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Sharīʿa and Cultural Change in Russian Central Asia
Visions of Justice offers an exploration of legal consciousness among the Muslim communities of Central Asia from the end of the eighteenth century through the fall of the Russian Empire. Paolo Sartori surveys how colonialism affected the way in which Muslims formulated their convictions about entitlements and became exposed to different notions of morality. Situating his work within a range of debates about colonialism and law, legal pluralism, and subaltern subjectivity, Sartori puts the study of Central Asia on a broad, conceptually sophisticated, comparative footing. Drawing from a wealth of Arabic, Persian, Turkic and Russian sources, this book provides a thoughtful critique of method and considers some of the contrasting ways in which material from Central Asian archives may most usefully be read.

Publication in Open Access was made possible by a grant from the Volkswagen Foundation.
Editor: Paolo Sartori
Post-Cold War historiography of modern Central Asia has been characterized by a focus on cultural history. Most of this scholarship rests on a set of assumptions about traditional institutions and social practices which merely reflect the bias of Soviet or even Tsarist-era historiography. 'Explorations in the Social History of Modern Central Asia addresses the need for a remedy to this state of affairs and thus offers new insights on a number of subjects relating to the social history of the region. It includes essays dealing with property relations, resource management, forms of local administration, the constitution of new social groups, the construction of identity categories, and an enquiry into the landscape of Islamic practices among the nomads.
In: Eurasian Studies

In this research note I set out to show that the concept of “legitimation,” widely employed as an explanatory device by historians of Islamic Central Asia, is of little help to explain the increase of Islamic institutions in the Khanate of Khiva. I do so by examining an endowment deed notarized after the establishment of the Qutlūgh Murād Ïnāq madrasa in Khiva and by reflecting on the purposes which Qunghrat dynasts wanted to achieve by putting in place a new education system in Khorezm. My contention is that such a system reflects different levels of connectivity within the Khanate of Khiva and around it. More specifically, I consider how the construction of madrasas was integral to Qunghrat governance within Khorezm and how it was connected to the educational economy of wider Muslim communities within the Russian Empire.

In: Eurasian Studies

Abstract

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.

In: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

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: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
In: Die Welt des Islams

Abstract

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).

In: Die Welt des Islams

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.


In: Islamic Law and Society

Abstract

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: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient