Reviews

In this very well-argued article, the author, one of the most authoritative specialists of the history and social sciences of modern Islam in the Northern Caucasus, endeavours to discuss the classical Cold-War-period conception of “parallel Islam” through a study at the micro-local level of a regional rural community. Basing his study on the Rutul people ― a branch of the Lezgi subgroup of the Naskh-Dagestani linguistic family, settled in seventeen villages of Southern Dagestan and Northern Azerbaijan ―, the author remarks the distinction of this population by the late character of its post-Soviet religious development (with the reopening of a first mosque in 1997 only), and by the central place devoted in this development by a variety of Islamic or Islamised sanctuaries (Arabic ziyarat; Persian pir; Rutul udzhag‘abyr) to the expanse of yet much less developed mosques.

The author differentiates the key functions of the udzhag‘abyr: as a place of prophylactic or propitiatory rituals; as cemeteries; as possible abodes for travellers; and as great ancestor’s graves for those clans (tukhums, and their subdivisions sikhils) endowed with a sacred genealogy sometimes going back to the Arab invasion. After a short typology of Rutul sanctuaries, with considerations on the history of günbez-type graves till the strengthening of Bolshevik power in the region in 1921, the author deals at more length with the legends associated with them. Classically denying the latter a value of any kind for historians of remote periods of the past, V. O. Bobrovnikov however suggests a more interesting idea when he interprets the development of sanctuary attendance in the twentieth century as a result of the forbidding of the hajj by Soviet authorities from the mid-1930s onwards. (Previous paragraphs mention the relative abundance of mosque building in Rutul land in the period from the sixteenth to the twentieth century.) If an apparent paradox, the expansion of ziyarat and of the cult of holy places, at the expanse of mosque worship, as a consequence of Soviet history, more than a feature of vernacular tradition, is a productive idea indeed. (“В советское время резко выросло значение обрядности [p. 244].”)

The author further discusses the notion of parallel Islam, underlying the role of local political leaders in the development of holy place rituals during the Soviet period ― a phenomenon that can be observed in many Muslim-peopled regions of the USSR ― and the absence of a Sufi activity of any kind among Rutuls during the whole Soviet period, in spite of the people’s rich Sufi tradition in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, despite also the continuous development of Sufism among neighbouring populations. Well-conscious of the many exceptions of the case of the Rutuls in the twentieth century, V. O. Bobrovnikov explicitly suggests the complexity and variety of the evolution of collective religiosity in the Northern Caucasus during the long twentieth century, and the extreme significance of local historical and ethnographic studies for questioning the existing systems of global interpretation of Soviet and post-Soviet Islam. (French version: “Les lieux saints des clans routouls: pratiques religieuses hybrides chez les musulmans daghestanais,” Revue d’études comparatives Est-Ouest 36/4 (2005): 157-84.)

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-4.3.C-382