In the normal course of things, an “underground” religious movement is simply one that tries not to attract too much attention from either the authorities or the public. Literal troglodytism is neither required nor expected. In the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, however, a self-described prophet by the name of Faizrakhmah Satarov has been taking his status as an underground Islamist leader all too literally:
The digging began about a decade ago and 70 followers soon moved into an eight-level subterranean honeycomb of cramped cells with no light, heat or ventilation.
Children were born. They, too, lived in the cold underground cells for many years — until authorities raided the compound last week and freed the 27 sons and daughters of the sect.
Ages 1 to 17, the children rarely saw the light of day and had never left the property, attended school or been seen by a doctor, officials said Wednesday. Their parents — sect members who call themselves “muammin,” from the Arabic for “believers” — were charged with child abuse.
Another report claims that some of the children had never seen daylight, and that the muammin were encouraged to read “manuscripts” written by their leader.
The subterranean honeycomb is “under a three-storey brick house topped by a small minaret with a tin crescent moon”. The house is now slated for demolition, much to the aggravation of at least one resident:
“They will come with bulldozers and guns, but they will have to demolish this house over our dead bodies!” sect member Gumer Ganiyev said on the Vesti television channel. The ailing Satarov appointed Ganiyev as his deputy prophet, according to local media.
Deputy prophet, you ask? It’s presumably just a matter of organizational efficiency. Perhaps Ganiyev receives the less important revelations, the ones about things like whether it’s permissible to eat a chicken that has been plunged into hot water before being disembowelled (apparently it depends on how long the chicken is submerged, and on the temperature of the water). If Jesus had had a deputy prophet, I’m sure he could have provided the multitude with something much tastier than mere loaves and fishes.
As well as prosecuting some of the muammin for child abuse, the authorities have apparently charged Satarov himself with negligence (the BBC, charmingly enough, says “arbitrariness”). Naturally, I don’t disapprove, but I must admit that I find Satarov and his sect fascinating as well as deplorable. What on Earth were they thinking when they decided to build their subterranean caliphate? What quaint and curious beliefs are expressed in the “manuscripts” that the cultists, if that’s a fair term, were supposed to read? If they’re ever translated into English (and stranger things have happened), I’ll want to have a look. They may be utter drivel, but parts of them could well be beautiful and compelling. Perhaps under different historical circumstances Satarov could even have found himself at the head of a thriving independent community of muammin, just like Joseph Smith in 19th century America.