In their introduction, the compilers of this imposing work tend to overestimate the significance of the Southern Ural as the major centre of Islamic learning in Higher Eurasia during the centuries following the fall of the Golden Horde. However, it must be recognised that the emergence of Seitovskii Posad (Qarghali), the Muslim suburb of Orenburg, from the late eighteenth century onwards, as a major relay between European Russia and Central Asia, and its further development and industrialisation till the end of the Tsarist period did endow the whole region with an unseen importance from the viewpoint of the diffusion of modern Islam and exchanges at the scale of a whole continent, from the Middle Volga region to Xinjiang and Northern India. Thanks to the research developed during the last two decades, the historians of Islam in Central Eurasia and their readership already know the place taken, under Catherine II and onwards, by the leading reformed madrasas and Sufi networks (mainly the Mujaddidiyya and Khalidiyya branches of the Naqshbandiyya) of cities like Orenburg and Troitsk, or market towns like Buguruslan or Sarapul, in the Islamic revivals of the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. On the grounds of the traditional role of the Ural as a contact area between the great religious systems of the world, the compilers and authors of this encyclopaedia have endeavoured to sum up the substantial result of historical research and local lore, while sketching new avenues of research, notably in the still poorly explored field of archaeology ― a key discipline from the viewpoint of the delicate and highly politicised issue of the settlement of the regions by varied ethnic components of its present-day population.
Written by a wide range of scholars and erudite persons from Moscow and diverse centres of the Southern Ural region, the short but substantial articles (some are several page long) deal with the most various aspects of the history and social sciences of Islam in the Southern Ural, from the fourteenth century to our days. Each article is followed by a short bibliography of secondary but also of primary sources (archive documents, manuscripts, early-twentieth-century Muslim press, etc.), which considerably increase the originality and the documentary value of the whole encyclopaedia. The main categories of subject tackled separately include: (1) Muslim-peopled villages and cities (with detailed statistical data on the evolution of their Muslim population, and on the history of their mosques and madrasas when available); (2) populations and ethnic groups (like of course the Bashkirs and Mishars, but also the less numerous Bessermians, and the much more recent Azerbaijani, Tajik and Uzbek minorities); (3) innumerable biographies (of ‘ulama and Sufi shaykhs, of early and late-twentieth-century Tatar, Bashkir, and Kazakhs Muslim intellectuals and politicians, of early-twentieth-century activists of the Muslim feminine movement, of nineteenth and early-twentieth-century lineages of entrepreneurs and sponsors of Muslim confessional institutions, etc.); (4) events of diverse scale and impact (like the Bashkir upheavals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the Muslim or Bashkir congresses of the late Tsarist and post-Soviet periods; the anti-religious campaigns of the Soviet period like that against the ‘Anti-Soviet organisation of Ishanism’ [sic] in 1947-8 in the Molotov Region); (5) monuments and necropolises (like the fourteenth-century mausoleum of Kenese in the region of Cheliabinsk, or the biger shay: former cemeteries of the Bessermians); (6) a large variety of institutions and social bodies (a large amount of local mosques and madrasas ― including a number of present-day structures like the famous ‘al-Furqan’ Madrasa of Buguruslan in 1994-2006 ―; late Tsarist and post-Soviet institutions of the Muslim civil society ― including benevolent societies, journals and newspapers ―; Muslim armies and regiments of the civil war period; Soviet institutions in charge of the religious policy like the Union of Combatant Atheists in the Ural; present-day associations of believers like the ‘Akhli-Beit’ Shiite organisation in Ekaterinburg).
All in all, this genuine encyclopaedia offers a rather complete and extremely varied illustration of the state of our knowledge on the history and present situation of Islam in the Southern Ural. Its main lacunae reflect those of the current scholarship. As far as history is concerned, these gaps touch primarily the early mediaeval history and archaeology, the early modern period after the establishment of Russian dominance, the Soviet period itself ― still a grey zone of the history of Islam in most regions of Central Eurasia. The present situation of Islam could have been dealt with through specific objects and concepts of modern thesauruses like ‘youth’, ‘migration’, ‘leadership’, etc. ― to say nothing of perfectly identified objects like the Salafiyya, the Nurcu movement, or the Hizb al-Tahir political party. From this viewpoint, the present encyclopaedia reflects the extreme traditionalism of most encyclopaedic publications dealing with Islam in the former USSR, all in the hands of specialists of Oriental and Islamic studies with an extremely classical background, and with poor interaction with developing socials sciences of Islam in Russia.