Reviews

Typical of the current development of academic publications on Islam in Russia, the present new-brand journal has been launched by the publishing house of a private organisation (the very active Marjani Foundation created in Moscow in 2006) in close association of young academics from Russia’s capital as well as from a selection of regional centres, with particular importance of Kazan. The aim of the Editors has been to encourage a revival of publication on Islam in Russia, as a reaction against the double influx of academic literature from the West, and of apologetic literature from the most diverse parts of the world of Islam. The journal’s model is no other than the prestigious Mir islama founded in 1912 by future Academician V. V. Bartol’d, taken over one year later by the Ministry of the Interior of Russia, and the also ephemeral Musul’manskii mir published in 1917 by the same Bartol’d. Like its illustrious pre-Soviet predecessors, Pax Islamica is equally oriented towards the study and valuation of both ‘classical’ and present-day Islam. As it is often the case in these media devoted to Islam by Russia’s Muslim-background scholars, the predominant vision is deeply conditioned by the tradition of Oriental studies, and often verges on cultural essentialism ― every second phenomenon, past or present, touching Muslim-peopled regions of Russia being tackled through the prism of religious affiliation, and social sciences as such remain most the time conspicuous by their absence: a feature perfectly worthy of the journal’s early-twentieth-century models. Moreover, if the journal insists on the key role of Islam in national and international politics, no reflection seems to have been launched yet on the role of those experts who write in its columns, and on their often normative discourse on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Islam. Nothing is said here on the contribution of the journal’s authors to the current valuation of a ‘traditional’, ‘vernacular’, ‘moderate’ Islam ― as an explicit answer to Huntington’s ‘shock of civilisations’ ― nor, in the opposite, on these same authors’ denunciation of a wide range of innovative Islamic movements and trends, not always of foreign origin, which have been developing in Russia during the past two decades, notably among migrant populations from the Caucasus and Central Asia, under close scrutiny and sometimes under sharp repression from the Russian police and special services. From this viewpoint, a paradoxical and potentially fatal result of such an editorial initiative, a naïve one by some of its aspects, may be the legitimisation by academics and institutions with a Muslim background of the repressive practices that have become standard usage among Russia’s police against everything assimilated or assimilable with such highly polemic categories as ‘Wahhabism’ or ‘Salafism’. At the same time, one can be only very glad on the appearance of such a new medium, a perfect instrument, thanks to the quality of its form and content, for the popularisation of current historical research on Russia’s Islam by specialists of Oriental studies, in both the capital and regions, whose mutual relations during the past decades have not always been of the most substantial ones.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-1.3.A-58