Muslims in Russian History Muslim peoples played an important role in the creation of the multinational Russian state. The process took several centuries and was completed only when Central Asia was annexed in the 1860s. Russian power had confronted a huge Muslim world, and the Muslim question became one of the major factors in both the internal and the external policy of Russia's tsars. According to the first general census (1897), by the end of the nineteenth century the Muslim population amounted to approximately 14 million, representing almost 11 percent of the total population of Imperial Russia.
The Muslim Question The attitude of the Russian state to the Muslims changed more than once. Down to the time of Peter the Great, Russian policy combined the merging of the Muslim elite with the top of Russian society, with the forced, gradual Russification and Christianization of the general population. Starting with Ekaterina II, all-Russia imperial policy changed from that of suppressing the Muslims to that of legitimizing them. When Alexander III became tsar in 1881, he started to pursue a policy of the increased administrative prosecution of religious nonconformity, and discrimination against non-Christians (including Muslims), thus increasingly separating Muslims from Russian society.
The Wind of Change New forces entered public life at the beginning of the twentieth century. In Russia, there was a powerful outburst of Muslim nationalism, based on religious reformism, traditionalism, and liberal ideas. During the First Russian Revolution of 1905-1907, there were great changes in the state and in society linked to the creation of the State Duma (parliament), the proclamation of civil freedom, and the possibility to form political parties and alliances, and to relatively independently express political opinion. It was then that the traditional worldview was shaken and the foundation for the secularization of the social conscience was laid.
The Union of Muslims of Russia (
Ittifak-Al-Muslimin) - which was created at the 1905-1906 congresses of Muslim representatives from throughout Russia - became the Muslims' most powerful political organization. The Union survived until 1917 and had branches in the lands along the Volga and in the Crimea, the Urals, the Caucasus, Siberia and Turkestan.
This period saw an increase in the number of Muslim intellectuals searching for their national identity. The Muslims of Russia showed a great interest in the legacy of the past, in their national roots, and in their spiritual, religious, and ethnic traditions. Periodicals widely discussed the understanding of the Muslims’ cultural heritage and of the East-West problem.
During and shortly after the February and October Revolutions of 1917, nationalist movements grew rapidly. Finding themselves with a degree of freedom they had formerly thought impossible, many in Russia - including Muslims - were for the first time able to clearly express their problems and the ways to solve them. After they took power on October 25, 1917, the Bolsheviks started to pursue a national policy that in reality never considered the true interests of the Muslims. Thus, the Muslims' attitude toward the new authority worsened dramatically. From the summer of 1918 onward, most Muslims felt negative toward the Soviet authorities and the communists who restricted their religious freedom.
The Muslim Press Until the first Russian revolution (1905-1907), the problems of Russian Muslims were extremely poorly reported in the Russian press. This is why Muslim public figures time and again tried to obtain permission to publish their own newspapers and magazines. The Buku paper
Kaspij was the first Muslim paper to be printed in Russian (1881). Its publisher was an Azerbaijanian politician, Ali-Mardan Topchibashev. He was the first deputy of the State Duma and one of the Muslim leaders in the Russian Empire. Kaspij was published by Muslim journalists for Russian readers. The revolution led to the appearance of many periodicals, including Muslim ones, of numerous ideological persuasions: from monarchist to socialist, and from patriotic to "pan-Turkist" and "pan-Islamist."
These publications were intended to acquaint the Russian and European public with the problems of the Muslims of the Russian Empire, and represented the interests of various groups within the Muslim community. They published official orders related to the Muslim population, documents, resolutions, appeals made by Muslim congresses, the protocols of sessions of Muslim organizations, materials on the most urgent problems of the Muslim population, reviews, letters from Muslims, etc. The notion was spread in society that the Muslim press, especially in 1909-1912, was thoroughly infected by the "viruses" of pan-Turkism and pan-Islamism. For example, the Parisian magazine
Muslim), which was printed in Russian in 1908-1911, was considered a locus for the distribution of these ideas, as were the St Petersburg publications
V mire musul'manstva (
In the Muslim World) and
Mususul'manskaia gazeta (
Muslim Newspaper). After the collapse of the monarchy in March 1917, many Muslim papers and magazines appeared, including some in Russian. The most precious and the rarest is News of the All-Russian Muslim Council. It was published in Petrograd in the second half of 1917 by the All-Russian Muslim Council, the highest executive body of the country's Muslim population. The Council comprised such well-known and established representatives as Zakhid Shamil, the grandson of Imam Shamil. Zakhid Shamil was a journalist, a member of the editorial board of the Petersburg magazine Book Chronicle, and an officer in the Chief Administration of Press in Petersburg.
A Unique Source Practically all these publications have yet to be thoroughly studied and are practically unknown to foreign researchers. Nevertheless, they are a unique source. They provide familiarity with a very heterogeneous and unknown world that lasted for more than 50 years, namely from 1861 to 1918. Materials published both at the center and on the periphery reflect the picturesque palette of life of Muslims in the Russian Empire, as well as the positions of the public and political figures of different layers of Muslim society. This collection presents works written by and about Muslims. It includes publications that present the point of view of outsiders regarding the Muslim press. Inorodcheskoe Obozrenie (Foreigners' Overview, a supplement to Pravoslavnyj Sobesednik [Orthodox Collocutor]) is a publication about Muslims in Russia. In addition to articles of a missionary character about Muslims, it contains translations and annotations of numerous Muslim books, magazines, and newspapers. The publications made an essential contribution to the process of overcoming the old religious and national estrangement of the Muslim population. In the pages of these editions, for the first time on such a scale, intelligent arguments were presented in support of rejecting national self-isolation, the need to familiarize other peoples with Muslim achievements in the fields of science, culture, industry, and agriculture, and the idea of the mutual understanding between and the cultural rapprochement with all peoples. The discussion was directed at both Western and Russian culture, and showed a significant understanding of the need to become familiar with the achievements of a world civilization. The publications strengthened progressive tendencies by responding forcefully to current political events. The value of this heritage is especially clear now that the historical and spiritual past of Muslims in Russia is being actively reconsidered.