian missiles flew to Odesa, Lviv, and Kyiv, the lives of Ukrainians changed completely. Even though the enemy was driven away from Kyiv, the war did not go away.
I am from Donetsk, I had to leave it [during the occupation of Donbas], I came to Bucha and bought myself a house. On February 25, a Russian armored column entered there. You know, when in the life of one person in such a short period, the same occupiers come to your house twice – only IDPs from Donetsk can understand this. I had to leave Bucha as well. But at that moment I already knew that I would not be a fugitive – I would defend my homeland. Back in December, I joined the Territorial Defense Battalion, where we trained.
You said you fled Bucha. Was it in March or the beginning of the invasion?
We woke up early from the explosions, which were heard throughout the Kyiv region. It was clear that a full-scale war had begun. When I woke up from the explosions on the morning of February 24, I first went to the nearest gas station, filled the car and canisters with fuel, evacuated my family, and then returned to the battalion to follow orders. I have been doing this since this morning. I knew for sure that I would leave the post of mufti, because my term of office expired on January 25th. We had an agreement that in March we would hold a congress of the Religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine, and I intended not to put forward my candidacy for the position.
You are now equipped as a soldier. Is it possible to go to the mosque with weapons?
Actually, it is possible. The fact is that in the days of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, he was allowed to go with a weapon to the mosque – with swords and spears. But, most importantly, it was necessary to handle the weapon so as not to harm another person who came to the mosque.
For me, such a sharp transition from civilian, religious to military life is very interesting. I have never seen the enemy through the gunsight, but I am ready to see him.
Do you miss your life until February 24?
No, I don’t miss it. I see very little difference between what I used to do and what I do now. Earlier in the mosque, I tried to save the spiritual state of people with my sermons, and prayers, by communicating with believers. Now it is even more important: I am rescuing and trying to help the wounded man, our warrior, and defender, not just spiritually, but also physically.
I’m a shooter driver in a medical crew. My task is to arrive quickly and take all safety measures for the wounded and the paramedic so that they are not in danger. Our most important task is to save the wounded. The goal is to bring him alive to the operating table of the hospital, to hand him over to the surgeons alive from the trench where he was taken. We must provide him with medical care along the way. It is the salvation of both the body and the soul of a man. If a person is conscious, you talk to him, try to support him, say that everything will be fine, you are with us, we will not leave you, we will save you. The person wants to hear it. You gain some confidence, and peace when the people who help you say that you will be fine.
The evacuation consists of two parts. The first is to pick up from the battlefield and take him to the headquarters, and the second is to take him to a place where there is already a good hospital, good doctors, and [where you can] provide safer care after the surgical table. I’m working on the first stretch.[Once during the evacuation] our tire burst. For the last few kilometers, a seriously wounded soldier had to be transported virtually without a wheel. We rode on the rim. The rubber shattered into pieces. I couldn’t do anything: I couldn’t stop in the middle of the field, I couldn’t put on a spare tire, I needed to take him out. Let it be 50 kilometers per hour, but it means not standing still. We took the man to the hospital, and he survived, but it was such a stress.
How many people do we lose every day?
– Honestly, I don’t know. Even if I knew, I probably wouldn’t say it. It is not my job to give any statistics. If there is a desire of authorities, they will tell. By the way, they have already said recently.
Yes, they said that 200-300 people a day
It’s all over the front. I don’t know how many dead are in a particular area. We do not work with cargo 200, that is, with the dead. We work with the wounded.
What have you already seen during this war?
The first days of Bucha’s liberation. I entered Bucha and saw those people killed on the street. Sometimes they were right on the roads, sometimes there were so many of them that it was impossible even for a car to bypass them. This is the terrible, inhuman treatment of the civilians by the occupiers when they simply killed everyone they met on the street. These are conversations with women who were raped by the occupiers. These are absolutely inhumane shelling of places where civilians are hiding. Even here in Donbas, they are shelling bomb shelters where the civilian population is hiding. There are no soldiers there at all.
These Russian soldiers, their leadership, political and military, propagandists, and religious figures who bless them for this war – they have lost all human dignity, conscience, and in general, lost their human face.
What do you think about people who give their consent to the murder of virtually the whole country, the whole nation – what is prepared for them?
In the Holy Qur’an, Allah Almighty says that one who kills one innocent person is like killing all the people living on Earth. It means that before God the sin of killing one innocent person is so great that you killed all people because each person is the world, because the next generations will come from this person. Maybe it is this person or his descendants who will make some kind of invention, some medicines – they will do something that will help all mankind. We do not know the future. Destroying a person, you actually stop the development of society, and, possibly, humanity and culture, and art, and science.
This is a very great sin, and the Almighty will punish people – not only those who pulled the trigger, pushed the button when the missile was fired, but those who called for this and blessed this. It is the religious figures who have called, blessed, and continue to call for this war. By the way, none of them repented, no one said I was wrong, forgive me. I don’t think they will. I think they will believe to the end that they are fulfilling some mission. I don’t believe they don’t understand what they are doing.
We must be clear that they will destroy us all if we lose this war. This war acquired an ontological character. Either they are destroying Ukrainians and Ukrainianness, which means culture, language, and our desire to be a separate nation, or we are defending ourselves against them, and if we cannot win this war and it goes into a frozen state, in a few years, Russia will gather an army again and attack us again.
In Bucha and in general near Kyiv there were Dagestanis, Chechens – Muslims. Don’t you consider them Muslims? These people came to our land to kill.
We do not have the right to decide whether they are believers or not. The Lord decides. 26-42. 26-54. I leave it all to God’s judgment. But if they came as invaders, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to defend ourselves against them. A man came to the Prophet Muhammad and asked, “What should I do if someone wants to take from me what belongs to me?” The prophet said, “Do not give what belongs to you.” He said, “What if he comes with a weapon and tries to take it away by force?” The prophet replied, “Then you take up arms and defend yourself.” “What if he kills me?” “Then you will go to heaven.” “What if I kill him?” “Then he will go to hell.” The Prophet Muhammad commanded men to protect what the Lord had given to them, these people, this country.
In the first days of the war, I wrote an appeal to the Muslims of Russia. I said don’t do it, remember the Holy Quran, remember the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and give up this war, this war will not give you anything.
Did they not answer?
There was an answer from the Mufti of Chechnya. He said that I was an impostor, that he did not recognize me, that everything I said was nonsense, and they should not listen to it. That is, they heard me.
Russia uses in particular the peoples of the North Caucasus as cannon fodder in the war. For example, the largest number of dead is from Dagestan. And Dagestan has traditionally been a Muslim region for more than a thousand years. And the largest number of dead and wounded is from the North Caucasus. That is, Russia does not send Muscovites or St. Petersburgers – it gathers Dagestanis, Buryats, Tuvans, and other national minorities to use them for their plans of aggression.
The Messenger of Allah said: “If they perish, they will go to hell. They have no excuse, they came as murderers! ”
Apparently, they didn’t know that…
Or maybe they knew. But their muftis told them otherwise. For three months now, their spiritual leaders have been telling them that they need to go to war against Ukraine, that this is supposedly their jihad, a very good thing – and all this is an absolute lie.
It was once thought that the Islamic State was the most brutal terrorist organization in the world. Many people are already saying “no, in fact, the Russian Federation is much worse”. What do you think about it?
You know, all these horrors around the so-called ‘Islamic State’ were more of a media nature. They did commit certain crimes on camera, but they did not have missiles, bombers, or heavy artillery that could destroy entire cities. And Russia has such weapons. Russia can easily throw a rocket at an orphanage and bomb people hiding in the theater, rape and then kill women, fire and destroy entire cities. The Islamic State did not have such opportunities. They could not even commit such crimes. The crimes that Russia is committing now have surpassed everything – even Hitler’s Germany.
One of Ukraine’s main enemies, besides Putin, is Kadyrov. How do you feel about him?
Kadyrov is a certain Russian project. They made him a media figure, resources were invested in him, and he was promoted as the political leader of the Muslims of Russia. And even now all the Kadyrovites who shoot Tik Tok videos are called Tik Tok warriors in the Muslim world because they fight not in real battles but in staged ones. Where there is nothing to fear, there is no danger.
They attack bushes or empty houses. What amuses me the most are the cameramen who run in front of them and shoot as if these cameramen are immortal. Anyone who has been in a real fight understands that this is a low-grade movie, it’s not even Bollywood. All this content is produced for the Arab-Muslim world. Russia has strong propaganda aimed at the Arab-Muslim world, and Russia is using all these Kadyrov Tik-Tokers to show that real Muslims here are emphasizing their Muslimness, shouting “Allahu Akbar” and praying. The same Kadyrov prayed demonstratively at the gas station and said that he was in Mariupol. The fact is that this content is made for the sake of propaganda and sympathy for Russia from the Arab-Muslim world, and, interestingly, people are buying it.
Russia has had a strong influence on the Arab-Muslim world for some time, they have their own channel Russia Today, which is broadcast in almost all Muslim countries. There is no objective information from Ukraine, we have not worked on the issue of support from Middle Eastern countries. And Russia invested there.
If you met Kadyrov, what would you tell him?
I do not want to talk to him, I have nothing to tell him. You know, if I met people who can help us and are our allies, I have something to ask of them, to tell them what help is needed, maybe to say some words of truth. I don’t see any sense in talking to people who have already broken through the bottom of immorality. What will I tell him? Do you think they don’t know what they are doing? Don’t know how many people they kill and rape here? How do they plunder, destroy our country, steal our flour? They all know well. I always say: may Allah Almighty judge us.
Do you think he’ll ever judge?
Of course. I am a believer. Judgment Day will come, and according to Muslim eschatology, there will be absolutely divine justice on Judgment Day, and everyone will be responsible not only to God but also to the offended people. And even if someone kills, offends, or harms someone in this life, on the Day of Judgment, God will order the offender to reimburse the person who was offended.