This essay addresses the hypothesis of an autochthonous Islamic enlightenment in the 18th century that Reinhard Schulze brought up in the 1990s. Kemper, back then Schulze’s student, discusses the motivations behind the thesis and its appeal, how Schulze implemented his vision in the classroom, and the responses Schulze obtained from the scholarly community. In the latter part Kemper introduces a similar quest for Muslim enlightenment that unfolded in the late Soviet Union, when the works of nineteenth-century Tatar Islamic scholars about ijtihād and taqlīd were taken as the basis for the construction of an autochthonous Tatar enlightenment, and of a self-emancipation from Islam that paved the Tatars’ way to Socialism.
The Tatar religious scholar Rizaeddin Fakhreddinov (1859-1936) is well-known as a Jadīd publicist and historian, but his time as qāḍī and muftī of Soviet Russia (1918-36) is still unexplored. Muftī Fakhreddinov witnessed the Bolsheviks’ gradual elimination of all Islamic community life. In 1935 he considered saving his personal archive from destruction by transferring it to the Institute of Oriental Studies in Leningrad, the director of which, Turkologist Aleksandr N. Samoilovich (1880-1938), enjoyed his trust. But Fakhreddinov passed away in 1936, and in 1937 the NKVD constructed a group case against Muslim historians and philologists into which Samoilovich and Fakhreddinov’s sons were also drawn. After Stalin’s death in 1953, the “rehabilitation” of these victims of state terror was slow and selective, and scholarship on Islam in Russia was severely crippled. Only the late 1980s and the 1990s brought a window of opportunity for revisiting the Bolsheviks’ destruction of the secular and Islamic elites.