This small yet substantial collection of articles outlines for Russian-speaking readers what happens in the beginning of a new millennium in Islamic studies in Dagestan, exposing its strong and weak points. It has been gathered and published under the direction of the leading Russian historian of written Islamic culture in the Caucasus Amri R. Shikhsaidov. Other contributors of the book specialize in the study of Oriental manuscripts (Kh. A. Omarov, A. A. Isaev, P. M. Alibekova), in the mediaeval and modern history of the Caucasus (E. M. Dalgat, G. Sh. Kaymarazov, G. I. Kakagasanov), in the archaeology of the city of Derbent and of southern Dagestan (A. V. Kudriavtsev, M. S. Gadzhiev), in art history (M. M. Mammaev) and in philosophy (M. A. Abdullaev). All of them work in research and higher educational institutions of the Dagestani capital Makhachkala. Thematically, the book presents different aspects of Muslim culture as it developed in mediaeval and modern Dagestan like the formation of a Muslim intellectual élite and of Islamic literary traditions, the peculiarities of the early mediaeval Muslim city, the practice of legal pluralism in matters of land property, the history of traditional Islamic education. Most papers are based on original, first-hand sources resuming findings made by the volume’s contributors during the two decades since the end of the Soviet period. Chronologically, this thin volume covers the thirteen centuries of the history of Islam in the region, from the beginning of the Arab conquest in the seventh century to the establishment of Soviet power in the early 1920s. Seven of the twelve articles deal with modern aspects of Islamic culture in eighteenth to early-twentieth-century Dagestan.
In his opening article Amri R. Shikhsaidov (“Rasprostranenie islama v Dagestane [The Propagation of Islam in Dagestan],” 4-32) outlines his findings in the chronology of Islamisation and its reflection in local Muslim memorial notes (tawarikh), chronicles, and Arabic inscriptions. He draws considerably upon investigation of more than 300 (today more than 450) private and mosque collections revealed in Dagestan by archeographic expeditions conducted under his direction. A. R. Shikhsaidov insists on the necessity to distinguish between mediaeval political history and its historical memory expressed in apologetic Muslim traditions that tend to provide the vernacular propagators of Islam in the Caucasus with noble Arab origins, and also tend to mix up the different periods and actors of Islamisation. He also draws attention to cultural links of mediaeval Dagestan with central and peripheral areas of the Dar al-Islam, from Baghdad to Bukhara. The only reproach that might be made to his excellent article is its author’s somewhat uncritical use of notions like “Islamic civilisation” and other misleading terms dating back to the European colonial discourse on Islam (pp. 4, 6, 34).
The Islamisation of early mediaeval Derbent is introduced through the materials of recent excavations by Alexander A. Kudriavtsev (“Slozhenie musul’manskogo goroda Dagestana (po materialam Derbenta viii-x vv.) [The Shaping of the Muslim City of Dagestan (through the Data of Derbent in the Eighth-Tenth Centuries)],” 51-68), who analyses how it’s the city’s Sassanid binary structure evolved in the ninth-tenth centuries to a three-part one like other early mediaeval cities in different regions of the Muslim East. Comparing the materials of archaeological excavations and written sources Murtazali S. Gadzhiev (“Iz istorii vakfa v Derbente xvii v. [Pages of the History of Waqf in Seventeenth-Century Derbent],” 82-5) proposes a convincing interpretation of the Persian inscription dating 1065/1654-5 about pious endowment given to the Khan Hammam in the Derbent citadel. El’mira M. Dalgat (“Islam i formy zemel’noi sobstvennosti v Dagestane [Islam and the Forms of Land Property in Dagestan],” 69-81) deals with the economic foundations of Muslim society in mediaeval and modern Dagestan, through a historical survey of local forms of state-, communal and private landownership. She notably insists on the pre-Islamic origins of all these forms of land property, including those of widespread types of “feudal” ownership in the forms of iqta‘ and day‘a (p. 70). Focusing on the complicated relationship between the state, communal and private lands with reference to the mutually competing norms of customary and shari‘a law, the author traces the gradual transformation of iqta‘ into inherited private estates and small peasant mulk by the fifteenth century. Of interest also are the author’s comments on the regulations of waqf endowments by customary law (‘adat). This article is one of the strongest in the volume, though the author overestimates the continuity of peasant and waqf land tenure from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, and though her presentation of the transformations of the Tsarist and Soviet periods remains very schematic. A top yet single specialist on Islamic art in Dagestan, M. M. Mammaev (“Islamskoe iskusstvo Dagestana: formirovanie i kharakternye cherty [Islamic Art in Dagestan: Its Formation and Characteristics],” 86-107) addresses the use and forms of plant ornamentation of the Arabic inscriptions of Dagestan ― to which he has devoted minute monographic studies: cf. Dekorativno-priklanoe iskusstvo Dagestana: istoki i stanovlenie, Makhachkala, 1989; Zirikhgeran-Kubachi: ocherki po istorii i kul’ture, Makhachkala, 2005).
A number of articles also resume studies of Dagestan’s specialists of Oriental studies in the field of private and state manuscript collections, the number of which to date is estimated over 400. The late Khalatta A. Omarov (d. 2009), who was an authority in nineteenth-century Arabic correspondence from Dagestan, has composed a brief catalogue of manuscripts of the Qur’an preserved in the Institute of History, Archaeology, and Ethnography in Makhachkala (“Spiski Korana, khraniashchiesia v Fonde vostochnykh rukopisei IIAEe: obzor i opisanie [Copies of the Qur’an Preserved in the Fund of Oriental Manuscripts of the IIAE: Panorama and Description],” 108-15). Patimat M. Alibekova and Amirkhan A. Isaev reflect upon the growing importance of Arabic-script (‘ajam) Persian and Dagestani-languages literature in Islamic culture under Tsarist rule (A. A. Isaev, “Dukhovnaia literatura na iazykakh narodov Dagestana [The Spiritual Literature in the Languages of the Peoples of Dagestan],” 171-87; P. M. Alibekova, “Istoki vozniknoveniia persoiazychnoi literatury v Dagestane [The Roots of Persian-Language Literature in Dagestan],” 188-97). These two articles shed light on the contribution of Abu-Sufyan Akaev, ‘Ali Kaiaev and other Jadid thinkers to the introduction of Islamic education and printed books in native languages in early twentieth-century Dagestan. A. A. Isaev notably argues that Jadid reformers prepared the ground for the early Soviet national reforms which led to the abolition of Arabic as the language of high culture, power and law by 1929.
Closely related to the issue of Islamic reform, the history of the region’s networks of Islamic educational institutions in the late Tsarist and early Soviet periods are discussed in two distinct articles: G. Sh. Kaimarazov, “Musul’manskaia sistema obrazovaniia v Dagestane [The Muslim Education System in Dagestan],” 116-29; G. I. Kakagasanov, “Religioznye musul’manskie (primechetskie) shkoly Dagestana [The Muslim Religious (Mosque) Schools of Dagestan],” 130-7. Both describe the different levels adopted, respectively, in traditional and Jadid school, though both authors commonly fail to provide data on Islamic education as such, beginning with the curricula and textbooks, nor do they provide any parallel with the history of Islamic education in other regions of Russia or in neighbouring areas of the Ottoman and Qajar Empires. Moreover, the authors often uncritically borrow contested notions of the Tsarist and Soviet discourse of Islam based on terms relating to institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church such as “parish” (prikhod, 132), “clergy” (dukhovenstvo, 119-127, passim), “orthodox Islam” (ortodoksal’nyi islam). The elements of statistics provided on of madrasas and maktabs are left critically unexamined, which sometimes makes difficult their complete appraisal. Such flaws are inherent to post-Soviet Dagestan’s (and Russia’s) historiography of Islam, with some rare exceptions. For instance, in his work M. M. Mammaev also refers to the norms of “orthodox Islam” (87, 102). Even distinguished specialists of Oriental studies sometimes commit howlers, like for instance Amirkhan A. Isaev (“Dukhovnaia literatura na iazykakh narodov Dagestana [The Spiritual Literature in the Languages of the Peoples of Dagestan],” 171-87), who takes for translations of the Qur’an local exegetics in Avar and Kumyk languages of parts of the sacred text (173). To a certain extent, such shortcomings can be explained by the legacy of the Soviet anti-religious scholarly tradition.
The same remark might be made regarding the work of Magomed A. Abdullaev (“Arabo-musul’manskaia nauchnaia i filosofskaia mysl’ v dosovetskom Dagestane [The Scientific and Philosophical Muslim Arabic Thought in Pre-Soviet Dagestan],” 138-70). A prolific author on Islamic philosophy in Dagestan, this author started his career in the late 1950s with a series of brochures against the Sufi masters of the North Caucasus (cf. M. A. Abdullaev & S. M. Gadzhiev, Pogovorim o musul’manskoi religii [Let’s Speak of the Muslim Religion], Makhachkala, 1962; M. A. Abdullaev, ed., Ocherki nauchnogo ateizma [Studies in Scientific Atheism], Makhachkala, 1972). To be complete, M. A. Abdullaev must also be credited of later research works in support of the Jadid columnist ‘Ali Kaiaev, classically presenting him an enlightener of Dagestan’s Muslims, according to the criteria elaborated in the 1970s, though not documenting his argument with any serious primary sources. In the 1990s, M. A. Abdullaev characteristically switched to “studies on the spiritual achievements” of past Dagestani Sufis, on whose life he still continues to write works of popularisation (cf. M. A. Abdullaev & Iu. V. Medzhidov, Ali Kaiaev, Makhachkala, 1993; V. A. Abdullaev, Sufizm i ego raznovidnosti na Severnom Kavkaze, Makhachkala, 2000 etc.). M. A. Abdullaev’s long article in the present volume conveys a mixture of banalities, of compiled extracts from works of Dagestani specialists of Oriental studies, and of confused citations from Arabic and ‘Ajami sources apparently not understood by the author ― as suggested by his references not to Arabic, but to Russian titles, with erroneous paginations (in endnotes 5, 6, 7, 10-24, 32, 35, 39, 41-4, 66-8, 70-5, 81-5, 87, 88, and 92-106 on pp. 168-70). The whole article is but the same old story of Muslim enlightenment elaborated by Soviet specialists of Oriental studies in the mid-1970s. It is noteworthy that in the same Orientalist mind M. A. Abdullaev also proposes a partially misleading vision of Sufism as a sophisticated gnostic movement led by an intellectual élite, without much interest in its purely social and ritual forms as they often prevail in Dagestan.
However, this criticism should not be taken too sharply. The aforementioned remarks do not diminish the value of the reviewed volume, which represents by all means an important step on the path of the multidisciplinary investigation of Islam and Islamic culture in the Northern Caucasus.