Reviews

Kelly O’Neill’s brief article addresses the issue of official Russian perceptions of Crimean Tatar responses to Russian religious policies on various aspects of religious ritual. K. O’Neill emphasises the flexibility of the Russian state in integrating Crimean Muslims from the period of the annexation of the Crimea in 1783 until 1853, the eve of the Crimean War. The author deserves praise for bringing to light some of the materials in the Simferopol archives, and for addressing the issue of state religious policy toward Crimean Muslims ― a topic as yet insufficiently studied, but also particularly worthy of attention because relations between Russia and Muslims in the Crimea have historically been more complex and troubled than in the case of the Volga-Ural region or Siberia. Regrettably, the article also reveals many serious methodological shortcomings all too typical of Russianists who lack sufficient familiarity with Islamic questions. On the one hand, K. O’Neill is careful to emphasise “Russian perceptions of Islam,” rather than actually characterise “Islam.” On the other, the author argues that the Russian authorities were concerned with enforcing “orthodoxy” on Islamic ritual among Crimean Muslims. However the author’s unfamiliarity with even basic aspects of Islamic ritual leads to some substantial errors of interpretation. For example, K. O’Neill describes communal prayers performed during a drought as outside of “formal Islamic tradition.” Although rain prayer no doubt existed before Islam, they are perfectly consistent with Islamic tradition, where they are known as istisqa (استسقا), and associated with the Prophet Muhammad himself. If the focus of the article is to interpret official Russian perceptions, it is nonetheless important to accurately understand from the Muslim perspective the phenomenon that the Russians were seeking to perceive. The author also misinterprets some of the secondary sources cited in the article, thereby misunderstanding and mischaracterising some basic aspects of Islamic institutions in Russia. K. O’Neill claims that the “the ‘ulama, particularly those that drew salaries from the Russian government, often denounced such rites as ‘innovations (p. 34).’” In fact, the work that she cites points out that (1) the ‘ulama for the most part drew no salaries from the state, but were supported by their communities; (2) rites such as rain prayers were not interpreted as “innovations,” and (3) the ‘ulama actively participated in precisely these rites.

Allen J. Frank, Takoma Park, MD
CER: II-3.2.C-186