From the Haze into the Sun

Interview with Khurshed (Pavel) Numanov, Major General of Police, an Orthodox Tajik

Elena Khomullo spoke with Khurshed Ishonkulovich Numanov

In this interview, Khurshed Ishonkulovich Numanov, Major General of Police, professor of the Special Investigative Techniques Department of the Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, will tell us about the police work, his journey to Orthodoxy, his native land of Tajikistan and his father’s legacy.

Khurshed Ishonkulovich Numanov Khurshed Ishonkulovich Numanov
    

—How did you, a Muslim by birth, convert to Orthodoxy? What made you do it?

—I was mostly guided by the idea that God was one. I was probably influenced by the things I encountered in my life, the things I learned at school, the things I experienced… In other words, life itself motivated me to make that important decision.

Do you know why I chose the name Pavel (Paul) when I was baptized? People pray to St. Paul the apostle when they need help to turn people of other faiths to Christ and when they need to strengthen their own faith. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain (1 Cor. 15: 9-10). This is how the great apostle Paul describes himself. Chapters 7-9 of the Acts mention several times that Paul actively participated in the persecution of the early Christian Church (up to verse 13:9 he is exclusively referred to as Saul). St. Paul himself also mentions in some of his epistles that before his conversion he persecuted Christians. The Sadducee high priest instructed Pharisee Saul to bring Christians from Damascus to Jerusalem for punishment. On the way to Damascus Saul himself went through an ordeal when he heard an unknown voice saying “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” He lost his sight for three days. A Christian named Ananias cured him and Paul was baptized. After his baptism, he became a zealous preacher of the teachings he previously persecuted. I drew the following conclusion from this story: Saul became blind and understood that one should not do evil to people and that was how Pharisee Saul became Christian Paul.

People choose their own ways. Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. (Ps. 37:3). In the prayer to St. Paul, we say that although he wandered a lot, was severely beatrn and injured, he never veered from the path he chose, thus expiating his sins. People get what they deserve, but no person ever gets more than he or she can endure. Every person has a cross to carry. I still have problems in my life, and I have to go through those trials and tribulations and persevere. Orthodoxy helps me in this.

It all began when I started going to Orthodox churches out of curiosity. I literally couldn’t take my eyes off the incredibly beautiful images of saints. I remember that when I was a child and later when I grew up, I watched documentaries about icon painting, the life of Jesus Christ and Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church. Getting away from the busy routine of life and coming to church was like a breath of fresh air for me. I simply listened to the prayers and looked at people praying to various saints. After a while, I learned which saints people should pray to when they need help in certain life situations. Most of the people sincerely believed that the saints they prayed to would help them and they received according to their faith.

—Are there any saints that you pray to with a special fervor?

—First of all, I always pray to Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Most Holy Mother of God, Apostle Paul and the Blessed St. Matrona of Moscow. I visited the Convent of the Protection of the Mother of God several times [where St. Matrona’s relics are]. The words that St. Matrona reportedly said really struck in my memory: “Ask me as you would ask a living person, and I will help you.” After a while, certain things happened that made me believe it, so now I always carry the icon pendant of St. Matrona with me. But at first, when I came to church, I simply felt calm and rested both spiritually and physically.

About ten years ago, I started frequenting the [Holy Trinity-] St. Ipatius Monastery in Kostroma. I highly recommend everybody to visit it. As soon as you walk into the church, you feel the incredibly prayerful spirit formed there over the course of many years. This really makes you feel tranquil. Of course, you start thinking about your deeds and asking God what to do in a certain situation and you get the answer. Sometimes the answer doesn’t come right away. No matter where you go after that, the question remains in your head and after a while God through various situations shows you what you should do.

Holy Trinity-St. Ipatius Monastery, Kostroma. Holy Trinity-St. Ipatius Monastery, Kostroma.
    

When I met Alexander, the Archbishop of Kostroma and Galich (now he is the Metropolitan of Astana and Kazakhstan), he explained everything to me without any pressure. I listened attentively to every word he said as he showed me the churches under his supervision and later took me to his residence in Kostroma. His place was very modest and I saw that Archbishop Alexander was an ascetic. When he became a Metropolitan and left this residence, he took only one suitcase with him. Many people from Archbishop Alexander’s diocese followed him. He comes to Moscow every now and then and when I know about it, I always come to the service in the church where he preaches.

—Tell us how you were baptized.

—I was baptized in 2013. It was a very important event in my life. I was going through a difficult phase at the time—I had routine problems, family issues, even barely escaped a car accident. When I was in the Church of the Most Holy Mother of God in Khovrino, I asked the priest to bless the car. “It is not the car, but the chariot”, was the answer. Next early morning I drove my new clean car to the church. The priest blessed “the chariot” and said, “Let me sprinkle you with holy water, too.” Before that moment, I felt like my mind was in a haze, and then suddenly everything became clear. Later, the priest told me, “You go to church, but don’t pray or make the sign of the cross, and simply stand there listening to the Liturgy.” I said that I wasn’t Christian, but would really like to be baptized. “Don’t rush,” the priest said. “Think seriously about it.” “I do want to be baptized”, I repeated, so the priest told me who I should talk to and discuss this in greater detail with. Later when I talked to Father Alexiy, I told him the story of my life and said that I wanted to convert to Orthodoxy. He told me that this was a very important step and that I had to think it through. Life circumstances happened so that in my heart I already accepted Christianity. The priest gave me a month to study the Gospel and prayers. I was willing to do it in a week, but he told me that a week wouldn’t be enough. Finally, this long-awaited day came, the day of my new birth in Christ, which coincided with the feast day of the holy apostles Peter and Paul. I also chose this name because my birthday was on the feast day of the holy apostle. God’s Providence is always with us. Three adults, including a young Muslim girl, were baptized at the same time with me. That was how I was baptized.

—How did your life change after you converted to Orthodoxy?

—Even before I converted, I used to plunge into the baptismal font every time I got a chance. I did it for the first time in 1996, when I was on a business trip in Nizhny Novgorod. We went on a tour to Diveyevo Convent. On the way there, the guide told us many things about the convent. When we arrived, we were told that the water to the baptismal font comes from a nearby spring. I immersed in it and from that day on, if I couldn’t do it three or four times a year, my body seemed to be burning from inside. Now I plunge in the baptismal font whenever I can, irrespective of the time of the year. And of course, I always do this on the day of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This became a tradition for me.

Also, from that day I started analyzing world events from the Orthodox stand point. I am very concerned about the spread of terrorism on our planet. Unfortunately, not all people who commit such terrible crimes in the name of Allah understand the evil they do. Since I was born and grew up in Tajikistan, I know very well that true Muslims who believe in Allah and follow the canons would never kill people of other faiths. The Quran does not require this.

The Quran doesn’t call for jihad. The Quran tells people to share their last thing with others, but unfortunately, many people do evil in the name of Allah. For example, ISIS (a terrorist organization banned in Russia). Recently, I saw a documentary on TV about Tajikistan. They showed young men who came back from ISIS. I don’t believe in their repentance. They say that they do what they do to earn money. Yes, they are poor and there is a shortage of everything, but their fellow citizens go to other countries to find work, rather than to fight. Killing people for money will never make anybody happy. To quote from the New Testament, Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. (1 Peter 3:11).

—You mentioned that you were born in Tajikistan. Your father, Ishonkul Usmanovich Numanov, was a well-known and respected man in Tajikistan. For many years, he was the head of the Institute of Chemistry under the Republican Academy of Sciences. Which of his life principles you remember the most?

—My father’s life taught me: No matter how badly anybody treats you, never wish him or her evil and never do evil to them. There is a good reason for the saying: “Harm set, harm get”. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. (Romans 12:17).

My father used to say, “The Almighty sees everything and sooner or later people get what they deserve.” His philosophy boiled down to the following formula: “If I can’t help a person, I would at least hear him or her out, for later I might meet someone wise who might suggest a solution.” In other words, even if you can’t help people, you must at least hear them out and this alone will help resolve some issues. I did not understand it right away, but after I graduated from college, my father’s words always helped me, both at work and in personal life.

The legacy of my father lives on. I still get in touch with his students who work in the Institute of Chemistry. Some of them now live in Moscow and whenever I go to Tajikistan, they ask me to give their regards to their colleagues.

Practically every year the Numanov Conference is held in Tajikistan. This event, attended by many scientists from the neighboring countries, is held in the Tajik, Russian and Kirghiz languages.

Islam is the official religion of Tajikistan. When you lived there, did you notice Russian communities there? Were they large?

—I went to a Russian school. There were Russians, Ukrainians, Jews and even Germans. Ethnic background was never an issue. It was the same situation in college. We have a tradition: Every second or third year, we organize reunions and they are attended by all alumni, irrespective of their ethnic background, religion, etc. One of my friends is a Tatar. We have been friends since the first grade. He also converted to Orthodoxy.

The Lord works in mysterious ways and every person choses his or her own path to follow. None of my relatives asked me why I did it. I don’t hide the fact that I believe in Christ, and all my friends and acquaintances know about it and respect my choice.

When I look at young men coming from Central Asia or Caucasus, I see that some of them have an aggressive attitude toward other religions. This is because their parents did not teach them to be respectful and tolerant. Unfortunately, there are some excesses. As far as those events that happened on one of the Moscow cemeteries are concerned,[1] I’d like to say that people who come here do not quite understand how they should behave. They don’t think about the fact that if they behave inappropriately, they besmirch many of their fellow countrymen who live in Russia. As representatives of their nations, they should know that people from the Eastern countries were always known for their wisdom, self-control and respect of elders… Unfortunately, not everybody follows these traditions. I hope to God that the situation is stabilized. There is a saying that can be loosely translated as, “The Russians are slow to get started but once they get going there’s no stopping them.” I just don’t want this old saying to come true. If such newcomers push the Russians to the limit, the Russians will finally say, “Alright guys, get out of here.”

Russia gave us shelter, food and jobs here, so at least for the sake of this we should respect and abide by its laws! I had no problems at work. Although, when I was promoted, there were people who would say, “Don’t we have our own people to promote?” One of the senior officers, a Colonel General (a religious man who was instrumental in my conversion to Orthodoxy), once said to such people, “You have to work like he does before you can say anything against him.” I am very thankful to him. We had great training.

How should people who choose to work in the police resist the temptations they face?

—Some people come to church or the mosque because being religious has become fashionable. They flaunt their donations so that other people would think that they are generous. Thankfully, there are not too many people like that. The same thing is happening in the police. Some people enroll for the money, while others really want to serve and protect. Many things were done to make sure that employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs observe the law, but you can’t read other people’s minds. Any person, be he a clerk in a bank or a top manager, can do both good and bad things—so everything depends on the person. I should say that the situation is more good than bad and most people enroll in the police force to uphold high ideals and justice, rather than to get rich.

Based on your professional, worldly and religious experience, what would you recommend to young people who have decided to dedicate their lives to serving their country and to those who come to Russia from former Soviet Union countries?

—I can’t give them any advice; I can only wish them well. It was easier for me to find my bearings and make the right decisions, because our teachers taught us to be fair, respect the rituals, customs and laws of other countries, and be patriotic and respectful to our elders. Much to my regret, our education system has gaps, and although they are working to fill them, I think that they are doing it too slowly. Many school students, not only in Russia but also in the entire Former Soviet Union, do not know the history of their ownnations, let alone the history of their neighboring countries. They don’t know their customs, social etiquette or ethical standards. I wish that rather than spending all their time playing computer games, they would study the history of their country. Mikhail Lomonosov used to say, “People who don’t know their past, have no future.”

Migrant workers in Russia from Central Asia. Migrant workers in Russia from Central Asia.
    

If you come to Russia, you need to know Russian, basic history of Russia, its traditions and laws of the Russian Federation—at least some elementary things. If you know these, you will adapt easily and gain the respect of others. The most important thing is to respect the customs and traditions of the nation you are visiting. I think that it is the law of life.

For example, few people know why in Central Asia the host would never give a full cup of tea to a guest. In the East, people are used to having dignified conversions, so the host does not fill the cup up not because he’s frugal, but because he wants to have a relaxing conversation with the guest. Another tradition is to pour tea for yourself before pouring it to the guest. This demonstrates that you are not giving your guest poison, since you drink the same thing.[2] Drinking tea is a tradition, a ritual. Every country has its own traditions.

Here’s another example: Why not greet and say, “How are you?” to older people who usually sit on benches near the apartment building entrance, even if you don’t know them? Of course, some might say, “What business is it of yours!” but most would appreciate it. Or if you leave Russia on a business trip to the Caucasus or Central Asia, why not learn some common phrases in the language of those nations? If you say them to people there, this would show them that you respect their language, and that means that you respect their traditions as well. This is how peace between people is achieved. When in Rome, do as Romans.

In conclusion, I would wish that all my brothers and sisters in Christ be blessed with the help of God and their Guardian Angels!

Elena Khomullo

8/21/2016

[1] In May 2016, there were was a massive incident of lethal fighting at a cemetery in Moscow between two groups of migrants of differing nationalities from the predominantly Muslim countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

[2] In Russia, it is exactly the other way around. The host always fills the guest’s cup first out of deference, and fills it to the rim to show that he does not begrudge him any food or drink.

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