Tatar Empire
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Tatar Empire

Kazan's Muslims and the Making of Imperial Russia

Danielle Ross

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Tatar Empire

Kazan's Muslims and the Making of Imperial Russia

Danielle Ross

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An in-depth study of the relationship between the Russian government and its first Muslim subjects who served in the vanguard of the empire's colonialism. In the 1700s, Kazan Tatar (Muslim scholars of Kazan) and scholarly networks stood at the forefront of Russia's expansion into the South Urals, western Siberia, and the Kazakh steppe. It was there that the Tatars worked with Russian agents, established settlements, and spread their own religious and intellectual culture that helped shaped their identity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Kazan Tatars profited economically from Russia's commercial and military expansion to Muslim lands and began to present themselves as leaders capable of bringing Islamic modernity to the rest of Russia's Muslim population. Danielle Ross bridges the history of Russia's imperial project with the history of Russia's Muslims by exploring the Kazan Tatars as participants in the construction of the Russian empire. Ross focuses on Muslim clerical and commercial networks to reconstruct the ongoing interaction among Russian imperial policy, nonstate actors, and intellectual developments within Kazan's Muslim community and also considers the evolving relationship with Central Asia, the Kazakh steppe, and western China. Tatar Empire offers a more Muslim-centered narrative of Russian empire building, making clear the links between cultural reformism and Kazan Tatar participation in the Russian eastward expansion. "This is a rich study that makes important contributions to the historiography of the Russian Empire, sharpening our picture of an empire in which lines between colonizer and colonized were far from clear." — The Middle Ground Journal

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Year
2020
ISBN
9780253045720
1
THE AGE OF THE SETTLER ʿULAMĀʾ
IN 1680, MUSLIMS IN KAZAN OBSERVED THAT A bright new star had appeared in the sky. It remained there for forty days.1 This was the Great Comet of 1680, also called Kirch’s Comet or Newton’s Comet, one of the great astronomical events of the seventeenth century. However, Kazan’s Muslims interpreted it as a sign that great unrest was about to break out among the Russian “nonbelievers” and that many Muslims would abandon their faith.2
The late 1600s have been characterized either as a moment at which relations between the Russian government and its Muslim subjects worsened or as part of a longer period of anti-Muslim policy stretching from the 1552 conquest of Kazan to the 1762 ascension of Catherine the Great.3 Policies enacted by the Russian state and growing unrest in the Urals and western Siberia indeed created a precarious situation for some of Kazan’s Muslims. However, they also created opportunities and social upheaval from which others benefitted. The history of how the Kazan’s Muslims crafted a new identity for themselves began not with the 1552 conquest, but with a series of seventeenth-century crises and the response to them by a small group of Kazan Tatar ʿulamāʾ.
A New Time of Troubles (1649–1682)
The Muslims of Kazan prikaz—a sprawling administrative unit lying east of Moscow and encompassing the conquered khanate of Kazan, the Urals, and the lower Volga basin—had been through difficult times before. During the 1552 conquest, the city of Kazan and its inhabitants suffered the same destruction and brutality that Ivan the Terrible meted out to most of the lands he subdued. Instead of relief, Ivan’s death was followed by a devastating famine in 1601 and the Time of Troubles, a period of pretenders, civil war, and foreign invasion that lasted from 1605 until 1613.4
Alexei Mikhailovich’s ascension to the Muscovite throne in 1645 heralded a distinct change in Russia’s policy toward its Muslims. The Sobornoe Ulozhenie, the new Russian legal code issued in 1649, included a clause forbidding Muslims from converting Russians to Islam “by force or trickery.” Any Muslim caught doing so was to be burned at the stake.5 In 1651, Alexei Mikhailovich forbade the Qasim khanate, a small Muslim buffer state established by Muscovy in 1452 and the only Muslim ruling dynasty then within Russian borders, from communicating with Muslims beyond the borders of Russia, including the diplomats and couriers from Iran, Bukhara, Urgench, and the Nogay horde who passed through the khanate on their way to and from Moscow along the Oka River.6
By the 1660s, the eastern edge of Kazan Muslims’ world grew increasingly perilous. In February 1662, Irka Mullā, a Kazan Muslim working as a diplomat from Moscow to the Kalmyk leader Abylai Tashi, was robbed by Arlsan-bek and his Bashkir followers outside Ufa. He complained to the tsar and requested that they be punished.7 By October, a group of Bashkirs joined forces with Abylai and attacked settlements around Ufa and Menzelinsk. Alexei Mikhailovich called on officials from Kazan and Perm to raise an army of newly baptized subjects, Muslim Tatars, mirzas (noblemen), and Chuvashes to halt and disperse the “traitors” before they could cross the Kama River and threaten Kazan.8
In 1670, Stepan Razin’s uprising brought yet more violence to Kazan province. Razin made an appeal to the Muslim spiritual leaders and nobles of Kazan.9 Some Kazan Muslims supported him, while others did not.10 One mirza, Prince Safar Tenishev, described in a 1671 petition how his wife and children had fled into the woods with the family’s livestock to escape Razin’s followers. They had the misfortune to stumble across a village where they were taken hostage, beaten, and robbed by the local peasants.11
The early 1680s dealt several more blows to Russia’s Kazan Muslim subjects. In 1680, a brutal famine struck the Middle Volga region, killing thousands.12 In the same year, Alexei Mikhailovich returned to newly baptized Tatar nobles of the Romanov district the lands that had previously been confiscated from them and exempted them from state service for three years as a reward for their conversion to Christianity.13 In 1681, his son, Tsar Fedor, decreed that Muslim nobles who refused to convert to Christianity would have their lands confiscated. In short order, the remaining non-Christian nobles of Romanov and Yaroslav complied.14 In the same year, the mother of the last Shibanid khan of Qasim died. Her son, the last khan, had passed away two years before.15 Instead of being assigned a new dynasty, the Qasim khanate was dissolved and its territory absorbed into the Kazan prikaz.16 Qasim had been created by the Muscovites as a buffer state between Muscovy and the Kazan khanate.17 Nonetheless, after the Russian conquest of Kazan, Qasim, with its Turkic Muslim royal court, had served as a last bastion of Muslim-Chinggisid rule for Muslims in the conquered khanates, preserving the historical link to the Golden Horde and allowing Kazan’s Muslim aristocracy and ʿulamāʾ to imagine they still dwelt in a Muslim land even as they lived under the rule of an Orthodox Christian tsar and served in his armies.18
In 1682, another bout of violence began. A man named Sayyid Jaʿfar appeared among the Bashkirs and began to call them to convert to Islam and live by the rules of the faith. Later histories would dub him a saint (awliya, karamat) or a miracle worker.19 In some sources, he is identified as a khan of the Bashkirs, and in others, as a person who strove to make himself a khan.20 In either case, some Bashkir leaders had no wish to see him become (or remain) a khan. They went over to the Russians and took up arms against him and his supporters.21 The resulting conflict lasted until 1683, and according to Kazan Muslim sources, “many people perished.”22
Imagining Russia as the Abode of Islam: Yūnus bin Iwānāy and His Sons (mid-1600s–1720s)
Muslims were not the only ones to suffer in the second half of the seventeenth century. Alexei Mikhailovich’s reign was the era of the Nikonian Reforms and the Great Schism of the Russian Orthodox Church. However, for Muslims living in the Volga Basin and on Russia’s eastern frontier, the combination of anti-Muslim legislation against the nobility and the constant civil unrest may have made the situation of Islam in the former Kazan khanate seem dire. It certainly appeared so to Kazan Tatars living two hundred years later. Ḥusayn Amirkhanov, in his 1883 Tawārīkh-i Bulghāriyya, characterized the reign of Alexei Mikhailovich as a time when Muslim scholars were killed and Muslim books were burned.23
In fact, the situation was much more complex. Russian decrees against Islam most impacted Kazan’s Muslim aristocrats, who gradually receded from local Muslim political and social life.24 At the same time, however, Kazan’s ʿulamāʾ took on more prominent roles in regional politics. Irka Mullā, Alexei Mikhailovich’s emissary to the Kalmyks, was one example of this. Another was Ishbūlāt Mullā, who, together with Roman Limkov, led a combined Russian-Tatar army out of Kazan to drive rebels out of the surrounding countryside during the 1704–1708 Bashkir Revolt.25 Religion was only one of many factors that united and divided people in late seventeenth-century Russia’s conflict-ridden east.
One Muslim religious scholar who navigated the complicated terrain of the late 1600s was Yūnus son of Iwānāy son of Usay. Yūnus styled himself as descended from a long line of holy men and scholars, some of whom may have come from Syria.26 His father served as imam of Kache village near the city of Kazan until his death in 1689.27 Yūnus was born in 1639. He married the daughter of Yanisarı bin Ḥāfiz, imam of Ūri village near Kazan.28 This marriage secured Yūnus’s and his descendants’ position as imams of Ūri for several generations.
Yūnus traveled extensively, going to Bukhara, where his learning and intelligence supposedly gained him the title of “Famous Mullā Yūnus” (Shahīr Mella Yūnus), and making the pilgrimage to Mecca twice. On one of his journeys south in the early 1700s, he reportedly made the acquaintance of one of the sons of Abu’l-khayr Khan of the Kazakh Junior Horde.29 At home, he busied himself with Islamic scholarship and with making basic Islamic learning accessible to his students. He composed an Arabic-language commentary detailing the basic duties (farāʾiḍ) of Muslims.30
In the late 1600s or early 1700s, another Kazan Muslim scholar, ʿAbdalkarīm ash-Shirdānī, wrote to Yūnus. He inquired as to whether Kazan, Astrakhan, and Qasim, which had fallen under the rule of the infidels (the Russians) belonged to the Abode of Islam or the Abode of War. Could Muslims still trade in these cities? Could they continue to live in these regions, or were they, as faithful Muslims, obliged to relocate to lands still under Muslim rule?31
Yūnus responded with a tarjiḥ, a treatise laying out the various Islamic legal precedents related to ash-Shirdānī’s question. He started with Abū Ḥanīfa, the titular founder of the Ḥanafī legal school (madhhab), with which most Islamic jurists of Kazan identified. He noted that Abū Ḥanīfa designated three conditions for declaring a territory the Abode of War. First, such a territory was under the rule of idolaters. Second, there was no Muslim land adjacent to it. Third, life there had become so hazardous that neither Muslims nor dependent People of the Book (dhimmī) could safely remain there. For a territory to truly become the Abode of War, a place Muslims had a religious obligation to emigrate from, it had to meet all three of these conditions. He also noted that it had been established by consensus of Muslim scholars (ijmāʿ) that the presence of nonbelievers in the Abode of Islam did not automatically render it the Abode of War. Likewise, lands that had previously belonged to the Abode of Islam but had fallen under the rule of nonbelievers did not become the Abode of War if Muslims remained there and were able to practice their religion and if that territory was still adjacent to/in contact with some other part of the Abode of Islam.32
Yūnus cited the opinions of illustrious scholars of the past rather than formulating a new ruling in response to ash-Shirdānī’s question. He did so because, in his mind, the question had already been addressed clearly and sufficiently by earlier jurists and required no further elaboration. However, in the context of Kazan in the late 1600s, Yūnus’s compilation and reiteration of these legal opinions was, in fact, a declaration of sorts. It offered an Islamic legal justification for Kazan’s Muslims to remain where they were despite the measures that the Russian government had taken against the Muslim nobili...

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