This collection of documents edited by historian of modern Muslim Russia D. Usmanova is devoted to the primary sources on the Waysi religious movement, from its emergence and development in the Volga Region of Russia, in Siberia, and part of Central Asia in the second half of the nineteenth century to its repression and final disappearance during the first decade of the Soviet period. These sources notably cast light on the gradual transformation, during a relatively short period of time, of an initiation religious society led by a contested Sufi master, Baha al-Din Waysi, into a community endowed with its own genealogy, civil status, religious autonomy, and a political programme of its own. A number of data document Baha al-Din’s initial activity in Kazan in the 1860s as the head of a religious community, his criticism of the registered religious personnel of Islam and of the Muftis of Ufa. The author has added some developments on the content of Baha al-Din’s treaty the Tariq-i khwajagan (“The Lords’ Path,” 1874), in which the author proposes the Tsar to strengthen his authority among Muslim populations, and on the eschatological texts contained in the posthumous collection of his works published by his son ‘Inan al-Din (with addition of the latter’s own works) under the title Jawahir-i hikmat-i darwishan (“Jewels of Dervishes’ Wisdom,” 1907).
The strong eschatological dimension of the movement’s discourse is compared with other movements of the same orientation that developed in different Muslim countries at the approach of the fourteenth century AH. A specificity of the movement, which explains its relatively rich documentation, is its permanent appeal to Tsarist authorities against the Mufti and of the Muslim Spiritual Assembly, and its pretention at constituting a distinct soslovie of Russia’s society. The volume also offers substantial primary information on the evolution of the movement after Waysi’s arrest, imprisonment in a psychiatric hospital and death, under the direction of his two sons ‘Inan al-Din (from 1905 to 1918) and ‘Azizan (from 1918 to the early 1920s). This time completely deprived of a Sufi dimension of any kind, the community endowed with its own registry books, independent from the Spiritual Assembly, endeavoured to obtain legalisation until the arrest and condemnation of several of its members in 1909 for criminal association. The failure of rapprochement with the liberal currents of Volga Muslims would lead to further radicalisation of the movement and to its alliance with the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution (the subject of a volume in preparation by the same author).
In the first part of the book, the compiler has endeavoured to reconstruct the biographies of those Muslim activists who were at the origin of the movement (Waysi himself, and his disciples and continuators Shaykh Ja‘far Salihov, Imam ‘Abd al-Latif Khalitov), before recounting the history of the movement at its later stages under the authority of ‘Inan al-Din and ‘Azizan. The second part of the book consists of a selection of mainly unpublished archive documents from the State Historical Archives of Russia, in Moscow, and from the National Archives of the Republic of Tatarstan, in Kazan. This section also includes a biography of Baha al-Din Waysi by early-twentieth-century religious polygraph Riza al-Din Fakhr al-Din, as well as facsimile reproductions of manuscript poetical works by Baha al-Din himself. Unfortunately, the author’s study does not allow for a reappraisal of the personal philosophical and ideological backgrounds of Baha al-Din Waysi: Very few elements appear, in the essentially Russian-language official archive materials that have been solicited for the present research work, on Baha al-Din’s affiliation (his quality as a Sufi master was sharply contested by many of his opponents), and on the content of his own master Ja‘far al-Kulatki’s teaching. Besides, the documents yet at our disposal do not permit historians to identify Waysi’s audience as made exclusively of the Muslim lower social classes of the Middle-Volga region. Conversely, beside classical evocation of the Mahdist movements of the time, systematic comparison would have shown interesting with other neo-Sufi traditionalist movements of the 1870s to 1920s in Russia and elsewhere in the world of Islam, as well as with radical Islamist movements of the late Tsarist period that after 1917 were brought to ill-fated alliances with the Bolsheviks (like the Uch-Juz party in the Steppe Territory). These reserves notwithstanding, this rich volume provides a substantial contribution to our knowledge of a still poorly studied phenomenon, and to the very logics of the intense practice of petitioning and addressing authorities among the Muslim populations of the Volga River basin during the last half century of the Tsarist period.