What Role Did Islamic Institutions Play in Lives of regular Believers?

22 March 2022


Did the Orenburg Mohammedan Spiritual Assembly engage in educational reform? What was the difference in Muslim charity activities depending on the region? Why did charity become a distinctive feature of Tatar merchants? These and many other questions formed the basis of the All Russian Scientific Seminar with International Participation ‘The Role of Islamic Institutions in Social and Cultural Life of the Tatars’ dedicated to the 1100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam by Volga Bulgaria. The event was initiated by the Centre for Islamic Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tatarstan together with the editors of the magazine ‘Gasyrlar Avazy – Echo of Centuries’ of the State Archive of the Republic of Tatarstan.

Addressing the participants of the meeting, Director of the Centre for Islamic Studies Rinat Pateev noted the relevance of such scientific events, which make it possible to discuss the most topical aspects of spiritual and religious heritage of the Tatar people, who Islamic Institutions are an integral part of.

During the long and prolific discussion the participants of the seminar from different Russian regions and neighboring countries discussed the most topical issues concerning the preservation of written heritage of the Tatars and social history of Islamic religious institutions in the imperial and post-Soviet periods.

The tradition of Rewriting the Quran among the Tatars and unknown works by Astrakhan imams

One of the key issues of the conference was the topic of Tatar written heritage, in particular the preserved manuscripts of the Quran. Nuriya Garaeva, a senior research fellow at the Ilya Ibrahimov Centre of Written Heritage at the Institute of Language, Literature and Art at the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tatarstan, spoke about this. According to her, the most famous Muslim libraries are located in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.

‘If we refer to ancient Muslim texts that have reached our days, we can find out that some of them were designed in gold ink. By the way, haftiyak, which made up 1/7th of the Quran, were particularly popular among the Turks. They were notable for their convenience and compactness. As far as the Tatars themselves are concerned, it was characteristic for them to copy the Quranic texts in two parts. The name and dividers of ayats were copied by one person, while surahs were copied by another one. It is interesting that Quran rewriting for students was a part of their learning process. A new copy of the holy text was not signed. It means that there was no opportunity to identify who had copied this or that copy of the Quran. Even the appearance of the first printed copies of the Quran did not manage to supplant the tradition of Quran rewriting,’ Garaeva explained.

Andrey Syzranov, Head of the Department of Philosophy, Sociology and Linguistics at the Astrakhan State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering, spoke about his attempts to reconstruct the biography of one of the prominent Muslim figures of Astrakhan in the early XX century – Mullah Jiganshi Abduljabbarov, the author of the historical and religious work ‘The History of Astrakhan’. Addressing the activities of the Muslim author, Syzranov highly praised his contribution to the development of the Muslim thought and Astrakhan orientalism in the period under review.

‘The Muslim historical treatise ‘The History of Astrakhan’, published in Astrakhan in 1907, is of considerable interest for science. The author of this work was Hafiz Jahanshah ibn Abd al-Jabbar al-Nijgaruti al-Hajji Tarhani (or Jiganshi Jabbarov/Abduljabbarov), an Astrakhan mullah, imam of the Astrakhan Kriushin Mosque, and a Sufi (a disciple of Astrakhan Sufi Sheikh Abd al-Wahhab ibn Ali al-Hajji Tarhani). The treatise is dedicated to the history of Islam and Sufism in Astrakhan. In this treatise Jabbarov criticized the ideas of European intellectual superiority and defended Islamic intellectual values,’ the expert explained.

The Orenburg Mohammedan Spiritual Assembly: history and contribution to the development of Muslims in Russia
A separate block of the conference was a discussion of the activities of the Orenburg Mohammedan Spiritual Assembly and the organization’s contribution to various spheres of life of regular Muslims. Thus, Marsil Farkhshatov, Head of the Department of History and Cultural History of Bashkortostan with the Badge of Honor of the Institute of History, Language and Literature of the Ufa Federal Research Centre of the Academy of Sciences, together with his colleague Gulnaz Azamatova analyzed the practice of fatwa making by Orenburg Muftis within the context of domestic and foreign policy of imperial Russia.

‘This could be done through establishing a special publication in which fatwas and decisions of relevant Muslim bodies would be published. Previously such documents, as a rule, were published in magazines and newspapers,’ Farkhshatov stressed.

In her turn, Gulnaz Azamatova reminded the conference participants that in the XIX century the Muftiate had no opportunity to disseminate the adopted fatwas to a wide audience due to the certain state policy on religious affairs.

Ildus Zagidullin, senior research fellow at the Research Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tatarstan, dwelled on the mechanisms of the Orenburg Mohammedan Spiritual Assembly’s influence on some aspects of updating the content of education at confessional schools during the periods of Mufti Tevkelev and Sultanov’s chairmanship.

Peculiarities of Tatar-Muslim charity activities in Kazakhstan

The key problem in the functioning of Islamic institutions throughout their existence was ensuring their livelihood. At the same time, religious institutions also often served as actors in Muslim charity activity in the regions. It is not surprising that much attention while the discussion was paid to charity activities in Muslims society, not only in Russia, but also in the countries of the near abroad. Pavel Shabley, associate professor at the Kostanay branch of the Chelyabinsk State University, focused on identifying the model of Muslim charity in Petropavlovsk (the Republic of Kazakhstan) in the context of Tatar-Kazakh cohabitation.

It is worth noting that the late XIX – early XX centuries were the beginning of transition from a traditional patriarchal way of life to an industrial one for Kazakh society. It was with the development of entrepreneurship, trade and ‘classical’ capitalist relations in Kazakh society that charity activities started to spread rapidly. From one-time it turned into a systematic and wider one, more and more philanthropists started to take care of development of education, culture and art. It is fair to say that a lot of wealthy people were often unconcerned about it. However, as businesses started working and their owners paid their creditors, they began actively support the maintenance of education, science, enlightenment and art.

When it comes to philanthropists among Muslims in Kazakhstan, especially in northern Kazakhstan, one of the first surnames worth mentioning is the Yaushevs.

‘As natives of Kazan province, once in Petropavlovsk, the Yaushevs actively interacted with Muslims from other regions of the Russian Empire, especially from the city of Troitsk (Orenburg province). Thus, Gabdelbari married Garifa, Gaysa Yaushev’s daughter (the founder of the Troitsk dynasty, a descendant of Prince Yaushev in the 8th generation). Gaysa went with caravans to Bukhara. In the middle of the XIX century he launched his own trade in Troitsk, owned a leather factory and a soap factory. He also was elected to the local town hall. The most famous were Gaysa’s grandchildren – Abdulvali and Mullagali. They were the founders of the trading house ‘A.-V.A. Yaushev and Brothers’ which, apart from Troitsk, had representative offices in Chelyabinsk, Kustanai (Turgay region), Tashkent and Aulie-Ata (Syr-Darya region), in the Chinese city of Kulja and other regions. Thus, the Yaushevs, being natives of Kazan province, in the XIX-early XX centuries, actually spread their influence far beyond its borders. Representatives of that family lived in the territory of the Southern Urals, Siberia, Kazakh steppe, Central Asia and other regions. Petropavlovsk was not an exception in this list. The local Yaushevs, using their connections and other resources of influence, became one of the key figures in social and economic, public and religious life of this city and other regions of the Kazakh steppe,’ Shabley stressed.

Rashid Malikov, senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Kazan Federal University, spoke about the role of village and town clerics in organizing charity activities in Volga-Kama settlements in the late XIX – early XX centuries. Marat Safarov, a researcher of the Vesti FM radio station (Moscow), considered the contribution of the Tatar merchant class in the city of Kasimov in forming the Muslim infrastructure in the district town and its surroundings.




Ilmira Gafiyatullina