After the edition and translation of two Turkic primary sources on the Islamic history of Semipalatinsk, the centre of early modern Islamic scholarship and education in the eastern part of the Kazakh steppe (cf. their Materials for the Islamic History of Semipalatinsk: Two Manuscripts by Ahmad Wali al-Qazani and Qurban-‘Ali Khalidi, Berlin: Das arabische Buch (ANOR: 11), 2001), the authors propose a first edition, with an English translation, of the biographical dictionary composed in Chawchak (Chinese: Tachen) from 1911 onwards by the madrasa-educated chronicler Qurban-‘Ali Khalidi (1846-1913). An essential source for the history of Islam in modern-day Kazakhstan and northern Xinjiang, the dictionary followed the publication by Khalidi of his Tawarikh-i khamsa-yi sharqi in Kazan in 1910, built-up primarily on oral sources, treating the ethnic history of the Turkic peoples of imperial Russia, and of the Mongols.
The edition and English translation of the text are preceded by an overall historical introductions in which the editors resituate Khalidi’s work in a period marked by, on the one hand, the gradual strengthening of Russian and Qing authority over the Kazakh nomads, and on the other, the revival of Islamic culture among the same nomads, and numerous Muslim migrants from Russia and Central Asia (including Kashgharia). In the wake of a tradition developed since the 1990s by the School of Bloomington on the history of Islam in the Central Eurasian steppe, A. J. Frank and M. Usmanov stress the role played by the Kazakh themselves in this revival. They also insist on the originality of Qurban-‘Ali Khalidi’s work if compared with the early modern biographical tradition developed in the Volga-Ural region of Russia (by Marjani, Fakhr al-Din, Ramzi), viz. its openness to a heterogeneous typology of local and regional religious actors, and its writing in an original tone and versicolour language that bear testimony of Khalidi’s familiarity with and veneration to the oral tradition of the steppe.
Among the regrets that the reader can feel after the reading of this presentation are the editors’ lack of interest in the significant anthropological literature developed during the last decade, for instance on the role of the khwajas in the twentieth-century Islamic revival processes (see notably the works by Bruce Privratsky), and the absence of openings to the whole world of Islam, characteristic of the bulk of publications on Central Eurasia (e.g., on the history of the biographical genre). These reserves notwithstanding, the present edition of the unique manuscript preserved in Prof. Usmanov’s private collection in Kazan, and the choice of an unconventional literary English translation reflecting the stylistic complexity of the original make this well-edited volume (except some orthographic mistakes in the first pages of the introduction) a captivating contribution to our still very incomplete knowledge of the modern history of Islam in the Central Eurasian steppe.