Reviews

According to the common scheme of the collection, this short synthetic book on Islam in the Republic of Tatarstan, in the mid-Volga River basin, is divided into three main parts: a relatively long historical chapter from the origins to the end of the Soviet period; a shorter historical chapter on the return of Islam during the past two decades; and a large part (pp. 37-81) on the protagonists of inter-confessional relations in Tatarstan today, followed by paragraphs on the place of Islam in the definition of present-day collective identities. Dating back the first appearance of Islam in the Middle Volga Region to the Khazar Empire in the late seventh century CE (according to the historical narrative promoted by early-twentieth-century ‘alim from Orenburg Riza al-Din b. Fakhr al-Din), the author, the Rector of the Islamic University of Kazan, provides a short and rather classical historical overview, insisting notably on the high status of sayyid lineages in the Khanate of Kazan; on the role of a traditional institution like the jiyen (basic kinship and territorial community) and of the Sufi paths in the transmission of Islamic learning and identity after the Russian conquest and successive attempts at conversion to Christianity; on the impact of the reforms of Catherine II in the 1770s-80s; on the main steps of Islamic reform in the nineteenth century; on the successive impacts of Bolshevism and Red Terror; on the limited role of the Spiritual Board of the Muslims of European Russia and Siberia during the Soviet period. As in the other volumes of the same collection, the narrative on the change of the past twenty years focuses on the organisation of an autocephalous Spiritual Board of the Muslims of the Republic of Tatarstan (DUM RT in Russian acronyms), and on the national movements of the early 1990s. Interestingly, the author’s account is punctuated by the congresses of the Muslims of Tatarstan ― like Soviet historiography was given rhythm by those of the Communist Party.

As far as the 2000s are concerned, the narrative is concentrated on the struggle of the FSB against the activity of private Islamic foundations, and the efforts of the regional administration for facilitating the reinforcement of local-educated religious personnel of Islam. The substantial chapter devoted to the institutional protagonists of inter-confessional relations offers a succession of short essays on each of them: (1) the DUM RT (with mention of its reorganisation, of the debates on the legal permission of waqfs from 1999 onwards [substantial developments pp. 42-6], of the quibbles on a complete reorganisation of regional Muslim Spiritual Boards into a unique structure [46-53], as well as of the recent appearance among the qazis of the Board of an apology of the Sharia as a better instrument than secular law for the struggle against criminality. . .); (2) the religious personnel of Islam as a whole (with extremely interesting paragraphs on the influence of migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia on the reduction of the number of Tatar imams, their replacement by Tajik and Uzbek clerics, and the replacement of Tatar language by Russian as the main idiom for preaching Islam in the Federation of Russia [60-2]; unfortunately limited to the mosque personnel, this observation could have been extended to the action of Central Asian Sufi shaykhs, who have also been showing more and more influent in Tatarstan and elsewhere in Russia and Siberia during the past two decades); (3) political authorities (with notations on their successive attitudes towards the DUM RT, from suspicion in the early 1990s to its legal consecration as the unique Muslim Board of Tatarstan ten years later, and to its transformation of a purely decorative body in 2010 [67-71]); (4) public and political movements and organisations (the author criticises the leaders of parties and organisations of the early 1990s like the Tatar Public Centre and the Ittifaq for their failure to mobilise on a large confessional basis, and for their subsequent radicalisation); (5) academic institutions (in this innovative though elusive section, the author gives an overview of the change in Islamic studies since the end of the Soviet period in connection with the appearance of new research and teaching institutions, including the Islamic University of Russia in Kazan [77-80]). The last chapter critically assesses several concepts launched in Kazan in the 1990s, in quest for ethno-confessional identification: ‘Tatar Islam’, ‘Euro-Islam’, and ‘traditional Islam’.

As in the other volumes of the collection, the legal and political aspects have been particularly developed in the present study, from the viewpoint of the religious and political establishments, with very little interest neither in the rich informal dimensions of religious sociability and practice (nothing at all is said here of the very content of the theological quibbles and other conflicts of the past two decades), nor in currents of ideas on Islam in past and present Tatarstan (if would have been interesting to explain what kinds of tendencies are now imported from Central Asia in the mosques and Sufi circles of the Middle Volga Region). These reserves notwithstanding, the book provides the Russian readership with a convenient approach to some of the key issues of present-day Islam in the Republic of Tatarstan and, more largely, in the Federation of Russia.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-4.3.B-374