The present volume of a rich collection largely commented in the columns of this volume deals with the history and present situation of Islam and its followers in nineteen central European regions of the Federation of Russia: those of Belgorod, Briansk, Vladimir, Vologda, Voronezh, Ivanovo, Kaluga, Kostroma, Kursk, Lipetsk, Orel, Penza, Ryazan, Smolensk, Tambov, Tver, Tula, and Yaroslavl. Though apparently peripheral and secondary on the map of Russia’s Islam, this set of regions offers an interesting addition of original historical features, on the long, median and short durations. The first is no doubt their role as a buffer region between ancient Rus’ and a succession of steppe states, the fourteenth-century Golden Horde’s western frontier bordering on Tula. In the fifteenth and sixteenth century political entities like the Kasimov Khanate, the Tatar principalities of the Meshchera, and the Noghai Ulus of Romanov (now part of the Yaroslavl Region) did play a major role for the destiny of Muscovy as a whole. In the two following centuries, the ‘service Tatars (sluzhilye tatare)’ carried out the functions of defenders of Muscovy’s eastern borders, and they came to play a major role in periods of instability, most notably in Russia’s Time of Trouble (1598-1613) and in the elevation to the throne of Mikhail Romanov. Paradoxically, the Romanov period was characterised by a policy of growing pressure, forced migration and conversion to Orthodoxy, and assimilation of these same populations (regions like Yaroslavl and Romanov near Kostroma being then depopulated by their historical Muslim communities). In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries only can one observe a revival of Islamic religion and culture in these regions, especially by Nizhny Novgorod Tatars in Yaroslavl itself, in Tver and Kostroma (in the latter case, by descendents of the Noghais of Romanov). Another of the numerous historical features of this region in modern times is the lack of attention they benefitted from the KGB during most of the Soviet period, which allowed the permanence of Muslim practice, especially in the Penza Region and Mordovia Republic, at a time when other, most compactly Muslim-peopled regions of the RSFSR and of the USSR at large were submitted to violent antireligious campaigns. Even during the post-WWII decades, besides Penza and Mordovia, continuous practice of Islam by ‘non-registered’ mullahs could be observed in regions like Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Tula, Kursk, Ivanovo, and Vladimir ― which partly explains the relatively significant room devoted to Soviet Islam in the present volume of the collection, much more than in other issues of the same series. A last moment has been identified by the authors: the post-Soviet decades with their important immigration movements from the Caucasus and from Central Asia and the latter’s ongoing impact on the local Muslim communities and global populations.
Written by an exceptionally large amount of collaborators from all the urban centres of the wide region considered, as well as by specialists from Moscow, Kazan and Yekaterinburg, the articles of this thick volume deal mainly with political entities of the past (mainly late mediaeval and early modern Tatar Khanates and Uluses, with separate articles on, for instance, the administrative structure of the Khanate of Kasimov or on the transformation of a series of mediaeval Muslim polities into the modern Oka-Sura Region); regional and sub-regional Muslim communities (with an innovative and captivating article on the Muslims of the Penza Region from the 1940s to the 1980s); ethnic groups and processes in the region (from early mediaeval Burstas to the current ethno-social processes in the Yaroslavl Region); localities and administrative units of the past and present (from Azeevo to Iur’ev-Pol’skii); varied topographic objects (including the Tatar suburbs of Kostroma, Kasimov, etc.); archaeological monuments and discoveries (including a wide variety of subjects, from Islam among the Mordvs in the Golden Horde period to the place of Muroma in the early mediaeval Oriental trade and to the coin treasures of the Horde in the southeast of the former Great Principality of Lithuania); diverse establishments (mosques and prayer houses ― including a fascinating article on the prayer houses of the Soviet period in Yaroslavl, pp. 167-8 ―, madrasas, maktabs, tekiyes, cemeteries, palaces, libraries, caravanserais, etc.); organisations and associations (from the regional Spiritual boards of the 1990s onwards to charity organisations of varied periods of time); a particularly rich rubric of historical facts and events (with a series of articles on the history of Islam in each oblast’ considered in the present volume, and articles as diverse as the peace treaty of 1445 between Ulugh-Muhammad Khan and Vasilii II, or Tatar entrepreneurship in Kasimov city and region in the eighteenth to early twentieth centuries; to be signalled, too, in this category: nine articles on facts and events of the Soviet period, with contributions on the imams and non-official mullahs of several regions from the 1940s to the 1980s); Islamic terminology (with Turkic terms pertaining to the regional history of Islam like jiyen [Rus. джиен], imeldesh, navruz, sabantuy, yarlyk, yasak); dynasties (a number of murza families ― the term murza itself could have benefitted from a special article in the previous category); numerous biographies of figureheads of the late mediaeval, imperial, Soviet and present-day periods ― the articles of Soviet activists of Islam permitting the beginning of a historical reconstruction for the post-WWII period; the early-twentieth-century and present-date Muslim press and edition; the historiography of Islam in Russia in general, in the region in particular. Detailed thematic and regional indexes allow the reader to rapidly and profitably skim through the volume. The whole collection of contributions sheds light on the interest of regional and local studies for the ongoing renewal of our knowledge of the history and present situation in the former Russian Empire and Soviet Union, and in wide, still partly unexplored regions of the Federation of Russia.