Muslim society, politics and islamic education in the former russian empire: the 20th century and beyond

Author: Elmira Akhmetova, Elmira Muratova, Gapur Oziev

Muslim society, politics and islamic education in the former russian empire: the 20th century and beyond

    This book covers over one hundred years of history of Islam as an extensive social and intellectual phenomenon in the regions of former Russian Empire. These regions are today a part of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which corresponds to the nine independent countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, which emerged from the ruins of the Soviet Union in 1991. These states share a common history of being under both Tsarist and Soviet rule. In the past few decades, a number of significant books have been published concerning the history of Islamic thought and modern developments in certain CIS countries or specific regions such as Russia or Central Asia, but few have addressed Islamic developments in these countries as a whole based on the common origin, shared history and heritage.

    The concept behind this edited volume, with a variety of chapters written by prominent academicians in Islamic thought, history, culture and education from different post-Communist countries, was born during the III Forum of CIS Scholars from Revealed Knowledge and Social Sciences Faculties: Islamic Intellectual Thought in the CIS Countries: Past, Present and The Way Forward, in Istanbul, Turkey in October 2019 by the IDRAK Public Union of Azerbaijan, and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) of the USA. The book centres on the cultural and intellectual activities of Muslims in several regions of the former Russian Empire at two crossroads. Part I focuses mainly on the beginning of the 20th century, from the Russian Revolution 1905 to the establishment of the Soviet regime in the 1930s. Part II covers developments in the post-Soviet era until today.

    The period between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries was a turning point in the lives of Muslims living under the Tsarist Empire. At that time, the empire had a substantial Muslim population of more than 14 million (11% of the total population),1 mainly centered in Central Asia, Caucasus and the Volga-Urals region. However, during that time concrete aspirations to unite around the common religion, Islam, a standard Islamic educational system, or nationalistic ideas did not greatly affect the behaviours of Muslim subjects. Even the most enthusiastic Muslim intellectuals carried out little political action until the beginning of the 20th century.  

    The situation changed drastically by the first decade of the 20th century. The era of ‘political spring’ proclaimed by the Russian Minister of Interior, Prince Peter D. Svyatopolk-Mirsky (1857-1914), and the revolutionary upheavals of 1905 led to a socio-political awakening among Muslims of the empire. All-Russian Muslim Congresses were convened between 1905 and 1917 in several Russian cities, and the Ittifaq al-Muslimin (Union of Muslims) party was founded to serve as a central body for collective action by all of Russia’s Muslims. This party presented the Muslim Fraction in the Russian State Dumas between 1906-1917. By 1907, the number of Islamic periodicals published in the Russian Empire reached 52.  
    This period of intellectual and social awakening of Muslims in the Russian Empire produced a number of notable scholars and activists, including the Siberian Tatar politician Abd Rashid Ibrahimov (1857-1944); polymath Musa Jarullah Bigiev (1845-1949); Azeri lawyer and editor of the Kaspii newspaper, Ali Mardan Bey Topchibashev (1862-1934); Azeri journalist and publicist, Ahmed bey Agayev (Ağaoğlu; 1869-1939); Tatar activist and ideologue of Turanism in the late Ottoman Empire, Yusuf Akchura (Akçura; 1876-1935); Tatar and Turkish statesman, thinker and scholar Sadri Maksudi Arsal (1878-1957); and many others whose ideas and activities had far-reaching impacts in both the local and international contexts. The revival of Islam in the Russian Empire was unfortunately short-lived, however, as in 1917 the October Revolution swept over Russia.

    Another essential wave of Islamic revival started about a century later, at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries, in the immediate post-Communist regions. This period was characterized by a rapid growth of public interest in Islam and the establishment of Islamic educational institutions, new mosques and an Islamic press. Today Muslims can be found almost at any settlement in the post-Communist region, although their access to religious education, practices and lifestyles differ, as highlighted in Part II. What unites the region's Muslims is the desire to study their intellectual heritage for incorporation into the modern realities of social development. This is important for maintaining their identities, forming domestic theological schools, and establishing an Islamic education system.