Mere marginalia? Three episodes with ‘Muslim Russian Language’ in the Late Russian Empire

Olga Bessmertnaya


Full Text:



The paper discusses 3 cases of the Russian Empire Muslims’ (Tatars) using the Russian language to speak about themselves and Islam. The cultural processes underlying  ‘Muslim Russian’ turning into a discoursal practice, its aims and expanding functions are analyzed, as well as its links with ‘mass Orientalism’ in the Russian imperial space and the speakers’ quest of the ways to speak about Islam in Russian. The role of choosing Russian in forming the actors’ identity as expert representatives of the imagined Russian Muslim community, while they acted as colonial intermediaries and/or political oppositionists, is shown.  One case is A. Baiazitov and his contemporaries’ polemics with E. Renan and the counter-Muslim (missionary, in particular) journalism in the 1890-s, which, being a response to the unifying (state-nationalist) trends in the imperial context, also shows the emergence of the space of Muslim voices in the Russian public discourse. The second case, i.e. Russian used by Muslim political activists in the times of mass politics, especially, in their private correspondence in the 1910-s, reveals its lingua franca functions in their aspirations to create a super-ethnic all-Russian Muslim community. Differently, the 3d case, which frames the paper, the handwritten notes made for himself by the Muslim reformist (jadid), journalist and oppositionist F. Karimov (Karimi) in the margins of the governmental “Journal of the Special Meeting for Elaboration of Measures to Counteract the Tatar-Muslim Influence in the Volga Region” (1910) presents the interiorization of Russian beyond its pragmatic and public functions, a situation of ‘straight’ individual multilingualism. As Russian, the language of the Russian power, served also to convey the modernist, mainly progressist discourse, the key question raised in the paper is the interaction of Islamic and modernist discourses in the Muslim Russian texts under discussion. In the polemics both with the trends of absolutizing and idealizing the modernity and of marginalizing the modernity questionnaire in the studies of Russian Islam, the notion of ‘cultural bilingualism’ is suggested, which allows depicting a coexistence of the two discourses even in the utterances that may seem purely modernist and lacking any Islamic subtext (e.g. Karimov’s marginalia). The difference in the character of cultural bilingualism between Baiazitov’s and Karimov’s texts is shown, as well as their common connection with the Islamic vision of history, which prevents their definition in pure terms of modernism vs. traditionalism. The paper is partly based on archival sources. The supplement provides fragments of Karimov’s notes, previously unpublished. 



Late Russian Empire; Muslims in Russia, Russian language; mass Orientalism; Islamic discourse; cultural bilingualism; colonial intermediaries; Ataulla Baiazitov; Fatih Karimov (Karimi)


Abashin, S. (2015 a). Soviet Kishlak: Between Colonialism and Modernization. Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie. (in Russian)

Abashin, S. (2015 b). V.P. Nalivkin: «…budet to, chto neizbezhno dolzhno byt'; i to, chto neizbezhno dolzhno byt', uzhe ne mozhet ne byt'…». The crisis of Orientalism in the Russian Empire? In Polveka v Turkestane. V.P.Nalivkin: biografiia, dokumenty trudy (pp. 17–63). Moscow: Mardzhani. (in Russian)

Akhmetgaleeva (Ianbaeva), Ia. S. (1994). Why Ataulla Baiazitov objected to Ernest Renan. Peterburgskoe vostokovedenie, 5, 584-590. (in Russian)

Alekseev, I. (2004). Gathering the Split Ummah: Fundamentalism as a Re-Interpretation of Islamic History. Ab Imperio, 3, 491–516. (in Russian)

Amirkhanov, R. (2001). Zakir Ishan Kamalov and Tatar Education. Gasyrlar Avazy – Ekho vekov, 1–2. (in Russian)

Arapov, D. Iu. (2012). P.A. Stolypin and Islam. Rossiiskaia istoriia, 2, 121–126. (in Russian)

Arsharuni, A.M. & Gabidullin, Kh. (1931). Essays on Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism in Russia. Moskva: Bezbozhnik. (in Russian)

Babadzhanov, B. (2009). The 1898 Andizhan Uprising and the “Muslim Question” in Turkestan (Perspectives of the “Colonizers” and the “Colonized”). Ab Imperio, 2, 155–200. (in Russian)

Baiazitov, A. (1883). Objection to Ernest Renan's speech “Islam and Science”. S.-Petersburg: Suvorin. (in Russian)

Baiazitov, A. (1887). The Attitude of Islam to Science and to the Gentiles. S.-Petersburg: Suvorin. (in Russian)

Baiazitov, A. (1898). Islam and Progress. S.-Petersburg: Suvorin. (in Russian)

Baiazitov, A. (2007). Selected works. Comp. & forward. by Gafurova, A.Sh. Kazan: Milli Kitap. (in Russian)

Bailey, S. C. (2009). A Biography in Motion: Chokan Valikhanov and His Travels in Central Eurasia. Ab Imperio, 1, 165-190.

Batunskii, M.A. (2003). Russia and Islam. Vol. 2. Moskva: Progress–Traditsiia. (in Russian)

Bekkin, R.I. (2016a). A Story of a Friendship: G. Baiazitov and V.S. Solov'ev. Fәnni Tatarstan, 3, 88–107. (in Tatar).

Bekkin, R.I. (2016b). Vasilij Velichko and his project “Ataulla Baiazitov as a Russian Journalist”. Bel'skie prostory, 10, 152–160. (in Russian)

Bessmertnaya, O. (2000). Russian culture in the Muslim Light: Text and Action. In Zhuravskij, A.V. (Eds.). Hristiane i musul'mane: problemy dialoga (pp. 469-530). Moscow: Biblejsko-bogoslovskij in-t. (in Russian)

Bessmertnaïa, O. (2006). Le "panislamisme" existait-il? La controverse entre l’Etat et les réformistes musulmans de Russie (autour de la « Commission spéciale » de 1910). In Luizard, P.-J. (S.l.d.), Le choc colonial et l’islam. Les politiques religieuses des puissances coloniales en terre d’islam (pp. 485-515). Paris : La Découverte. (in French)

Bessmertnaya, O. (2010). ‘Cultural Bilingualism’? The play of meanings in one scandalous article (from the history of Muslim Opposition and Russian Conservatives relations in Late Imperial Russia). In: Rossija i musul'manskij mir: inakovost' kak problema (pp. 197-383). M.: Jazyki slavjanskoj kul'tury. (in Russian)

Bessmertnaya, O. (2012). A «Muslim Azef», or Playing the Other: Metamorphoses of Maghomet-Bek Hadjetlaché. Almost a Novel. Kazus: individual'noe i unikal'noe v istorii. 2007–2009, 209-298. (in Russian)

Bessmertnaya, O.Iu. (2016). Who was M.-B. Hadjetlaché after all, or the Need for Deceit. In Smirnov, I.S., Chalisova, N.Ju., Aleksandrova, N.V. & Rusanov, M.A. (Eds.), Ya evaṃ veda… - Kto tak znaet… Pamjati V.N. Romanova (pp.135-190). Moscow: RGGU. (in Russian)

Beyond Modernism (2016): Rethinking Islam in Russia, Central Asia and Western China (19th-20th Centuries). Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 59 (1–2).

Bikbov, R.F. (2009). Ekaterinburg Muslim Charitable Society. In Islam na Urale. Entsiklopedicheskii slovar' (pp. 111–112). Moscow-N.Novgorod: Medina. (in Russian)

Brooks, J. (1985). When Russia learned to read: Literacy and Popular Literature, 1861-1917. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bustanov, A.K. & Kemper, M. (2012a), (Eds.). Islamic Authority and the Russian Language: Studies on Texts from European Russia, the North Caucasus and West Siberia. Amsterdam: Pegasus.

Bustanov, A.K. & Kemper, M. (2012b). From Mirasism to Euro-Islam: the Translation of Islamic Legal Debates into Tatar Secular Cultural Heritage. In Bustanov & Kemper (2012а) (pp. 29–53).

Campbell, E.I (2015). The Muslim Question and Russian Imperial Governance. Bloomington & Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Campbell, I.W. (2011). Knowledge and Power on the Kazakh Steppe, 1845-1917. A dissertation… for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (History). University of Michigan.

Charter of the Ekaterinburg Muslim Charitable Society (1913). Ekaterinburg. (in Russian)

Chatterjee, P. (1993). The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Crews, R.D. (2006). For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press.

D.U. [Usmanova, D.M.] (2011). Shagiakhmetov Shakhislam (Islam) Shagisultanovich. In Islam v Sankt-Peterburge. Entsiklopedicheskii slovar'. (in Russian)

David-Fox, M. (2016). Russian—Soviet Modernity: None, Shared, Alternative, or Entangled? Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 140 (4). (in Russian)

Debating modernity (2016). Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 140 (4). (in Russian)

De-la-Bart, F. (1912). A literary circle of the 90s (From My Memoirs of Vladimir Soloviev, N.S. Leskov, and Others). Izvestiia obshchestva slavianskoi kul'tury, 2 (1), 8–21.

DeWeese, D. (2016). It was a Dark and Stagnant Night (‘til the Jadids Brought the Light): Clichés, Biases, and False Dichotomies in the Intellectual History of Central Asia. In Beyond Modernism (pp. 37 – 92).

Dudoignon, S. A. (1997). Qu’est-ce que la ‘quadimiya’? Eléments de sociologie du traditionalisme musulman, en Islam de Russie et en Transoxiane. In Dudoignon S. A., Is'haqov D. & Mohammatshin R. (S.l.d.). L’Islam de Russie : Conscience communautaire et autonomie politique chez les Tatars de la Volga et de l’Oural depuis le XVIIIe siècle (pp. 207-225). Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose.

Dudoignon, S. A. (2001). Status, Strategies and Discourses of a Muslim “Clergy” under a Christian Law: Polemics about the Zakât in Late Imperial Russia. In Dudoignon, S.A. & Komatsu, H. (Eds.). Islam in Politics in Russia and Central Asia (Early XVIII to Late XX Centuries) (pp. 43–73). London: Kegan Paul.

Dudoignon, S.A. (1996). Djadidisme, mirasisme, islamisme. In Dudoignon, S. A. & Georgeon, F. (S.l.d.), Le réformisme musulman en Asie centrale : Du première renouveau à la soviétisation, 1788-1937. Cahiers du Monde russe, XXXVII (1-2), 13–40.

Eden, J., Sartori, P. & DeWeese, D. (2016). Moving Beyond Modernism: Rethinking Cultural Change in Muslim Eurasia (19th-20th Centuries). In Beyond Modernism (pp. 1 – 36).

Etkind, A. (2014). Internal Colonization: Russia's Imperial Experience. Russian transl. Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie.

Farkhshatov, M. & Noack, Ch. (2003). Research Trends in Studies on the History of Islam and Muslim Peoples (Bashkirs, Volga & Siberian Tatars)… In Dudoignon, S.A. & Komatsu, H. (Eds.), Research Trends in Modern Central Eurasian Studies (18th – 20th Centuries): A Selective and Critical Bibliography of Works Published between 1985 & 2000. Pt. 1 (pp. 1–47). Tokyo: The Toyo Bunko.

Frank, A. (2001). Muslim Religious Institutions in Imperial Russia: The Islamic World of Novouzensk District and the Kazakh Inner Horde, 1780-1910. Leiden: Brill.

Gafarov, A.A. & Nabiev, R.A. (2011). Problems of religious tolerance in the writings of Muslim modernists in the 2nd half of the 19 – early 20th c. Uchenye zapiski Kazanskogo un-ta, 153 (3). (in Russian)

Gafarov, A.A. & Nabiev, R.A. (2014). Modernist discourse in the works of A. Baiazitov (the 80s–90s of the XIX c.). Uchenye zapiski Kazanskogo un-ta, 156 (3), 85–93. (in Russian)

Gafurova, A.Sh. (2003). Tatar newspaper "Nur" in St. Petersburg and its founder Ataulla Baiazitov. SPb.: Slaviia. (in Russian)

Gardet, L. (1976). Moslem views of time and history. In Cultures and Time (pp. 197-214). Paris: UNESCO.

Gasanly, Dzh (2014). Ali Mardan-bek Topchibashev: Life for the Idea. Moscow: Flinta. (in Russian)

Geraci, R. (2013). Window on the East: National and Imperial Identities in Late Tsarist Russia. Russian translation. Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie.

Gosmanov, M. (2000). (Ed.). Fatyikh Kǝrimi / Fatikh Karimi: Scholarly–Biographical Collection. Kazan': Rukhiiat. (in Russian)

History of Russian Oriental Studies before mid-XIX c. (1990). Moscow: GRVL “Nauka”. (in Russian)

Horkheimer, M. & Adorno, T. (1997). Dialektik der Aufklärung. Philosophische Fragmente. Russian transl. Moscow – SPb.: Medium, Iuventa.

Iamaeva, L.A. (2002). Muslim Liberalism of the Early 20th c. as a Socio-Political Movement: Based on the Materials of the Ufa and Orenburg Provinces. Ufa: "Zhil'em".

Il'minskii, N.I. (1895). Letters of N.I. Il'minsky to the Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod K.P. Pobedonostsev. Kazan': red. "Pravoslavnogo Sobesednika". (in Russian)

Iskhakov, R.R. & Bagautdinova, Kh.Z. (2015). (Eds.). Materials on the history of education and enlightenment of the peoples of the Volga-Ural in the archives of N.I. Ilminsky. Kazan’: Iaz. (in Russian)

Iskhakov, S.M. (2007). The first Russian revolution and the Muslims of the Russian Empire. Moscow: Sotsial'no-politicheskaia mysl'. (in Russian)

Iskhakov, S.M. (2012). (Ed.). Documents and letters from personal archives of А.М. Topchibashi and J. Hajibeyli (1903-1934). Moscow: Sotsial'no-politicheskaia mysl'. (in Russian)

Journal of the Special Meeting for the Elaboration of Measures to Counteract the Tatar-Muslim Influence in the Volga Region (1929). In: From the history of the Tsarist national policy. Krasnyi arkhiv (Moscow), IY , 107-127; V, 61-83. (in Russian)

Keddie, N.R. (1972). Sayyid Jamāl ad-Dīn «al-Afghānī»: A Political Biography. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Kelly, C. (2016). Reply to Michael David-Fox. Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 140 (4). (in Russian)

Kemper, M. (2012). Comparative Conclusion: “Islamic Russian” As A New Sociolect? In Bustanov, A.K. & Kemper, M., 2012a, pp. 403–416.

Kemper, M. (2008). Sufis und Gelehrte in Tatarien und Baschkirien, 1789-1889 : Der islamische Diskurs unter russischer Herrschaft. Russian transl. Kazan': Rossiiskii islamskii universitet.

Khairutdinov, A.G. (2000). The heritage of Musa Jarullah Bigiev. Documents & Materials. Pt.II. Kazan': «Iman». (in Russian).

Khalid, A. (2010). Islam after Communism. Russian transl. Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie. (in Russian)

Khalid, A (1998). The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Khalid, A. (2015). Making Uzbekistan: Nation, Empire, and Revolution in the Early USSR. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Koposov, N.E. (2005). Culture as a Category of Contemporary Thought. In Author. Stop the cats massacre: Social Sciences Criticism (pp. 65–83). Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie(in Russian)

Korepanova, S.A. & Bikbov, R.F. (2009). The Agafurovs. In Islam na Urale. Entsiklopedicheskii slovar' (pp. 24–25). Moscow – N.Novgorod: Medina. (in Russian)

Kozlov, S.S. (2012). Ernest Renan: Philology as an ideology. Moscow: RGGU. (in Russian)

Laurens, H. (1991). A propos de la controverse Renan / Afghani: Islam et protestantisme. In D’un Orient l’autre: Les métamorphoses successives des perceptions et connaissances (vol. II, pp. 221-227). Paris : CNRS.

Layton, S. (2005). Russian Literature and Empire: Conquest of the Caucasus from Pushkin to Tolstoy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lazzerini, E. (1992). Beyond Renewal: The Jadid Response to Pressure for Change in the Modern Age. In Jo-Ann Gross (Ed.). Muslims of Central Asia: Expressions of Identity and Change (pp. 151-166). Durham: Duke University Press.

Lazzerini, E. (2015). Rethinking the Advent of Jadidism. Казанское исламоведение / Kazan Islamic Review, 1, 132–146.

Lipakov, E.V. (2010). Voronets E.N. In Pravoslavnaia entsiklopediia. (in Russian)

Lotman, Iu.M. (1992a). Culture and Explosion. M.: Gnozis –Progress. (in Russian)

Lotman, Iu.M. (1992b). Articles on semiotics and typology of culture. In Idem. Selected articles in 3 volumes. Vol. 1. Talinn: Aleksandra. (in Russian)

Lotman, Iu.M. (2010). Unpredictable mechanisms of culture. Tallinn: Talinn University Press. (in Russian)

Luk'ianov S. M. (1992). Records of the conversations with EE Ukhtomsky. Rossiiskii Arkhiv: Istoriia Otechestva v svidetel'stvakh i dokumentakh XVIII--XX vv., 2–3, 393—402. (in Russian)

Lyotard, J.-F. (2008). Le Postmoderne expliqué aux enfants : Correspondance 1982-1985. Russian translation. Moscow : RGGU. (in Russian)

Lyotard, J.-F. (2015). La Condition postmoderne : rapport sur le savoir. Russian transl. S.Peterburg : Aleteiia. (in Russian)

Maiorova, O. (2010). From the Shadow of Empire: Defining the Russian Nation through Cultural Mythology, 1855–1870. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.

McDonald, T.J. (1996). (Ed.). The Historic Turn in the Human Sciences. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Miropiev, M.A. (1901). On the situation of Russian aliens. SPb.: Sinodal'naia tip.

Morrison, A. (2009). “Applied Orientalism” in British India and Tsarist Turkestan. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 51(3), 619–647.

Mozheiko, M.A. (2003). The decline of metanarrative (or the "decline of great narratives”). In: Noveishii filosofskii slovar'. Minsk: Knizhnyi dom. (in Russian)

Muslim Press in Russia in 1910 (1987). [SPb, 1911]. Oxford: Society for Central Asian Studies: Reprint series, 12. (in Russian)

Noack, Ch. (2001). State Policy and its Impact on the Formation of a Muslim Identity in the Volga-Urals. In Dudoignon, S.A. & Komatsu, H. (Eds.). Islam in Politics in Russia and Central Asia (Early XVIII to Late XX Centuries) (pp. 3–26). London: Kegan Paul.

Ostroumov, N.P. (1883). What is the Quran? Concerning the articles of Messrs. Gasprinsky, Devlet-Kil'deev & Murza Alimov. Tashkent: Tipografiia, arenduemaia F.V. Bazilevskim. (in Russian)

Pozdnev (1884). Bibliographic note: Islam and Science. A Speech Given by E. Renan ...; Objection to Ernest Renan’s speech "Islam and Science" by SPb Muhammadan Ahun, Imam-Jamia Khatib Mudarris A. Bayazitov... Orenburgskie eparkhial'nye vedomosti, 6, 240–246. (in Russian)

Reitblat, A.I. (2009). From Bova to Bal'mont, and other works on the historical sociology of Russian literature. Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie. (in Russian)

Renan, E. (1883). L'Islamisme et la science: conférence faite à la Sorbonne… Russian translation by A. Vedrov. Spb., tip. M.M. Stasiulevicha. (in Russian)

Renan, E. (1888). De la part des peuples sémitiques dans l’histoire de la civilisation : conference… Russian transl. by P. Petrov. Moscow: V.N. Markuev. (in French)

Said, E.W. (1978). Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. New York:Vintage books.

Salikhov, R. (2010). "Islam as a religious teaching does not deserve a reproach in despotism or intolerance…». Gasyrlar avazy / Ekho vekov, 3/4. (in Russian)

Salikhov, R.R. (2001). Tatar bourgeoisie of Kazan and national reforms of the 2nd half of the 19th – early 20 c. Kazan': Master Lain. (in Russian)

Shangaraev, R.R. (2014). Gataulla Bayazitov as a representative of Muslim modernism in Russia. Kazanskaia nauka, 12, 42–45.

Shangaraev, R.R. (2015). Unity of tradition and renewal in the views of the St. Petersburg akhund Gataulla Bayazitov. Islam v sovremennom mire, 11 (4).

Sharaf (Karimova), Z.G. (2000). Fatikh Karimi. In Gosmanov (2000, 135-156).

Smirnov, M. (1995). A. Baiazitov’s letter to Vl. Solov'ev. Logos: Dialog Vostok – Zapad (Brussels - Munich - Moscow), 50, 356–357. (in Russian)

Steinberg, M.D. On the Concept of Modernity. Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 140 (4). (in Russian)

Tolz, V. (2005). Orientalism, Nationalism, and Ethnic Diversity in Late Imperial Russia. The Historical Journal, 48 (1), 127-150.

Usmanova, D. (2014). The Art of Public Speech in the Revolutionary Legislative Assembly: Rhetorical Portrait of the First and Second State Dumas (1906−07). Ab Imperio, 1, 127–156. (in Russian)

Usmanova, D.M. (1999). The Muslim faction and the problems of "freedom of conscience" in the State Duma of Russia (1906-1917). Kazan': Master Lain. (in Russian)

Uspenskii, B.A. (1994). The language situation and linguistic consciousness in Moscow Rus: the perception of Church Slavonic and Russian. In Author. Selected Works. Vol. II: Language & Culture (pp. 26-48). Moscow: Gnozis. (in Russian)

Validov, J. (1986). Outline of the history of education and literature of the Tatars (before the revolution of 1917). [M.–Pg., 1923]. Oxford: Society for Central Asian Studies: Reprint series. (in Russian)

Vorob'eva (Campbell), E.I. (1999). The Muslim Question in the Imperial Policy of the Russian Autocracy: 2nd half of 19th c. – 1917. A dissertation…: Institute of Russian History, RAN, St. Petersburg Branch. (in Russian)

Zaitsev, I. (2014). New documents about Ismail Gasprinsky. Gasyrlar avazy / Ekho vekov, 3/4. (in Russian)