Reviews

This book provides a competent and comparatively succinct overview of the state system for the regulation of Islam, from the introduction of “confessional toleration” and the first acts of state-sponsored Islamic institutionalisation under Catherine ii through the fall of the Tsarist regime in 1917.  Elements of this story will already be familiar to scholars of Islam in the Russian Empire, but D. Iu. Arapov’s discussion is nonetheless notable for its broad coverage of policy on all the major Muslim groups of Russia over a century-and-a-half.

The organisation of the book is logical, if not very imaginative.  D. Iu. Arapov proceeds chronologically, using the reigns of different emperors as the main organisational principle.  Within each chapter, he addresses each major geographical or institutionally-based Muslim community separately.  This approach permits the presentation of a great deal of factual material—much of it based on original archival research—but provides fewer opportunities for analysis.  The introduction adopts the rather deadening format of Soviet dissertations and avtoreferaty (relevance, methodology, chronological parameters, scholarly innovation, etc.) and does less than it might in setting out the central claims of the monograph.

Discernable in D. Iu. Arapov’s account are two major periods in the state’s institutionalisation and regulation of Islam, with an important break coming in the mid-nineteenth century.  The author traces a process of extensive institution-building and legislative creativity from Catherine ii until the amalgamation of statutes on the “foreign confessions” in the third edition of the Law Digest (Svod zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii) in 1857.  This, in my view, is the real strong point of the book, as the author has gathered a remarkable range of materials and effectively describes numerous plans and projects (both realised and abandoned).  Compared to this earlier period, there was strikingly little new legislation and institutionalisation after 1857, despite the fact that substantial Islamic communities remained without institutions or statutes akin to those that had been created for other Muslims and the “foreign confessions” more generally.  (The major exception in this regard was the statute for Shiites and Sunnis of Transcaucasia, promulgated in 1872.)  D. Iu. Arapov also identifies the Crimean War as a crucial turning point.  He claims that the participation of the Ottoman Empire in the coalition that defeated Russia “produced a most strong psychological effect on the minds of Russian Muslims” (246), although he provides no real evidence for this assertion.  The proposition that the mid-nineteenth century represented a watershed in Russia’s Muslim policy is quite plausible, but D. Iu. Arapov should do more to strengthen his case.

An equally important issue is the degree to which the “system” that D. Iu. Arapov describes actually merits such a designation.  The author himself seems agnostic on the issue.  He lauds the initial steps in the state’s reorientation towards Islam in 1767-1773 as an undeniably positive development, but notes that policy thereafter was contradictory.  The resulting tensions, he proposes, were rooted in the state’s efforts to pursue two major goals—a minimalist one and a maximalist one—simultaneously. The first involved the incorporation of Muslims into the state order as Muslims—in effect, the institutionalisation of that religion in an administrative and technical sense.  The second was more transformative and ultimately proved elusive:  “The optimal integration of Russian-subject Muslims into ‘a single state body’” (244).  D. Iu. Arapov might have done more to explain precisely what he means by this formulation, but he seems to be referring to assimilation or even conversion, as he comments thereafter on the impossibility of Muslims wishing to renounce their “confessional distinctiveness” [konfessional’naia samobytnost’] (244).

The degree of “system” can also be assessed by comparing the arrangements that existed for different Muslim groups (and D. Iu. Arapov's account provides an excellent foundation for this exercise).  Some Muslims had both a state-constructed hierarchy and a comprehensive legal statute regulating their affairs (the Muslims of Crimea and, after 1872, most Muslims of Transcaucasia).  Others had institutions, but fairly little in terms of statutory regulation (most notably, Muslims in the Volga-Ural region).  Others, still, had only minimal or no institutionalisation and almost nothing by way of formal legal regulation (Muslims in Turkistan, the North Caucasus, and, after 1868, the Steppe).  D. Iu. Arapov’s book is extraordinarily good at showing that there was a persistent desire on the part of many administrators to establish statutes and institutions for all of the empire’s Muslims.  Indeed, what is astonishing is the large number of draft plans and projects that were produced by the bureaucracy over the course of a century, though D. Iu. Arapov also shows how seldom those efforts actually bore fruit.  For example, there were numerous attempts to institutionalise Islam in Transcaucasia beginning in the late 1820s, yet this was finally achieved only in 1872.  Likewise, plans to institutionalise Islam in the North Caucasus appeared on several occasions, yet in this case without any final result.  Furthermore, both in the 1860s and again around 1905 administrators planned the extensive reorganisation of the Orenburg Assembly—again, without any concrete results.  D. Iu. Arapov believes that the failure to extend institutionalisation and legal regulation was rooted in both an aversion to the conferring of legitimacy on Islam and a desire to retain administrative freedom of action.

By 1905 there was another obstacle to the development of Islamic institutions in Russia.  Both state administrators and the Muslim public—a new force by the early twentieth century—by this time wanted to see the existing system reformed.  Yet the visions offered by the two sides were fundamentally at odds.  While the state wished to strengthen government control and to create a larger number of muftiates, each with a territorial jurisdiction smaller than that of the Orenburg Assembly, many Muslims wanted to exclude the Interior Ministry from the regulation of their affairs and to create something akin to an all-imperial Muslim spiritual administration.  In this context, state officials were reluctant to initiate change, because they rightly understood that Muslims themselves were unlikely to support their initiatives.  The safest path for the government in this context was to do nothing.  And indeed, D. Iu. Arapov illustrates an amazing ratio of discussion to action in the decade or so after 1905.

D. Iu. Arapov provides a comprehensive overview of state-sponsored Islamic institutions in Russia, and his work contains a great deal of interesting factual material.  At times, however, he seems to favour a recounting of documents and proposals over their analysis, and by treating each geographical community separately, he forfeits some opportunities to consider broader patterns and principles in the state’s Islamic policy.  He is, after all, concerned with analysing “the entire system of administration of the spiritual life of Muslims in the Russian Empire” (32, emphasis in original).  Deeper engagement with the existing literature would also have been beneficial, especially since much of the material in the second half of the book will be known to those familiar with the works of Elena Vorob’eva (Campbell), Diliara Usmanova, P. P. Litvinov, Daniel Brower, Robert Geraci, and others.  Scholars would do well to read D. Iu. Arapov’s account, which is strong on institutional and legal arrangements, against Robert Crews’ recent For Prophet and Tsar, which is more imaginative and more compelling analytically (see the review by Michael Kemper in supra in 187).

Paul W. Werth, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
CER: I-5.1.B-400