In the last ten years much has been achieved with regard to the publication of nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Arabic documents related to the Caucasian War and the three Imams of Dagestan and Chechnya. Above all, two major historical works on Shamil have been published in translation and facsimile (Kniga vospominanii saiiida Abdurakhmana [Tadhkirat ‘Abd al-Rahman], transl. by M.-S. Saidov, ed. by Kh. Omarov and A.R. Shikhsaidov, Makhachkala, 1997; Kratkoe izlozhenie podrobnogo opisaniia del Imama Shamilia [Khulasat al-tafsil ‘an ahwal al-Imam Shamwil], transl., comm. and facsimile by Natalia A. Tagirova, Moscow, 2002), as well as one important lexicon of Dagestani scholars (Die Islamgelehrten Daghestans und ihre arabischen Werke. Nadhir ad-Durgilis (st. 1935) Nuzhat al-adhhan fı tarajim ‘ulama’ Daghistan, ed., transl. and comm. by Michael Kemper and Amri R. Šixsaidov [Muslim Culture in Russia and Central Asia, 4], Berlin, 2004). In addition, Timur Aitberov published an anthology of Daghestani customary law (Khrestomatiia po istorii prava i gosudarstva Dagestana v xviii-xix vv., 2 parts, Makhachkala, 1999), and Khalata Omarov contributed two important anthologies comprising letters of and to Shamil (100 pisem Shamilia, Makhachkala, 1997; Obraztsy araboiazychnykh pisem Dagestana xix veka, Makhachkala, 2002).
Research on the daily correspondences in Shamil’s Imamate is now brought further by the Petersburg scholar Rukiia Sh. Sharafutdinova, who already since the early 1970s managed to edit and translate several important Arabic documents from the period of the Caucasian War. Sharafutdinova's anthology comprises 88 letters (most of them preserved as originals in St. Petersburg archives), which are given in Arabic script and Russian translation and provided with short commentaries (with 51 of them also reproduced in facsimile). Twenty-one letters were written by Shamil himself (among them nine to Russian officers), while 22 others were addressed to him (including one allegedly sent by the Ottoman Sultan). The bulk of the remaining letters pertains to the correspondence between Shamil’s deputies (na’ibs), as well as all kinds of petitions to the na’ibs. Here we get fresh insight into the political structure of the Imamate; for instance, several letters reveal new information on the function of the amir al-jaysh (“Leader of the Military”), an official whose coordinating function has not come to our attention before (docs. 15, 16, 19, 20, 25, 27). In one instance the sender of an Arabic letter took recourse to the Lak language, seemingly in order to convey a secret message (36).
The networking within the Imamate is reflected in all kinds of quarrels and intrigues between the na’ibs, and in complaints about their behaviour. Many documents deal with military intelligence, the management of campaigns and supplies for the troops, as well as the treatment of refugees to the Imamate and of prisoners of war. Others reflect day-to-day domestic legal disputes between individual community members over issues like land and heritage, or stolen horses and guns; in one case a student complained that his teacher did not admit him to his course (54). These communal legal issues reveal not only the scope of authority enjoyed by Shamil’s na’ibs but also that much was still regulated according to customary law (34, 52). In fact, references to the shari‘a were mainly of symbolic and declarative nature. Topics of Sufism and shaykhs of the Naqshbandiyya brotherhood are hardly mentioned at all in the correspondences. Shamil is generally addressed with the legal and political title of amir al-mu’minin (“Leader of the Believers,” or Caliph), not as a shaykh (the only exception being the above-mentioned ferman of the Ottoman Sultan, which might constitute a forgery for propaganda purposes).
The academic division of the book into sections containing all originals and others containing all commentaries makes the study of the documents not always easy, and the reader would have benefited from more historical and biographical explanations. At times the terminology is not completely clarified; to give an example the plural word ma’adhin mentioned in doc. 31 does probably not refer to callers to prayer (sg. mu’adhdhin) but to ma’dhuns, that is, deputies of a na’ib in the Imamate. In the case of documents on Kabardinians, Sharafutdinova rightly expresses her hope that future research will shed more light on their identities. As for Dagestan and Chechnya, the most recent network studies on the Imamate have already benefited greatly from her anthology (cf. Michael Kemper, Herrschaft, Recht und Islam in Daghestan: Von den Khanaten und Gemeindebünden zum Jihâd-Staat, Wiesbaden, 2005; and Clemens P. Sidorko, Dschihad im Kaukasus: Antikolonialer Widerstand der Dagestaner und Tschetschenen gegen das Zarenreich (18. Jahrhundert bis 1859), Wiesbaden, 2007).