Although modest by its appearance, and not deprived of sometimes harmful editing mistakes (a number of pages are missing; several articles are completely deprived of critical apparatus . . .), this exceptionally rich volume edited under the leadership of Ildus Zagidullin does justice to the yet understudied impact of Russia’s economic and social development, and of the empire’s administration and legislation on the organisation and self-definition of the Muslim communities of the Volga Ural region from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century. In spite of the absence of subdivision in the volume, and of the neighbourhood of articles of the most varied sizes (from two to fifty pages) and contents, one can distinguish a first set of articles dealing with the global dimension of the issue of local Muslim communities in the Russian Empire. It is followed by an alternation of local case studies and papers dealing with such or such particular aspect of the question (philanthropy, architecture, and education in particular).
The overview begins with an evocation of the successive impacts of Russia’s commercial expansion eastwards, of its successive fiscal practices, and of the Slavic mass migrations of the nineteenth century on the everyday life and cultural practice of the Muslims of Siberia under the Romanovs (Faizrakhmanov Gabdel’bar, “Etnokul’turnaia zhizn’ sibirskikh tatar v xvii – xix vekakh [The Ethno-Cultural Life of the Tatars of Siberia in the Seventeenth to Nineteenth Century],” 5-15). The first major turning point of modern time is still considered being the 1773 Edict of religious toleration. Historian Ramil’ Khairutdinov endeavours to demonstrate that, besides the uprising led by Pugachev, the struggle of suburb Tatars in Kazan and the construction of the city’s two first stone mosques since the Russian conquest two centuries earlier were a prelude to the change of Russia’s policy towards Islam in the 1770s (“Musul’manskaia Kazan’ i sotsial’nye predposylki vykhoda ukaza 1773 g. ‘O terpimosti vsekh veroispovedanii’ [Muslim Kazan and the Social Premises of the Publication of the Edict of 1773 ‘On the Toleration of All Confessions’],” 15-22). In the same framework of local history, the following study sheds light on the role of the mahalla in the self-organisation of the Tatar Muslim population under alien domination, and in the everyday implementation of the requisites of Islamic (or Islamised) traditions ― generally speaking, the term “shari‘a” ought to be used with more care by historians of the Volga region (Salikhov Radik, “Sotsial’nye funktsii tatarskoi makhalli [The Social Functions of the Tatar Mahalla],” 23-9). The role of modern communal institutions of the Muslims of European Russia is also assessed through the renewal of the Islamic taxation system by early-twentieth-century Muslim benevolent societies. Unfortunately, the Editor’s or Publisher’s distraction has deprived this article of its conclusion and of substantial part of its important critical apparatus (Minnullin Zavdat, “Blagotvoritel’nye obshchestva i problema zakiata u tatar (konets xix – nach. xx vv.) [Benevolent Societies and the Issue of the Zakat among Tatars (Late Nineteenth – Early Twentieth Centuries)],” 30-41). The economic substratum of such a phenomenon is reconstructed through the evocation of the expansion of Muslim commercial activity and capital in Kazan and its territory at the turn of the twentieth century (Gubadullin Marat, “Torgovyi capital tatarskoi burzhuazii Rossii xix – nachala xx vv. [The Commercial Capital of Russia’s Tatar Bourgeoisie in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries],” 42-53). On the basis of the regional and local press in Russian language (the Kazanskii telegraf, in particular, rarely visited by historians of Islam in European Russia), another study on Muslim philanthropy in the last years of the nineteenth century insists on the influence of an Islamic ethics of capitalism on the development of communal solidarity and sponsorship in the last decades of the Tsarist period (Sverdlova Liudmila, “O nekotorykh osobennostiakh blagotvoritel’noi deiatel’nosti tatarskogo kupechestva Kazani v xix veke [Some Peculiarities of the Benevolent Activity of the Tatar Merchants of Kazan in the Nineteenth Century],” 54-65).
A second subcategory of articles dealing with such or such general aspect of the mahalla question in the Russian Empire is opened by the Editor’s substantial and particularly well-informed contribution on the economic and social characterisation of Muslim local communities in the industrial settlements of European Russia and Siberia in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. His contrasted picture insists on the lack of organisation means of these local communities, of their absence of possessions and revenues, of the highly instable character of their essentially migrant Muslim working population, and on the dependence of rare existing mosques on sponsorship by local Muslim entrepreneurs. From the viewpoint of the financing of confessional institutions, the author observes large local discrepancies, depending notably on the support given or not by Orthodox entrepreneurs to the worship places and other communal institutions of their Muslim workers (Zagidullin Il’dus, “Makhallia v promyshlennykh poseleniiakh v Evropeiskoi chasti Rossii i Sibiri (xix – nachalo xx v.),” 66-100). Another core study of the volume is made by an exceptionally well-read article ― the only one in the volume dealing critically with the international bibliography ― that explains the tactical cooperation between the mahallas of the Volga region and Russian civil authorities, through the intermediary of the Orenburg ‘Muhamedan’ Spiritual Assembly, in a context characterised after 1905 by a relative liberalisation and, ad the same time, by growing concern of functionaries against the threat of pan-Islamism (Naganawa Norihiro, “Formirovanie musul’manskogo obshchestva cherez tsarskuiu administratsiiu: makhallia pod iuridiktsiei Orenburgskogo magometanskogo dukhovnogo sobraniia posle 1905 g. [The formation of a Muslim Society through the Tsarist Administration: The Mahalla under Jurisdiction of the Orenburg Muhamedan Spiritual Assembly after 1905],” 101-28). At the same time, the resistance of Russian authorities to the reform and modernisation of the Spiritual Assembly and of the mahallas reinforced the latter’s role on the local level. Another study endeavours to show that the role of the mosque and of its imam at the centre of each mahalla was permanently reinforced during this period of time, making it a key vector of the Islamicisation of society (Mukhametshin Rafik, “Musul’manskaia obshchina kak istochnik i tsitatel’ tatarskogo traditsionalizma [The Muslim Community as a Source and Citadel of Tatar Traditionalism],” 129-35). Still another contribution, unfortunately deprived of any critical apparatus, insists on the social roles of the mahalla and of its imam, notably as intermediaries between local populations and the Russian civil authorities ― which in the author’s eyes makes it a possible foreshadowing for the national and cultural autonomy of the Muslim Turks and Tatars of Inner Russia and Siberia as it ought to be promoted in 1917 and thereafter (Khabutdinov Aidar, “Tatarskaia makhallia epokhi Orenburgskogo magometanskogo dukhovnogo sobraniia v structure natsii [The Tatar Mahalla of the Period of the Orenburg Muhamedan Spiritual Assembly in the Structure of the Nation],” 183-90). On the plan of the mahalla’s inner structure, a last general assessment tries to show that the strong hierarchy established within each community and its relative isolation from the outer world helped the communities’ structuring over a long period of history (Garipov Nail’, “Makhallia kak sistema musul’manskogo samoupravleniia [The Mahalla as a System of Muslim Self-Administration],” 236-8). Two articles on the role of mahallas in the organisation of school education evoke, first, the role of benevolent societies and of their trustees in the promotion of Tatar-language Muslim school education in Russia at the end of the Tsarist period, and the attempts of Tsarist administration to limit their initiatives after 1907 (Samatova Chulpan, “Musul’manskaia obshchina i traditsionnaia shkola tatar v Srednem Povolzh’e v kontse xix – nachale xx vv. [The Muslim Community and Tatar Traditional School in the Middle Volga Region in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries],” 261-5); second, an article again deprived of critical apparatus shortly evokes the situation of Tatar school education in the Republic of Tatarstan, with insistence on the present cooperation of Russia’s state structures and the country’s Muslim religious organisations (Safiullina Rezeda, “Sistema musul’manskogo obrazovaniia u tatar v polikonfessional’noi srede [The System of Muslim Instruction among Tatar in a Multi-Confessional Surrounding],” 217-25).
A third category of contributions is constituted by a range of local and regional case studies in varied chronological frameworks. The Volga River basin is largely represented thanks to contributions by representatives of several major academic centres of the region, from Nizhny Novgorod to Samara. (The river’s lower course and Astrakhan have curiously been let aside, in spite of the activity of local historians and of the availability of a large amount of primary sources). Nizhny Novgorod, where Tatars make only 1% of the city’s and 1.5% of the region’s population, is dealt with by two studies on the specificity of the development of mahallas in the city and its region from the seventeenth century to our days. A first study proposes a historical periodisation that takes into account state policy towards Islam, and the development of Islamic institutions themselves. On the basis of Russian archive materials, the author notably insists on the cohesion of the imams as a social order, until and through the soviet period ― sketching interesting research avenues on the status and functioning of the Muslim clergy in European Russia during the long twentieth century (Seniutkina Ol’ga, “Osobennosti razvitiia musul’manskikh makhallia na Nizhegorodchine [The Peculiarities of the Development of Muslim Mahallas in the Nizhny Novgorod Region],” 158-72). Unfortunately deprived of critical apparatus, the second study on the Nizhny Novgorod region reminds us the development there of confessional institutions and their cooperation with civil authorities for the promotion of Tatar mahallas in urban areas (Mukhetdinov Damir, “Istoricheskii opyt i sovremennoe razvitie makhallei Nizhegorodchiny [The Historical Experience and Present-Day Development of Mahallas in the Nizhny Novgorod Region],” 226-35). Among other major centres and regions of the Volga River basin, two studies are devoted respectively to Simbirsk (present-day Ulianovsk) in the late Tsarist period, through the role of mahallas and their leaders, the ‘plenipotentiaries’ (upolnomochennye), in the rural communities’ religious and economic life (Kobzev Aleksandr, “Upravlenie musul’manskoi obshchiny Srednego Povolzh’ia vo vtoroi polovine xix – nachale xx vv. (na materialakh Simbirskoi gubernii) [The Management of the Muslim Community in the Middle Volga Region in the Second Half of the Nineteenth and Beginning of the Twentieth Centuries],” 136-57) and to Samara and its region, through a tentative typology of local mahallas, divided into three categories: (1) communities of Muslim migrants from rural areas, led by imams invited from rural regions of Russia; (2) urban communities organised by a combination of religious and civil structures; (3) stable urban communities led by a purely civil organisation like the ‘Second Society for Culture and Education’ of Samara (Gubadullina El’za, “Musul’manskaia obshchina Samary v nachale xx v. [The Muslim Community of Samara in the Early Twentieth Century],” 206-16).
A synthesis paper casts light on the standardisation of rural mosque architecture in the Middle Volga Region in the decades following the 1773 Edict of religious toleration ― on the basis of more ancient wood constructions (Nadyrova Khanifa, “Mecheti v arkhitekturno-prostranstvennoi structure tatarskikh selenii Srednego Povolzh’ia xviii – nachala xx vekov [Mosques in the Architectural and Spatial Structure of the Tatar Villages of the Middle Volga Region from the Eighteenth to the Early Nineteenth Century],” 191-202, ill.). This set of regional and local case studies has been extended to regions bordering on the Volga River, first to the Kama River basin in present-day Udmurtia. On the basis of regional archive materials, the author had endeavoured to reconstruct the life and activity of the city of Izh (Rus. Izhevsk)’s imams from the late nineteenth century to the Second World War, with particular attention and interest in the production and transmission of Islamic learning, notably through the local printing of didactical literature in Arabic script. From this viewpoint, this text offers a still extremely rare and very significant contribution to the clearing of the grey zone still made by the history of Soviet Islam. It also usefully confirms the hypothesis formulated by others, in Russia notably, that Islamic religious institutions and figureheads located far from the main intellectual centres of the Volga Region could more easily escape the scrutiny of the NKVD in the 1920s-30s, and continue their activity till a much later date than more exposed places (Märdanov Raif, “Izhevsk shähärendäge mächetlär tarikhynnan [Of the History of the Mosques of Izhevsk],” 239-55). A second article on the Kama River basin very shortly evokes the Muslim confessional history of the Menzelinsk (now Nizhnekamsk) district, east of the river’s confluence with the Volga, and identifies the birth place (the village of Chalpy) and date of writer Taj al-Din Yalchigul (1763-1838) through oral history and archive documentation (Akhunov Il’dus, “Iz opyta izucheniia istorii prikhoda derevni Krasnaia Kadka Menzelinskogo uezda Ufimskoi gubernii [Of the Experience of Studying the History of the Parish of the Village of Krasnaia Kadka, uezd of Menzelinsk, governorate of Ufa],” 203-5). A third one very shortly retraces the history of mosque construction and destruction in the market city of Petropavlovsk, between Izhevsk and Perm, since the building of a first stone mosque in 1795 (Makhmutov Zufar, “Mecheti Petropavlovska,” 259-60). Despite the relatively low level of cooperation in human and social sciences between Kazan and Ufa ― still another demonstration of the nationalisation of these disciplines in the former USSR ―, the Ural region is also present in the volume with two different articles: an evocation of Orenburg’s Muslim neighbourhood of Seitovskii Posad [“The Sayyids’ Suburb”], through an analysis of the role of the waqf and of dynasties of trustees (mutawallis) in the financing of Muslim schooling till the early twentieth century (Denisov Denis, “Prikhodskie mektebe [sic] Seitovskogo Posada (Kargaly) [The Parish Maktabs of Seitovskii Posad (Qarghali)],” 173-82) and an examination of the Treatment of the Problems of the mahallas of the Orenburg Governorate in the Columns of the Waqt Newspaper, through Materials of 1906 (Safin Il’nur, “Osveshchenie problem musul’manskikh prikhodov Orenburgskoi gubernii na stranitsakh gazety ‘Vakyt’ (po materialam 1906 goda)],” 266-70). This category of case studies can be closed with a short mention of rural mahallas and of the oscillating role of imam-khatibs in the Russia’s Muslim rural society in the course of history (Zyatdinov Bakyi, “Avyllardagy tatar-möselman mähälläläre [Tatar-Muslim Mahallas in Villages],” 256-8).
To these categories must be added a fourth one, made of a succession of three articles less clearly related to the subject of the volume: a short evocation of the religious personnel of Islam in Russia’s Army at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Abdullin Khalim, “Musul’manskoe voennoe dukhovenstvo v kontse xix – nachale xx vekov,” 271-6); a tentative reconstruction of the methods implemented by the Tsarist authorities and the Orthodox Church for opposing the return to Islam of Baptised Tatars of the Kazan Governorate during the nineteenth century (Iskhakov Radik, “Metody bor’by s samoderzhavno-tserkovnoi vlasti protiv dvizheniia kreshchenykh tatar za vozvrashchenie v islam 1800-1870-kh godov (na materiale kazanskoi gubernii),” 280-300); and a study of the legacy of Russian historian Mikhail Mashanov (Khabibullin Mars, “‘Tatary’ v trudakh Mikhaila Aleksandrovicha Mashanova,” 277-88). All in all, in spite of the already mentioned shortcomings, the Editor can be congratulated for having gathered contributions by scholars from the most diverse research and academic centres of the Middle-Volga region, and beyond. The adoption of the micro-historical level of mahallas and their imams’ personal networks, even if in an inter-regional comparative spirit, has shown here extremely fruitful. Some articles shed a particularly interesting light on the everyday interaction between different institutional protagonists, beginning with the local Russian administration and the local religious personnel of Islam or benevolent societies of the early twentieth century. Only the adoption of such a scale seems likely to permit a renewal the modern history of Islam in European Russia, beyond the dialectic models that still predominate in the Western as well as in the Russian or vernacular historiographies. Among the most obvious lacunae that can be identified remain, besides a relative indifference for the Lower Volga Region, the Crimea, and the migrant Muslim populations in the two capitals Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the durable omission of the early modern period ― notably for the very rapid change of the late eighteenth century and two first thirds of the nineteenth. It is perhaps also to be deplored that, too often, the ‘Tatar’ ethnic denomination is adopted uncritically ― as it was in the Tsarist period ― as a metonymy for the ensemble of the Muslims of European Russia. This is even more harmful to the development of research that it deprives us of a really comparative material with phenomena observable during the same period of time in the whole Ural region. Moreover, the concentration of substantial part of historical research on the Tatars deprives the researchers of comparative materials with the evolution of confessional systems other than Islam, from Orthodoxy itself to Buddhism, to say nothing of information on exchanges and mutual influences between these religions. Consequences of this focalisation are, first, the production of a sometimes essentialist discourse ― interestingly, the question is very rarely if ever raised as to the semantic content to be given to the notion of ‘Tatar’ ― and, second, the nostalgic promotion of the mahalla as a community unit in the framework of which an idealised “Sharia” ― other uncriticised notion ― could be put into life by uninterrupted genealogies of uncontested imam-khatibs. Of course, the developments of the past two decades have been unveiling many fascinating, yet totally ignored aspect of ethnic and confessional history in the Volga Region of Russia. However, the uncritical isolation of a ‘Tatar’ homogenous element within Russia’s Islam, the present adoption by a great many authors of a romantic discourse when referring to the pre-Soviet mahalla, the sanctification of the period of history comprised between the mid-nineteenth and the early twentieth century, and the evocation of a non-defined ‘Sharia’ as an ideal for the ‘Tatar’ society rise a lot of questions on the validity, or even more simply on the thoughtfulness of the methodological turn that can be observed in history writing between Nizhny Novgorod and Samara. This change is even more worrying that it largely reflects an evolution of global culture, and of the relation between religion and politics in the Federation of Russia at large.