Sufi legends of Siberia

15 April


During the Late Middle Ages, most Turkic and Tatar peoples in the south of Western Siberia converted to Islam. This began with the religious tradition of the Golden Horde, on the northeastern edge of which was located Siberia. Then these lands were under the rule of the descendants of Shiban - Batu's younger brother. In the XV-XVI centuries, the Siberian Shibanids (the descendants of Shiban) founded two khanates: Tyumen and Siberian. But legends connect the penetration of Islam into these regions with representatives of two Sufi orders: Yasawiyya and Naqshbandiyya .

Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam. In addition to the teaching itself, it includes the ascetic lifestyle of followers, their associations and practices. Experts in Islamic law called Sufism the inner side of Sharia, which is responsible for the spiritual improvement of the believer. One of the differences between the order founded by Hazrat Sultan - Yasawiyya, from the tariqa (order) of Bahauddin Naqshbandi is a commitment to the “loud glorification of the Almighty”. “Loud dhikr” implies the glorification of Allah with the whole body, sometimes reminiscent of a dance - at such a moment the shaitan doesn’t have a single chance to distract a person from worship.

Long scrolls of manuscripts preserve Sufi legends of Western Siberia. One end of the paper is wound on a wooden spool, decorated with ornaments and placed in a leather or rag case. Handwritten scrolls are called “shajara” - translated from Arabic as “family tree” - they are sacred and were never made to order. Excerpts from the text were recited during ritual activities associated with the remembrance of the dead. Shajara, like other mystical books and manuscripts from holy places, were passed on by the caretakers of holy graves from generation to generation.

The graves of saints or places where the mausoleums of Muslim “avliya” (saints) were previously located are called “astana” and are especially revered by the Siberian Tatars. The library of the caretaker of the tomb in the village of Ulug -Buran contains the manuscript "Shajara of the Saints from the Country of Mavar'annahr". Shajara is also one of the ancient forms of knowledge about the past. This “Genealogy of the Saints...” begins with the name of the Almighty and tells about the year 1130 AH. The legend takes the reader to Venerable Bukhara during the time of Abu Laisi Samarkandi.

There, the holy Khoja Bahauddin gathered avliya from different cities. There are two types of saints according to the manuscript. The first ones received help from the prophets to find the path to the Almighty, the second ones achieved this through obedience. 336 saints went from Venerable Bukhara to the Ichtyak yurt as the key of faith. They went down the Ishim River and entered into battle with the Ichtyaks , who were more numerous than litter on earth.

Many saints fell as martyrs on the battlefield, which stretched across land, water and swamps. In the lower reaches of the Irtysh River there are graves of fallen soldiers. 66 Muslims returned to Venerable Bukhara. The curse of the saints fell on the remaining ichtyaks . They became “diwana” - crazy, they could neither eat nor drink. The rest wandered along both banks of the Irtysh and repeated: “hatin khytai”, then went to the upper reaches of the river and became known as Khytai -Khat Khotan.

The abandoned Ichtyak yurt was deserted for nine or ninety years, some say a whole century. During the time of Khan Murad, his son Taibuga founded the Siberian, or as the legend says, the Isker Khanate. Together with five hundred people, the Shah's Akhun, Mirza, Sultan and Imam arrived. The narrative ends with a listing of the graves of saints and the “silsila” - the genealogy of the caretakers, where the Yasawi Sufis are mentioned.

A later manuscript, kept in the Tobolsk Museum, tells a similar legend, but indicates the year 797. By permission and instructions of Mr. Ishan Khoja Bahauddin Naqshbandi 366 saints from different cities became his sincere disciples - “murids”. These avliya divided their existence into three parts: prayer and secret glorification of Allah, teaching the people science, and fighting the pagans. When the time of war came, they were together in the noble presence of Ishan Khoja Bahauddin.

One day, after morning prayer, the Khoja turned his noble face to the sheikhs and told about how Caliph Ali, may Allah exalt him, converted half of Khytai to Islam. But some of them, indignant, fled to the banks of the Irtysh River. There these people began to live together with the pagan tribes. Then Ishan Bahauddin gave his murids “ijaz” (permission): to distribute Islam among the polytheists. “Your order is above our heads!” exclaimed 366 mounted sheikhs and went to the Middle Yuz of the Diyar steppe.

There they became guests of Khan Shiban. Having learned the state of affairs, the khan armed 1,700 bahadurs and went with the saints to the banks of the Irtysh River to start a great war. There is not a single place left along the river where the sheikhs and the army of Shiban fought. The face of the earth became crowded for the pagans, and many of them were killed. But those who survived and didn’t run away in fear accepted the faith.

1448 Bahadurs fell as martyrs, and 222 of them went to the Diyar steppe. Shiban began to be called Vali Khan, that is, the leader of the saints, since he started the war together with the avliya. 300 mounted sheikhs fell, and the survivors remained to explain the pillars of faith to the pagan tribes. 63 saints later returned to Venerable Bukhara to report the state of affairs to Khoja Bahauddin.

The manuscript ends with a list of astana and silsila - the chain of succession of caretakers of the graves of saints who died in the holy war. These shajara continue to be sources of knowledge about the past, for scientific specialists too. But researchers question the authenticity of the story itself about 366 saints crushing pagans on the banks of the Irtysh River. However, it is important to understand: despite their mythical nature, legends are part of the Muslim tradition of Western Siberia.



GSV "Russia - Islamic World"

Photo: Daniel Silva/Unsplash