This article deals with two contemporary, yet highly different, models of Muslim identity in Russia. The first one is that of the Russian missionary Nikolai Il’minskii and his disciples, who influenced the educational programme of imperial Russia towards its Muslim subjects in the second half of the nineteenth century, and then again for a short period of time after 1905. This model is juxtaposed by the educational ideas of Ismail Gasprinskii. In spite of all their obvious differences both models show important similarities, beginning with the fact that both stress the importance of education and language. However, as both approaches had different aims, in the end they developed different strategies. The driving force behind Il’minskii’s strong interest in the vernacular of various Turkic ethnic groups was his worry of a lingual and cultural unification of all Muslims, which he endeavoured to prevent by all means. The fear of an uncontrolled cultural development of Russian Muslims also motivated Il’minskii’s proposals on how the traditional Muslim educational institutions in Russia were to be treated. Il’minskii advocated their preservation in their contemporary—in Il’minskii’s opinion backward—state, instead of attempting reforms. According to this reasoning, Muslims would soon recognise the advantages of the Russian educational system and thus open themselves for Russification. While Gasprinskii agreed with Il’minskii as to the weaknesses of the classical Muslim educational system, he chose a diametrically opposed approach in his promotion of far-reaching reforms. In his opinion the “Turko-Tatars” of Russia did not only represent a nation with common language; he believed that support for Turkic/Tatar as a literary language would be the instrument to make the Tatars open for modern Russian civilisation. Gasprinskii’s deliberations led to the evolution of two practical projects: First, he embarked upon the project to create a unified Turkic literary language. Second, he developed new educational methods, which were soon copied by other educators and played a decisive role in the strong increase of literacy amongst the Muslim youth of Russia in the years preceding wwi. Yet Gasprinskii did not regard his actions as opposed to Russia’s “civilising mission,” but rather as a contribution to that undertaking. Both approaches were ultimately disappointed. In spite of their proximity to the state apparatus Il’minskii’s supporters eventually had to realise that their endeavours to keep the Muslims from developing a social and political consciousness had failed. As to Gasprinskii and his sympathisers, on the other hand, they experienced growing resistance by Muslims to their effort to create a unified literary language.
The article suffers from paying overmuch attention to the activities of these two individuals and their respective schools when dealing with the cultural evolution of the Muslims of Russia between 1860 and 1917. Gasprinskii’s tactical manoeuvres, which attempted to adapt to changing political conditions as the decades passed make it difficult to speak of a unified body of intellectual thought. Additionally, a number of regional variations, as well as the influence of reforms in the Ottoman Empire on debates among the Muslims of Russia remain both unconsidered. It appears also justified to put into doubt the author’s judgement of Soviet nationality policies and their continuation of Il’minskii’s efforts. Yet one has to agree that even a decade after 1991 the appreciation of the historical achievements of Gasprinskii or Il’minskii amongst the Turkic peoples of modern-day CIS is still dominated more by emotions than by pragmatism.