The Vision of History and the Author’s Identity in Ataulla Baiazitov’s “Objection” to Ernest Renan

Olga Bessmertnaya


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In relation to Sh. Mardjani’s approaches to Islamic history, described by other scholars (A. Frank, M. Kemper, et al.), the article analyses the interaction of Islamic and progressist (modern European) discourses — the so called cultural bilingualism — in A. Baiazitov’s vision of history. The question of Baiazitov’s authorship is also discussed. A representative of the official Russian metropolis Muslim clergy (the akhun of a Tatar Muslim “parish” in St. Petersburg), Baiazitov was active in publishing books and articles in Russian in the central Russian press to contest the topoi common in the public, scholarly, and missionary visions of Islam and mixed up in the imperial frame of mass Orientalism — in particular, E. Renan’s and his partisans’ notorious ideas of the Islamic alienness to science and progress (Baia- zitov’s “Objection” to Renan, 1883, was especially famous). The article shows that just to notice such views of Islam and consider them necessary to be retorted to, demanded that the author should share the progressist presumptions of history, which underlay those views. Hence the progressist discourse was indeed interiorized and present in Baiazitov’s works (as well as in the essays of his alter ego, Murza Alim, and contrary to Mardjani who ignored those debates). Yet along with the appropriated progres- sist ideas, in particular the imagined backwardness of the ‘Muslim world’, Baiazitov also reproduced the structuring of history characteristic of the Islamic discourse proper, namely, the generalized Islamic reformist scheme that explained the decline of Islam by distortions introduced to the initial Islam by its later alien inheritors (Mongols and Turks); abandoning the errors, Islam would get back to the way of progress. The Islamic discourse also determined Baiazitov’s understanding of science and knowledge and the very methods of argumentation (referring to hadiths, etc.). Revealing Baiazitov’s sources and analyzing his ways of working on them — the works of both European Orientalists and modern Islamic reformists (particularly, the Indian Aligarh movement) and Islamic “classics” — the article exposes Baiazitov’s universalist strive to unite different traditions in the “multilingual” cultural situation to whose challenge he responded. The necessity to “explain” Islam in the space of mass Orientalism, where he addressed and belonged to, demanded a kind of “translatory effort”, yet the “translation” was not all-inclusive. Along with the force of the discursive practices he used, all that engendered the cultural bilingualism in his historical narrative. The accent on the origins of Islam (comparable with Mardjani’s historical vision), i.e. the representation of the history of the ‘Islamic world’ as a whole, reflected Baia- zitov’s own forming identity of a representative of the Islamic community in general. There’s hardly a direct Mardjani’s influence on Baiazitov’s views, yet in some respects they gave analogous responses to the challenge of the imperial modernity, though from quite different discursive spaces.


A. Baiazitov, E. Renan, history, Islam, Islamic discourse, progress, modernity, Muslim- European polemics, mass Orientalism, cultural bilingualism, Russian empire


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