The Muslim citizens of the USSR were for long mute: Bravura tunes of the Soviet regime drowned their voices while Western Sovietologists were imagining their underground opposition activities. Opening Russian archives after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 gave to historians a chance to hear real Muslim voices from Soviet Russia. To date, extensive archival work done by local, Russian and foreign scholars in different regions (mostly in the former Oriental borderlands of the former USSR) shed light on the original Islamic answers to challenges of early Soviet reforms in Central Asia and in the Volga-Ural region. However, the late Soviet historiography and its regional versions in Muslim-majority areas, including important Islamic centres of the Soviet space as the Crimea and the Eastern Caucasus, remain poorly studied. In this respect, the recent collection of documents published under the direction of the Dagestani historian G. I. Kakagasanov provides a useful guidebook for Russian-speaking readers interested in interaction of power and Islam in Dagestan, a key centre of learned religious culture in the twentieth-century North Caucasus.
The book continues a series of publications on unknown pages of Soviet political history prepared in the 1990s by the Department of Historiography and Information at the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography of the Dagestan Scientific Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in Makhachkala. Gadzhikurban Kakagasanov is an authority on political struggle, persecutions and confessional politics in twentieth-century Dagestan that he has been studying since the late Soviet period; among his major publications one can mention collections of archival documents under the titles: Soiuz ob‘edinennykh gortsev Severnogo Kavkaza i Dagestana, 1917-1918: Gorskaia respublika [The Confederation of United Mountaineers of the North Caucasus and Dagestan, 1917-1918: The Mountain Republic, 1918-1920], Makhachkala: Institut istorii, arkheologii i etnografii Dagestanskogo nauchnogo tsentra RAN, 1994, 440 p.); Repressii 30-kh godov v Dagestane [The Repression of the 1930s in Dagestan], Makhachkala: Jupiter, 1997, 528 p.; Ali-Khadzhi Akushinskii, sheikh-ul-islam Dagestana, patriot i mirotvorets [‘Ali Hajji al-Aqushi, shaykh al-islam of Dagestan, a Patriot and Peacemaker], ed. with A.-G. S. Gadzhiev, Makhachkala: Jupiter, 1998, 240 p.); to which should be added a Candidate dissertation on “Power and the Muslim Clergy in Dagestan: A History of Their Relationship in 1920-1941,” written by him in 2003 for the future Deputy-Speaker of the National Assembly of Dagestan, Zaripat Salakhbekova.
The present book is a first attempt to introduce the relationship between political power and the Muslim population of Dagestan and to establish the state’s influence on the evolution of Islamic religious practice, through first-hand archival documents from the whole Soviet period: It draws upon collections from the Central State Archive of the Republic of Dagestan and the Manuscript Collection of the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography, both housed in Makhachkala. The surveys of the political police of the Cheka-OGPU-NKVD from the collection r-800 of the Central State archive are of especial interest. They date from between the 1920s and the mid-1940s, and were opened to study in 1991 only. Unfortunately, they concern not personal cases of political prisoners, that are still inaccessible, but the latter’s anonymous generalisation. The Post-wwii religious situation is presented in reports of the Dagestani Party Committee and deputies of the All-Union Council for Affairs of the Religious Cults (from 1965 onwards, ‘Council for Religious Affairs’). In addition, the book includes extracts from rare Soviet publications like the “Legislation on Cults [Zakonodatel’stvo o kultakh]” published in Moscow in 1971 for inner use of Soviet judges and lawyers.
The organisation of the book is logically based on a chronological principle, which allows presenting numerous factual materials but leaves fewer opportunities for a comparative analysis of the collected data. It includes three large sections according to the three principal periods in the confessional politics of Soviet Dagestan and Russia. These are post-Revolutionary times of a temporary confessional toleration of non-Orthodox faiths in the 1920s, in which Dagestan retained a judicious administrative autonomy and its own hierarchy of Shari‘a courts (1920-1927: 66 documents); political persecution and abolishment of legal religious institutions in the 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s (54 documents); the post-war period of re-establishment of official regional hierarchies of the Muslim clergy (85 documents). The last period consists of two smaller ones: that of the religious liberalisation from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s, and a new wave of religious persecutions against Islam and other confessions under the Khrushchev and Brezhnev administrations. The book also contains a short appendix composed of extracts of parallel early Soviet and Sovietological writings on Islam in the Northern Caucasus. The state regulation of Islam in Soviet Russia developed as a part of general attitude of a socialist state to religion: One should not exaggerate the importance of the Dagestani case, which was but a local version of the All-Union religious policy at the level of an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation. By this reason, a real strongpoint of the book is an attempt at comparing Dagestani materials with federal and All-Union regulations on religion. The overwhelming majority of the 205 documents in the collection come from Dagestan. Five concern the whole North Caucasus, a decree and a letter originate from Bashkiria and one regulation from the Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan. Two documents represent the federal level of the Soviet confessional politics, twenty-three documents and state decrees relate to the All-Russian or All-Union levels. The book also contains an example of the Communist Party proceedings held in 1937 in the Republican Party Committee of Kazakhstan, and an extract from a propaganda article of 1969 against religious survivals in Central Asia. The only regrettable thing is that the editors neither explain nor comment their selection.
The book includes numerous endnotes and introduction by Kakagasanov, providing biographical data on most persons mentioned with a succinct overview of changing Islamic politics from 1917 to 1991. The editor has unfortunately missed persons who have shaped the post-war religious situation in the republic, and also commits a number of factual mistakes. For instance, the Council for Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church never became the Council for Affairs of the Religious Cults in 1944 (p. 10), and the latter was set up not in July but on May 19, 1944; both councils acted at the All-Union level until December 8, 1965 when they merged into the Council for Religious Affairs, which disappeared with the Soviet Union in 1991. Endnotes are not always accurate. Thus, the system of legal Islamic education in the USSR outlined in the endnote 1 of document 39 included not only the Mir-i Arab Madrasa in Bukhara, but also the Islamic Institute set up in 1971 in Tashkent, in the Barak-Khan Madrasa; Kunta-Hajji mentioned in endnote 1 of document 186 belonged to the Qadiriyya mystical path and never established ‘zikrism’, a doubtful invention of pre-Soviet Russian officials; one should distinguish between the mahr (or kebin), a bride dowry according to the Shari‘a, and the kalym, a reward to bride family in customary law (endnote 3 of document 179). Despite his good command of archival collections, the author is unfamiliar with the most banal Islamic notions like Shari‘a (p. 231), qadi justice (p. 233), fatwa legal decisions (instead of ‘judicious sentences,’ p. 235), adat as customary law (concerning not only tribal customs, especially in twentieth-century Dagestan, p. 245). These weak points are typical of most Northern Caucasian historians of the Soviet period. Besides, their writings also suffer from lack of comparative analytical approach, and of an overall ignorance of recent international scholarship. The only contemporary scholar mentioned by Kakagasanov in his introduction is the Moscow-based historian M. I. Odintsov, who introduced in research archival files of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow. His book “State and Church in Twentieth Century Russia” (1994) is very popular among Russian historians; it is a thorough account of state-religion relations in the Soviet Union, but Islam plays a rather marginal role in it. The works by D. Iu. Arapov, S. A. Dudoignon, Adeeb Khalid, Christian Noack, Shoshana Keller on Muslim borderlands of Russia, or a critical review of Soviet studies by Devin DeWeese would be more relevant here. Nevertheless, they remain completely ignored by a majority of Dagestani historians.
The vocabulary of the book is out-of-date too. The author reproduces uncritically misleading Soviet and Tsarist notions of Muslim ‘clergy’ and ‘orthodoxy’, presenting Islam in inappropriate Christian habits. Last but not least, we look at Soviet Muslims in vigilant eyes of their Soviet rulers, treating them a passive mass of ignorant subjects, objects of permanent trickery by a malicious clergy. Such a classical ‘Orientalist’ prejudice, well known from the classical work by Edward Said, is omnipresent in most documents of the book. It sheds light on the general attitude of Soviet power towards Islam. This is truth but not all the truth. Local sources written by Muslim scholars from Soviet Dagestan in Arabic language reveal another Soviet Islam (or rather different regional forms of Sunni and Shiite Islam) able to re-think modern Soviet realities appealing to the language of traditional Islamic scholarship unknown to Soviet authorities and therefore free from state supervision. Suffice here to refer to a popular polemical treaty of the late 1950s by ‘Abd al-Hafiz Hajji Omarov, from the village of Okhli, against Wahhabi innovations in Islam, al-Jawab al-sahih li-l-akh al-musallah (“Truly Answer to the Devout Brother”), whose study has begun by the young Dagestani Orientalist Dr. Shamil Shikhaliev. Some inconsistencies in his book relate to a growing censorship in Dagestani religious life and academic scholarship. The period of relative confessional tolerance in 1991-1997 is over since Russian federal troops smashed the dissident religious movement of the so-called ‘Wahhabis’ in 1999. Criticism of existing political system and its Soviet predecessors are under unofficial ban among Dagestani historians. For this reason, Kakagasanov is very cautious and politically correct even in choosing pro-Soviet titles for his books. In the introduction, he stresses his admiration for the re-establishment of state control over religion in the 1990s (p. 13). Nevertheless, criticism of Kakagasanov’s collection of documents may not diminish its importance for scholars of Muslim societies in Soviet Dagestan. It is a valuable contribution to a deeper understanding of regional versions of Soviet confessional policies. If not a real Virgil in the darkness of Soviet Muslim space, it is a useful guide highlighting still poorly studied lower depths of Muslim borderlands in the Soviet North Caucasus during more than 70 years of socialist rule. It is to be hoped that the book printed at a tiny run of 100 copies (!) will soon enjoy a more substantial publication.