The state's attitude towards sharī'a in Soviet Turkestan may seem to have been contradictory. There was a first phase, in the years 1919-1923, when attempts were made to harmonize Islamic law with Soviet legislation in order to better integrate sharī'a courts into the system of the Unified People's Courts. The second phase, starting in 1924, was marked by progressive erosion of the powers of the Islamic judiciary, until it was finally disbanded in 1928. These policy changes are usually explained in the light of a transitional period when the Soviet state in Central Asia accepted compromises as a way to consolidate its hold in the region while it waited for a suitable moment to do away with Islamic institutions. Conversely, the thesis of this paper is that the policy of integration of sharī'a courts into the Soviet legal system was abandoned in 1923 when it was perceived that it would ultimately be unsuccessful. The failure of this venture can be explained by looking at the approach the Soviet government adopted: it attempted to oversee the local judicial orders but the regulations issued were so loose in content as to prove practically ineffective. Soviet legislative bodies sought to define the scope of the shar'ī judiciary within the overall framework of state law, without realizing that qādīs had a range of legal instruments that enabled them to avoid applying Soviet legislation. Accordingly, the main goal of this study is to address the failure of the Soviet policy on sharī'a courts from two points of view: a) by reconstructing the administrative history behind the state decrees which made qādī courts official and regulated their scope; b) by showing how one qādī evaded the prohibition against hearing lawsuits on landholding by resolving disputes on the basis of amicable settlements (sulh).
The dominant narrative about Jadidism presents three interpretive problems that complicate the historian’s task to situate cultural change in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Central Asia within a broader and more accurate reading of the history of the region. My argument is that Jadidism represents the last stage in the evolution of a milieu of Bukharan scholars who were concerned with the forms of governance adopted by the Manghit rulers, which constrained the powers of the ʿulamāʾ. I suggest that Jadidism has a historical meaning but one that differs from what historians have so far conferred upon it. One should retain Jadidism as a historiographical category only if one eliminates a narrative that constructs an artificial opposition between technology and theology and presents cultural change in modern Central Asia as a by-product solely of the encounter with the West.
In colonial Central Asia qādīs played a key role in establishing customary legal practices. In adjudicating claims of horse theft, qādīs operating in the Tashkent province under Russian rule had recourse to customary rules of evidence known in the local Kazakh communities. If a qādī ascertained that an animal was not stolen, but had been acquired from a third party by a bone fide purchaser, he routinely used a probative procedure unknown of in the Central Asian judicial manuals of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Based on an examination of sharī'a court registers from the Tashkent province, Bukharan shurūt works and unpublished archival material, I argue that the establishment of Russian rule in the region and the introduction of triennial elections for choosing judges made it necessary for each qādī to meet the demands of the community that had elected him, thereby encouraging him to confer shar'ī legitimacy on local legal practices.
When studying Muslim-majority regions of the Russian empire, one sees substantial variations in the relations between the imperial state and Islam. These variations may be less reflective of changes in imperial policies designed to administer Islam than a function of the material we choose to study relations between the empire and its Muslim communities and, especially, of the assumptions that we bring to the study of such relations. Over the last decade, the historiography relating to Muslim communities living under Russian rule has shifted between two major interpretations. In this introduction I show that attention to Islamic juristic literature allows us to understand that such interpretations are not without problems and helps us to complicate the dominant narratives about Muslim culture in the Russian Empire.
While in the Ottoman Empire reconciling disputing parties in sharīʿa courts occurred without the direct involvement of state officials, in modern Central Asia functionaries appointed by the ruler’s chancellery acted as mediators and mediation procedures were consistent with the state’s intervention in the resolution of a conflict. This ended with Russian colonization. Conflict resolution was left to the sharīʿa courts; mediation continued to be important but state appointees were no longer officially involved in bringing it about. The Russian colonial and Soviet administrations made the community responsible for seeking amicable settlements. Only afterwards did they realize how easy this made it for local groups to circumvent the state’s supervision.
In this essay I reconstruct a conflict over the legitimacy of a waqf established in Tashkent in 1881. The litigation involved a qāḍī and the heirs of the founder of the endowment; Russian colonial authorities investigated the case. Looking, as they were, for an instance of qāḍī malpractice, the Russians sought recourse to legal concepts borrowed from sharīʿa and fabricated evidence as they saw fit. I draw on the idea of legal pluralism in order to highlight how, in Russian Central Asia, legal praxis inevitably embraced diverse conceptions of legality. I also show how locals were able to maneuver government officials into using procedures from various legal traditions and thus produce a legal hybrid.
Le présent article s’attache à reconstituer un contentieux touchant la légitimité d’un waqf établi à Tashkent en 1881. Le litige opposait un qāḍī aux héritiers du fondateur de la dotation; les autorités coloniales russes étaient en charge de l’enquête. Prompts à mettre en cause les qāḍī pour malversations à la moindre occasion, les Russes n’hésitaient pas à recourir à des notions juridiques empruntées à la sharīʿa, voire à forger des preuves au besoin. Mon analyse de cette affaire s’appuie sur la notion de pluralisme juridique, qui permet de mettre en évidence la coexistence, dans la justice telle qu’elle se pratiquait en Asie Centrale sous domination russe, de conceptions hétérogènes de la légalité. Cette étude révèle aussi le rôle des populations locales, et leur capacité à induire les fonctionnaires d’état à mettre en œuvre des procédures émanant de traditions différentes, au point de produire de véritables hybrides juridiques.
While students of imperial and colonial history began long ago to investigate the culture of documentation that informed the production, disposition and concealment of texts in archives, little has been done to understand how chancery practices and record-keeping activities in the modern Perso-Islamicate world relate to forms of governance. Material coming from the Khivan archives lends itself to provide for a corrective to this situation. By examining reports penned by leaders of mosque communities and reflecting on local archival practices, I address in this paper the following questions: Why did the Qongrats create and run an archive? What were the goals that the Qongrats wanted to achieve by developing and sustaining a project of documentation? I think these are pressing questions for anyone who sets out to make sense of trends of textualization in nineteenth-century Central Asia (and beyond) without succumbing to the somewhat facile narrative of modernization.