Reviews

This is a transliteration of the “Travels to Transoxiana” published in 1908 (Kazan: Tipo-litografiia I. V. Ermolavoi) by Muhammad Zahir Bigi (1870-1902), the brother of the renowned Tatar reformist Musa Jar-Allah Bigi.  Mention should be made that the Tatar text is not turkified, i.e. put in modern Turkish, but kept in Tatar and given in Latin letters.  However, Tatars words unknown to the Turkish reader are inserted in brackets.  Unfortunately, the picture of Muhammad Zahir Bigi in the Kazan edition is not reproduced.  The Editor, Ahmet Kanlıdere, is the author of a book on Islamic reformism in the Volga area (Reform within Islam: The Tajdi and Jadid Movement among the Kazan Tatars (1809-1917): Conciliation or Conflict, Istanbul: Eren, 1997).  The book has a substantial introduction (pp. 1-33) with a biography of Muhammad Zahir Bigi.  A Tatar intellectual strongly influenced by French and Russian literature who worked as an imam, Bigi was better known for his two novels published in 1887 and 1890 (two others were unpublished).  Several paragraphs are devoted to a presentation of these novels; the first entitled Ulûf yâ ki Güzel Kiz Hadiçe written in “literary” Kazan Tatar (i.e. influenced by Ottoman Turkish) is a detective novel the intrigue of which is situated in Tatar society.  His other novel, Günâh-i Kebâir, is based on personal observations made by the author in Kazan madrasas and in the day-to-day life of the Tatars in Kazan and in Rostov.  Muhammad Zahir Bigi fiercely criticises the traditional teaching and advocates a renewal and a reform of these institutions.  From his “Travels to Transoxiana” published after his death, we do know that he went to Central Asia and Bukhara in 1893 in order to see the situation of the religious schools in the Venerable City.  He travelled through Astrakhan, Derbent, Baku, and Krasnovodsk, up to Samarqand and Bukhara.  This travelogue is a quite interesting report about the Muslim communities of the cities he visited en route, and particularly of Samarqand and Bukhara: on madrasas and mausoleums, and on the religious life in these cities, i.e. on dervishes (Bigi gives a detailed description of Baha’ al-Din Naqshband’s shrine), the maddahs, etc.  Finally, this book, written by a bright Muslim and a Tatar intellectual, deserves to be read by everyone who is interested by the situation of Islam in the Emirate of Bukhara at the end of the nineteenth century.

Thierry Zarcone, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-6.3.B-571