Khusain Faizkhanov: Uniting the Religious with the Secular

24 May


True sons of their people, unique orientalists, calligraphers and scholars made a special contribution to the formation and development of spiritual culture of the Tatar society from its emergence until today. Khusain Faizkhanov was not an exception, and today this is the person we are going to speak about.


Khusain Faizkhanov was and remains today a prominent Tatar public figure, educator, historian, orientalist, archaeographer and calligrapher.


Khusain Faizkhanov was born in 1823 into a peasant family in the village of Sabachai, Kurmysh District, Simbirsk Province. He received traditional religious education in his native village. After that, he continued his education in the village of Baraska, and then in Kazan. In 1850-1854 Faizkhanov was a pupil of Shigabutdin Marjani, an outstanding Tatar scholar. Despite the fact that his study with Marjani was not long, Khusain managed to absorb love for the Arab-Muslim culture and fiqh.


When the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Kazan University moved to St Petersburg in 1854-1855, Faizkhanov went there at the invitation of the Dean in order to improve his knowledge as an orientalist and stay on as a teacher.


On November 24, 1855, following the trustee of the Petersburg school district Musin-Pushkin’s request, Khusain Faizkhanov received permission to teach Turkic-Tatar and Arabic at the Faculty of Oriental Languages of St Petersburg University. In five years he was approved as a lecturer at the Faculty of Oriental Languages. Only in 1858 Khusain was allowed to teach Turkic languages (Tatar, Turkish) without salary. And on 27 November, 1858, the Rector informed the Dean about the Minister’s permission to employ Faizkhanov.


He also taught the Arabic language. This suggests that Khusain Faizkhanov was not just a good teacher, but also an excellent specialist, who was fluent in many languages. However, only one monograph of the scholar – ‘Brief Grammar of the Tatar Language’ (1862) – was published. In the appendix to the work there was placed the scholar’s own translation into the Tatar language of the passage of the famous monument ‘Kalila and Dimna’, the text of the diploma of Khan Janibek Giray (XVII century) and a passage from ‘Majalis al-Nafais’ by Alisher Navoi.


The scholar had plenty of material on the history of the Tatars and Turks in general. His thoughts were focused on enlightenment activities among the Tatars. Khusain Faizkhanov became the first of the enlighteners of the Tatar people who, having been convinced of the advantages of the European educational system, came to the idea that it was necessary to transfer European methods of education to Tatar soil.


He was not satisfied with the education that Muslims received at that time, because their education lacked elements of  secular scholarship. He wrote a work titled ‘Islah al-Madaris’ (‘School Reform’) in which he suggested establishing in Kazan madrasahs where Geography, European languages, medicine, science would be taught in the Russian language and such disciplines as Muslim jurisprudence and Arabic Philology – in the Turkic language. Unfortunately, the work was never published. In his project Khusain Faizkhanov paved the way for a Jadid madrasah and became a predecessor of the new methodic education known as ‘Usul-Jadid’ (Jadidism). 


Having studied diplomatic letters of Crimean Khans from the Russian Foreign Ministry’s archives in Moscow, Faizkhanov became a member of the Society of Archaeology. He became a full member of this Society in 1860.


The result of scientific business trips to Orenburg region was publication of an article entitled ‘Three Detailed Bulgar Inscriptions’ in the magazine of the Russian Archaeological Society. That publication marked a new stage in the study of Bulgar epigraphy. It marked the beginning of the development of the method for deciphering Bulgar epitaphs in the second style.


The famous Tatar scholar and calligrapher played a significant role in studying the epigraphy of the Kasimov Khanate. In 1860 he made exact copies of Tatar tombstones in Kasimov. He was also the person who discovered the tombstone of Uraz Muhammad Khan who was killed in 1610 by False Dmitry II.


Khusain Faizkhanov passed away in 1866 in St Petersburg, leaving behind a rich heritage and reformist ideas.



Ilmira Gafiyatullina

Photo: Creative Commons