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Islam in the territories of the Former Russian Empire: Encyclopaedic Lexicon. Vol. I / ed. by Stanislav M. Prozorov. [Ислам на территории бывшей Российской империи: Энциклопедический словарь. Том I / Составитель и ответственный редактор — С.М.Прозоров; научные консультанты — О.Ф.Акимушкин, В.О.Бобровников, А.Б.Халидов; указатели — А.А.Хисматулин]. Moscow: Vostochnaya literatura 2006. 655 p. + fig.

This volume brings together the corrected and revised articles of the first three fascicles of the Lexicon, which so far have appeared as separate fascicles: Moscow, Vostochnaya Literatura, 1998 (the 1st fasc.) — 159 p.; 1999 (the 2nd fasc.) — 167 p.; 2001 (the 3rd fasc.) — 184 p. Arranged in alphabetical order, the 255 articles of the Lexicon contain original and thoroughly researched presentations of the history of Islam from the beginning of its spread in the territories of the former Russian Empire until today.

Editor’s foreword

In 1997, the St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences) started a unique project involving the publishing of the encyclopedic lexicon «Islam in the territories of the former Russian Empire», issued as a continuing series of fascicles.

The first fascicle contained 87 articles. The contributors to this volume were scholars from St. Petersburg, Ufa, Kazan, Tashkent, Moscow, and Samarkand, as well as from England and France.

The second issue of the Lexicon included 81 articles. 28 scholars from different scientific centres of Russia and from abroad contributed to this issue. In addition to the contributors of the first issue, a number of new authors and research centres are presented in this volume. These come from Makhachkala, Bukhara and German research institutes of Bochum and Berlin.

The third issue of the Lexicon includes 87 articles. 33 scholars from scientific centres of Russia (St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kazan, Krasnodar, Ufa), Uzbekistan (Tashkent, Samarkand), Azerbaijan (Baku), the Crimea (Simpheropol), Germany (Bochum, Halle-Wittenberg) and France (Paris) contributed to this issue.

The present volume brings together the corrected and revised articles of the first three fascicles of the Lexicon, which so far have appeared as separate fascicles: Moscow: Vostochnaya Literature Publishers, 1998 (the 1st fasc.) — 159 p.; 1999 (the 2nd) — 167 p.; 2001 (the 3rd) — 184 p.

Geographically, the study covers the territories of the former Russian Empire: European part of Russia including Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, the Northern Caucasus and Central Asia. Arranged in alphabetical order, the 255 articles of the Lexicon contain original and thoroughly researched presentations of the history of Islam from the beginning of its spread in the territories of the former Russian Empire until today. The thematic range of the contributions is diverse and addresses such issues as: Islam in various historical and cultural contexts, regions, republics and cities; personalia (Muslim scholars, jurists, mystics, poets, and statesmen); the sites of worship, including mosques, shrines, and other religious monuments; the teachings and practices of various Sufi brotherhoods; festivals, religious rituals, Islamic customs and traditions, ritual accessories; the Qur’an in Russia; Islamic educational institutions (maktabs and madrasas); Islamic institutions and movements in post-Soviet Russia (spiritual directories, the Muslim faction of the State Duma, «the Wahhabis» of the Northern Caucasus and so on); various Islamic peoples and ethnic groups (the Nogai, the Kist, the Baluj and others); terms and honorific titles associated with «Russian» Islam (ishan, pir, imam, paranja), etc.

The Lexicon demonstrates the astounding diversity of Islam’s manifestations in the territories of the former Russian Empire over a long period of time and in various historical and cultural contexts. It is practically the only source both in Russia and the West that provides reliable and comprehensive information about the conditions of Islam and its institutions in the territories of the former Russian Empire and the USSR. All contributions are based on a thorough study of a wide range of first-hand, often unique sources. Their authors strive to offer a comprehensive academic account of the history, spiritual values and experiences of Muslims who have resided in the territories of the former Russian Empire. Designed as an essential reference, this volume also offers a wide range of analytical insights into the phenomenon of «Russian» Islam.

The sixty two contributors to this volume are based in Russia (St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kazan, Ufa, Makhachkala), Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Ukraine (the Crimea), as well as in Germany, and France. The volume is supplied with a comprehensive reference apparatus, which includes 8 indices. Despite its academic character, this publication is accessible not only to specialists, but also to general readers, namely college, high school instructors and their students, journalists, diplomats, businessmen and so on.

The Editor and his colleagues welcome all remarks to the Lexicon and any suggestions for future fascicles of this project. For further information please contact:

St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies
of the Russian Academy of Sciences
18 Dvortsovaya Nab., St. Petersburg 191186, Russia
Tel. +7 (812) 315-87-19; Fax +7 (812) 312-14-65
E-mail: spbios(a)
prozorov(a); s_prozorov(a)

We are grateful to the Cultural Centre of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran for financial support of this publication.

Stanislav M. Prozorov,
Editor and Supervisor of the Project


The first volume of the encyclopedic lexicon «Islam in the territories of the former Russian Empire» represents an attempt at a comprehensive study of Islam in the territories of the former Russian/Soviet Empire. It is based on a thorough analysis of a wide variety of narrative sources and archival materials in the major languages of Islam. Additionally, it makes extensive use of the ethnographic, epigraphic, archaeological evidence and folklore that were collected through field research. Chronologically, this volume covers the period from the introduction of the Muslim religion into what was to become the former Russian/Soviet Empire up to the present day. Methodologically, it follows in the footsteps of the encyclopedic lexicon «Islam» (Moscow, Nauka Publishers, 1991), which it seeks to supplement.

Since that earlier work dealt mostly with the major concepts, terms and figures of classical Islam in the Middle and Near East, the authors of the present volume do not normally discuss them here to avoid repetition.

Our Lexicon responds to the acute need of the new Russian society in an unbiased information on what can be tentatively described as «Russian» Islam, with special reference to its value systems, social ideals and ritual practices. The significance of the study of Islam in the territories of the former Russian and Soviet Empires, including Central Asia and Kazakhstan, is difficult to overestimate. It is determined by the fact that in the area in question Islam was, and still is, the second largest confession (after Christianity). Over several centuries, Islam in the lands under Russian sway had been developing in close contact with several non-Muslim religious denominations. Despite their undeniable geo-political and cultural importance, Islamic studies have been treated as a pariah by the Russian and Soviet scholarly establishment. As a result, it is practically impossible to find an accurate information on various aspects of «Russian» Islam not only in the works that originated outside Russia (either in the West or in the East), but in Russian scholarly literature as well. For many centuries, the areas of the former Russian/Soviet Empire with predominantly Muslim populations developed in a specific historical and cultural environment and experienced similar influences.

Consequently, these populations have come to share many common material and cultural patterns that set them apart from the rest of the Muslim world. Such patterns, which were shaped by the close ties and intense interaction of these Muslim peoples with Russia, have determined the specific nature and physiognomy of what we call «Russian» Islam.

In general, Islam as a religious tradition evinces a number of recognizable features that distinguish it from the other world religions. These include a lack of the clear-cut borderline between religion and politics as well as between doctrines and canon law. These and some other features account for an unusually broad variety of social functions and ideological roles that Islam plays in different spheres of human activity. Another distinctive feature of Islam is the diversity of its ideological expressions, which can be described as the pluralism of opinions tolerated within its framework. This feature springs from the intimate ties between Islam and the cultural and spiritual substrata of the peoples that embraced it. By the term «substrata» we mean the specificity of their pre-Islamic religious, cultural, legal traditions and social institutions. This feature allows Islam to adapt to a wide variety of local conditions, as ethnic groups and peoples of diverse historical and cultural backgrounds could, at various stages and in different ways, make their distinct contributions to the spiritual and doctrinal development of the Islamic tradition. Hence the diversity of manifestations of Islam's formative ideas across time and space. The process of integration into Islam of local customs and norms was facilitated by the emergence of the local, i.e., non-Arab, religious elites and authorities as well as the rise of regional centres of Islamic learning. Muslim jurists (fuqaha’) and Sufi mystics of various ethnic origins, who had firsthand knowledge of local languages, traditions, customs, and norms were instrumental in adapting them to, and eventually incorporating them into, «normative» Islam.

Thanks to the efforts of local scholars and especially of dervishes, Islamic norms and beliefs became firmly implanted in the minds of newly converted Islamic populations. Typical in this regard are the peoples of the Caucasus and Central Asia, who embraced Islam largely in its Sufi form that proved to be more open to local religious beliefs and customs than the more rigorous Islam of the fuqaha’ class.

The adaptation of «normative» Islam to local religious and cultural substratum led to the emergence of its regional expressions and manifestations, which, however, were firmly grounded on the norms that are shared by all Muslims. These norms were both doctrinal and practical in nature, e.g., the five «pillars», or «roots», of Islamic theology (usul al-din) and the five obligations postulated by the Islamic ritual practice (arkan al-islam or al-fara’id). In other words, alongside the distinctive principles that are common to the Muslims all over the world, we find regional forms of Islam. In this perspective, the classification of some norms and practices found in the Muslim world as «Islamic» or «non-Islamic» becomes a largely futile exercise, determined, as it is, by one’s personal vision of the «correct» Islam. Objectively, however, it is more fruitful to view all those men and women who consider themselves to be Muslims and who consciously declare their allegiance to the Islamic religion as being equal members of the Muslim community notwithstanding the regional form of Islam they adhere to.

The problem of the relationship between the foundational ideas of primeval Islam and their «regional» manifestations is of great importance, both practically and methodologically. It helps to develop a systematic approach to Islam — one that sees it as the end product of an extremely complex intertwining of, and dialogue between, various doctrinal strands, local tendencies and regional schools. This complexity and pluralism, however, had its limits within which these strands, tendencies and schools were allowed to operate without ceasing to be «Islamic». Such an approach makes it possible to work out a holistic vision of Islam as a complex ideological and religious system.

Islam in the former Russian/Soviet Empire has a number of specific traits that are determined by the dynamic interaction of the general and the particular that were just outlined. One distinctive trait of «Russian» Islam is its diversity, which, in turn, springs from the ethnic and cultural diversity of its adherents. Among Russian Muslims we find both Sunnites and Shiites, as well as members of different schools of Islamic law, e.g., Shafi‘ites and Hanafites. In addition, many Muslims in the Russian/Soviet territories belonged to one or another Sufi brotherhood, e.g., the Naqshbandiyya, the Qadiriyya, the Yasaviyya, and so on. In light of the above, one cannot help wondering at the great disparity between the important role of Islam in Russian society and the blatant prejudices and ignorance that characterize Russian views of Islam and the Muslims.

Unfortunately, in spite of the undeniable achievements of Russian/Soviet Islamicists in providing an unprejudiced and academic picture of Islamic history, beliefs and institutions, the negative view of Islam as a hostile and alien force still dominate the Russian public opinion. Even more regrettable is the fact that this hostile view is often shared and promoted by the official authorities of the Russian Federation. This view of Islam can be attributed to the decades of the fierce anti-religious propaganda that was sponsored by the Soviet authorities before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Another reason is the ignorance of Islamic history, culture and institutions on the part of the Russian Muslims themselves. This ignorance often leads to a simplistic, ahistorical view of Islam that is frequently perceived by outsiders as an expression of the «fanaticism» of its followers. The reason for this ignorance, as indicated by Dr. Syukiyaynen, Russia’s leading expert on Islamic law, is the long isolation of the Russian community from the Muslim world as a whole. The policy of «Russification» and «Sovietisation» of the areas with Islamic populations that was carried out respectively by Russian and Soviet authorities has effectively cut their historical and cultural ties with their fellow believers. When the Arabic alphabet was replaced by the Cyrillic letters in the 1930s and millions of Arabographic books were destroyed by the atheistic Soviet state, the Muslims of the Soviet Union found themselves in an intellectual and spiritual vacuum that the authorities tried to fill with Communist ideology. The longstanding religious and cultural ties that linked Muslims under Russian sway to their fellow believers around the world were broken.

The atheistic policies of the Soviet authorities had many negative implications, including one that has become unique to «Russian» Islam. Due to the ruthless suppression of Islamic education the task of providing the Russian Muslims with a minimal knowledge of the Muslim religion fell to individuals with no formal theological training, who themselves were often semi-literate. Unofficial «mosques» and semi-clandestine «Qur’anic schools» mushroomed in Muslim-populated areas of the former Soviet Union. They were run by ignorant «tutors» who often inculcated in their students various popular superstitions and folk beliefs in the guise of Muslim teachings. The official Soviet propaganda tended to lump them together with mainstream Islamic doctrines as «Islamic survivals». However, with the collapse of the Soviet system, these superstitions and folk beliefs burst into the open. By filling the ideological vacuum created by the demise of the old ideology, they came to shape the mentality of many Muslims and, as a consequence, their political actions and social attitudes as well. Due to the lack of a class of educated Muslim scholars, who would competently interpret Islamic norms and apply them to the acute social issues at hand, the Muslim revival was often high-jacked by radical nationalist movements that presented themselves as defenders of the true Islam. Their activities and bigotry have led to the growth of tensions between various Muslim and non-Muslim confessions and, occasionally, to bloody ethnic and inter-confessional conflicts.

Dangers of such conflicts are obvious. To prevent religious and ethnic tensions from developing into fully-fledged regional wars one should seek the ways to achieve a better understanding and, subsequently, a rapprochement between opposed factions. This can be done through disseminating a balanced and accurate information about Islam and about its position vis-à-vis other religions. As a possible methodological starting point for such a task one can suggest the notion of Islam as a religion that encourages dogmatic and legal pluralism as well as the equality of all national and ethnic groups within the world of Islam. This notion, in turn, generates a number of important theoretical propositions that help to highlight the functioning of the system we call «Islam».

First, all regional manifestations of Islam's foundational ideas are equally valid; hence there is no objective grounds for presenting one regional variation within the Islamic religion as being more «faithful» to the spirit and letter of Islam than its counterpart(s). The same applies to different theological and legal schools within Islam.

Second, since there is no universally accepted model of the «ideal» Islam (though some might argue that the primeval Muslim community of Medina should be treated as this model), one should not speak of «orthodox» as opposed to «heterodox» Islam; therefore, all nations and ethnic groups that proclaim their allegiance to Islam should be treated as equal — that is, one must never juxtapose «authentic» with «unauthentic» Muslims. In recognizing the legitimacy of all regional and ethnic interpretations of Islam one may hope to mitigate confrontational tendencies within the Muslim community at large. This approach effectively disavows the claims of some oppressive Muslim leaders to be the upholders of the only «genuine» version of Islam in an effort to justify their persecution of religious and ethnic minorities. The method that we have just outlined shows it to be a calculated political stratagem aimed at perpetuating their grip on power by presenting it as the «truly Islamic» rule. Instead, the emphasis should be on the equality and underlying unity of all regional and ethnic groups adhering to Islam. Furthermore, this approach should consistently give privilege to the values that are shared by all human beings in order to minimize divisive, militant tendencies in a given region or within a given ethnic group. Finally, there is no doubt that this approach should not be confined to the members of the Muslim community, but shared by representatives of other religious traditions.

Competing with adherents of the «Islamic revival», the «traditionalist» Muslim clergy has failed to answer Islamist challenges from the countryside and abroad appealing to the «purification of Islam». Given the conditions of ethno-religious and social tensions, the spread of unrestricted massive migration, the appearance of new international informational technologies, it is difficult to beat religious and political extremists by means of administrative persecutions such as political repressions, official prohibition or censorship.

Calls for a «purification» of Islam arisen among the Russian Muslims, who were being brought up according to their local traditions for many generations, cause an inevitable schism of the society. From the scientific point of view it is inaccurate to oppose a «pure Islam» to local Muslim traditions. Such an approach is also fraught with dangerous conflicts which are able to aggravate seriously ethnic and religious situation in post-socialist Russia and other former Soviet states inhabited by Muslims. Under these circumstances the spread of scientific knowledge of Islam as it is functioning in different areas might get a most effective ideological controversy against missionaries of «Islamic purification». This is one of the major goals of this project.

Islam in Russia is more than just an integral part of Russian history and culture, nor is it yet another object of academic research. It is, in fact, an influential factor in the social and political life of Russia and the neighboring countries. By providing objective information about Islam, its history and institutions, this volume represents an important step in overcoming the abiding mutual distrust between Muslims and non-Muslims in the territories of the former Russian Empire.

Stanislav M. Prozorov
Аннотация к серии «Ислам на территории бывшей Российской империи» размещена на подсайте; Вашему вниманию также доступны отдельные статьи.


Аннотация, Annotation, От редактора, Editor’s foreword, Предисловие, Introduction, Список авторов, List of authors, Список статей


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