Part of a regionalist series on “Islam in Russia” edited by A. V. Malashenko, the present book reconsiders the history of Islam and the role of Turkic-speaking Muslim populations in the history of Orenburg region (Orenburzh’e). In his preface, A. V. Malashenko insists on the significance of this “heart of Eurasia” as a crossroads between Europe and Asia, Christian and Islamic cultures: In the Southern Urals, the centuries-old coexistence of Christianity and Islam rarely led to open conflicts; this experience of ethno-cultural and religious interaction defines in many respects the cultural profile of present-day Orenburg region. The book begins with a short presentation of the geographical position of the Orenburzhye, and a description of the ethno-confessional composition of its current population. Of course, the author does not avoid the thorny issue of the region’s territorial borders after the formation of the Soviet Bashkir and Kazakh republics in the 1920s. As to the diffusion of Islam, the author underlines the role of Volga Tatars in the development of economic exchanges with Central Asian political entities, as well as in preaching activity among Bashkir and Kazakh populations. The author notably mentions the fact that by 1810, some sixty years after the foundation of the Tatar suburb of Seitovskii Posad, seven mosques were active on the latter’s territory. The instrumentation of Muslim influence by the Tsarist administration was expressed by the creation by Catherine II in 1788 of the Orenburg Mohammedan Spiritual Assembly. The book is enriched with useful biographies of well-known Tatar entrepreneurs and sponsors who actively participated in the development of Islam during the late Tsarist period (most notably, the Ramiyeff and Husaynoff brothers).
As to the Soviet period, omitted for long by historians, the author operates through archival sources, investigating every regionally available primary source, which does not prevent him from factual mistakes. For instance, when he notices that the Caravanserai Mosque in Orenburg was closed in 1919: In fact, a mosque functioned there up to 1930, and it is in 1932 only that the building was transferred to the Bashkir Pedagogical Technical School, which transformed it into a club, before it became a planetarium in 1954. More generally speaking, the author also asserts that all mosques had been closed by 1932 in Orenburg City, and 1934 in Orenburg Region — an assertion common in local history textbooks. However, this is denied by documents of the Regional Archive that testify the activity, till 1936 at least, of the Friday Mosque No. 7 of Orenburg under the leadership of Mulla Jamal al-Din, a cleric from Bashkiria. (In December 1936, no less than 1,500 believers did attend the ceremony given in the mosque on the occasion of the Qurban Festival; during his sermon, the Imam insisted on the need to unify Muslims around a mosque [State Archive of Orenburg Region, 1014/3/47/14].) In 1938, according to official documents seven mosques were still operating in the region: one in the Abdulin district and in the Sol-Iletsk district, three in the Asekeev district, two in Orenburg itself (see ibid., 371/2/155/2). Inaccurate also is the affirmation of the cancellation of the registrations of mosques in Sol-Iletsk and Novomusino in 1949: in these settlements, the mosques were closed only in the early 1960s, at the apex of Khrushchev’s antireligious campaign. Introducing the personnel of the Orenburg Friday Mosque, the author deplores the scarcity of information on its first muhtasib Z. Rahmankulov, who was to launch the revival of Islamic religious practice in the Orenburzh’e in the years following WWII. It is to be said that there is a large amount of publications on Rahmankulov’s life: Born in 1881, he graduated from a madrasa in Troitsk in 1905, before serving there as the imam-khatib of a local mosque. After the latter’s closure, he went to Tashkent, where he worked two years as a translator. In 1946, he was appointed muhtasib of Chkalovsk Region; in September 1948 he was elected qazi and assistant of the Mufti of European Russia and Siberia, and late in the same year appointed muhtasib of Chkalovsk and Kuibyshev Regions (ibid., 617/1/211/147). He died in January 1953.
The claim expressed in 1968-9 by three believers to fulfil the pilgrimage to Mecca is described by the author as a totally new event. However, such requests were not a rarity, though they were very rarely satisfied. From 1944 onwards Soviet Muslims could renew pilgrimage to Mecca: that year the sacred city was visited by six believers from the USSR, by seventeen in 1945. In 1946, thirty pilgrims had been planned, but the hajj could not take place that year due to poor climatic conditions. In 1947, forty believers had subscribed, among whom Rahmankulov, but the hajj was postponed to next year in connection with quarantines established by Saudi Arabia. . . . The bulk of the work is nevertheless devoted to the history of Islamic religious movements in Orenburg Region since the end of the Soviet period. Special attention is devoted to conflicts inside religious organisations and to the creation by I. Shangareev of an independent muftiyyat in Buguruslan. It must be recognised that the author, having analysed a considerable quantity of sources, has for the first time consistently stated the revival of Islam in the region, studied the formation of Islamic institutions and organisations, and analysed their contribution to the emergence of a civil society. This makes this book the most valuable reference work for researchers interested in the history of Islam in Orenburg Region.