Islam Between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains
Aislu YUNUSOVA is Professor at the Bashkir State University.
The most concentrated Muslim populations are found in the two ethnic republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan in interior Russia.
At the time of the latest census (1989), Bashkortostan’s total population was 3964000. The indigenous people are the Bashkirs, descended mainly from Turkic pastoral tribes as well as Finno-Ugric ethnic components. The republic is home to more than 100 ethnic groups. Bashkirs and Tatars have been traditionally Muslims and account for 50.3 per cent of Bashkortostan’s population, while Christians, Russians, Ukrainians and other peoples account for 42 per cent. Tatarstan has approximately the same Islamic–Orthodox mix (48.5 and 43.3 per cent, respectively). Bashkortostan’s ethnic and religious composition reflects the stable balance between Islam and Christianity that has been in clear evidence there since the mid-19th century. There have been some changes in the structure of relations between the faiths in recent times, resulting from the spread of ‘non-traditional’ faiths, which represent a marriage of different religions, Orthodox and Protestant. New religious associations, previously unheard of in Bashkortostan, or in Russia for that matter, account for 4.9 per cent of the republic’s total number (719) of religious organizations.
The Process of Islamization
The earliest archaeological evidence of Bashkortostan’s links to the Islamic world – in particular, the finds from the Levashovsky burial site (Ishimbay region) – date from the 8th–9th centuries. The finds included three silver dirhems and a gold dinar from the Umayyad and ’Abbasid caliphates. The most exciting finds were a gold dinar from the year 706 and a silver dinar from 712. These coins were minted under the Umayyad ruler Al-Walid I (86–96 or the 1st century AH). The other coins found there date back to the 2nd century AH. Yet another gold dinar discovered at a site where a couple was buried dates from the ’Abbasid era, and it was minted in c. 892 (279 or the 3rd century AH) in Mawarannahr by the ruler Al-Mahdi Muhammed al-Hasan. The Levashovsky burial site is an early Muslim cemetery in the south of Bashkortostan.
As a religious system, Islam made its way into Bashkiria a little later, in the 10th century. In 922 a Baghdad Caliphate legation led by Ibn Fadlan arrived in the capital of the khanate of the Bulgars. The year is regarded as the one in which the Bulgars adopted Islam. Ibn Fadlan also describes in his travel notes the land of the Bashkirs, where his legation stopped over. According to the account of his mission, Bashkir tribes worshipped idols. As Islam was taking hold in Bulgaria so Western Bashkiria, which was part of the Bulgarian kingdom, began gradually to Islamize. The principle role in the initial Islamization of Bashkir tribes was played by their trade and economic relations with the Islamic world and missionary work. In their legends the Bashkirs themselves attribute the spread of Islam to the Bulgars. The vigorous penetration of Muslim religion among the Bashkirs in the 13th and 14th centuries is indicated by a clear reduction in the number of pagan barrows on Bashkiria’s territory and a greater number of burial sites where the dead were laid down in accordance with the requirements of Islam. Further Islamization of Bashkiria in the 13th and 14th centuries was connected with its becoming part of the khanate of the Golden Horde. The Hungarian monk Julian, who in 1236 went among the Bashkirs subjugated by the Mongols, wrote about a Bashkir khan who was fanatically devoted to Islam. Not only Bashkir khans but also rank-and-file Bashkir soldiers serving with the Golden Horde khans during the Mongol period had long been Muslims, argues A.-Z. Validov. Under Uzbek Khan (who reigned 1312–42), Islam became the official religion of the Golden Horde. During his rule, Muslim preachers educated among the Bulgars were sent on missions to the Bashkirs. Academician R. G. Kuzeyev writes that the graves of more than 20 Muslim missionaries have been found in the valleys of the rivers in western Bashkiria – the Belaya, Urshaka, Dyoma, Chermasana, and Ika. Preachers came not only from the Bulgars but also from Bukhara, Kokand and even Baghdad to convert the Bashkirs to Islam. By the 16th century Islam had become so much a part of the Bashkir way of life that its protection and preservation were included among a set of provisions for accords with Moscow for the voluntary inclusion of Bashkir tribes into Muskovy. Tsar Ivan the Terrible took into account the Bashkirs’ demand for the protection of Islam. The shezher (chronicles) of the Bashkirian tribe called Yurmats at the time when they became subjects of the white tsar state that the tsar circulated messages assuring the people that no one should flee or go into hiding but should instead practice their religion. The chronicles of the Usergan, Tamyan, Kypsak and Burzyan tribes say that Tsar Ivan the Terrible pledged that he would ‘never force into a different religion’ the Bashkirs who profess Islam.
The Bashkirs became Russia’s subjects voluntarily and thus preserved Islam and avoided forcible conversion to Christianity. At the same time the fact that the Bashkirs and Volga Tatars were included into the Russian state meant there were a number of peculiarities in the way Islam developed in interior Russia. For example Islam was separate from state authority. In both republics Islam functioned and continues to function inside an Orthodox state, which makes Russian Islam substantially different from that in countries of the Muslim world. Another peculiarity is that economic institutes traditional in Islamic societies, such as the waqf, are not sufficiently developed. Conditions prevailing in Russia in the 16th–18th centuries were not conducive to the development of waqfs. After the taking of Kazan and Astrakhan forcible Christianization of Tatars and destruction of mosques in the Volga region began. The struggle against Islam was accompanied by the provision of some privileges to newly Christianized Tatars. The 1649 Sobornoye Ulozheniye (Code of Laws) permitted the seizure of lands from adherents of different faiths, including Muslims, and their transfer to those newly Christianized: ‘...and those lands shall be seized from Tatars and Mordvins and handed over to Russians for them to settle upon...and those of princes, mirzas, Tatars, Mordvins, Chuvash, Cheremis, Votyaks who become converted to the Orthodox faith, their lands shall not be seized’.1 Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich conferred, by ………………… ………….
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