“The main Muslim city of Russia:” such is introduced Moscow in this substantial study of the Islamic past and present of Russia’s capital. The major part of the text (six of its eight chapters) is made of a historical study of various periods of the presence of Islam in Moscow. “Tatar Muscovy:” under this title, the author sketches the impact of the Golden Horde Muslim élite on fourteenth and fifteenth-century Moscow, before the irruption of ‘Tatar’ forms in the city’s architecture in the aftermath of the fall of Kazan in 1552 and Astrakhan in 1561. After the strong legal limitations of the seventeenth century, the author evokes the effect of the successive liberalisations of religious practice, first in 1702 under Peter I, then in 1773 under Catherine II, on the appearance of wooden mosques in the city’s Tatar Suburb of Zamoskvorech’e. The subsequent construction of the first stone mosque in Moscow is narrated in detail (pp. 34-8), from the first projects under Alexander I to its unveiling in . . . 1880. Composing more than one tenth of the city’s population in 1871, the ‘Tatars’ of the Old Capital came to play a role of intermediaries between the Muslim communities of the Russian Empire. The author notably evokes the figure of Isma‘il Ghasprali (Gasprinskii, 1851-1914) and the “Meshchanskie ulitsy,” with notations on Imam Badr al-Din ‘Alimoff the Ageev lineage of imams, on the construction of the Mosque of the Meshchanskii neighbourhood in 1904, on the Tatar publications and on the journals published by Muhammad-‘Ayyaz Ishaqi (like Il and Suz) in the mid-1900s, on the role of Musa Bigi in the convening of the First All-Russian Muslim Congress in May 1917 (pp. 50-2).
Exceptionally for the collection, the Soviet period is the subject of relatively long developments, with two short chapters (pp. 53-65): the first on the pre-WWII period with paragraphs on the discrete activity of the two Muslim “parishes (prikhods)” of Moscow in the 1920s, on the antireligious repressions of the 1930s, on the activity of Imam Ahmad-Jan Mustafin (1902-86) as Head of the Cathedral Mosque (the former Second Mosque) of Moscow; the second on the post-1943 period, from the impression of the Arabic-script Tatar-language Islam dini textbook in 1945 to the growing representative role of the Soviet capital’s mosques and religious personnel of Islam in the diplomacy of the USSR from the 1950s onwards. The last paragraphs on the role played by Ravil’ Gainutdin as the Imam of the Cathedral Mosque of Moscow from 1987 onwards, and as the creator of a madrasa two years later, provide transition with the following chapter on the transformations of the Perestroika period. In this part of the book, the author focuses on Gainutdin’s activity as the self-proclaimed leader of the Muslims of European Russia, if not of the USSR as a whole ― and a declared rival to the Mufti of Ufa Talgat Tadzhutdin ―, and with the appearance of new institutional actors like the Islamic Cultural Centre, the Medina Foundation of the Nizhny Novgorod Region, of the “Saf Islam” circle led by Muhammad Salahetdin, of the Islamic Centre (al-Markaz al-Islami) organised by students from the Arab world. The author interestingly evokes (pp. 69-70) the role played by Moscow’s academic circles in the rediscovery of part of sacred texts and heritage of Islamic culture.
The book’s penultimate chapter tackles the impacts of the political and legal transformations of the early 1990s on the multiplication of Moscow’s and Russia’s local Islamic religious institutions. A short mention of Saudi investments in Moscow, from 1992 onwards, is followed by the enumeration of the main mosque building sites of the 1990s in the city (with either domestic or foreign financing and patronage); by a reminder of the creation in 1994 of the Spiritual Board of the Muslims of the Central Part of European Russia, and of a Mufti of Moscow; by a short narrative of attempts by Imam, then Mufti Gainutdin to play the role of an intermediary in the War of Chechnya; by the evocation of the creation of the Council of the Muftis of Russia in 1996. The last chapter, on the current situation of Islam in Moscow, deals shortly with the main legal and institutional aspects of this situation, with particular interest in the functioning of the Islamic University of Moscow, and in the growing authority of the Council of the Muftis of Russia, notably in matters in inner policy and inter-confessional relations. As in the other volumes of the same collection, the overview remains limited by a purely political science approach, and the purpose excessively centred on the regional Spiritual Board and on the personal merits of the local Mufti. Key sociological phenomena of the present period, like the impact of the immigration of the past three decades on the ethnic composition of the Muslim population of Moscow, are mentioned just in passing. As to the conversion of Russian youth and their public activism within several concurrent madhhabs of Islam, they are purely forgotten. At the same time, given the state of the bibliography, the book provides the Russian readership with a necessarily innovative panorama of the specific institutional situation, past and present, of Islam in the capital of Muscovy, of the USSR, and of the Federation of Russia.