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History of Islam in Russia

Islam and the Golden Horde

The first Mongolian ruler, who embraced Islam, was Berke Khan (in mong. "Falcon"). Indeed, he became the falcon of Islam. He, who was the Temuchzhin’s (Genghis Khan’s) grandson and participated in the numerous campaigns of his grandfather and brothers, including those against Moslems, adopted Islam from Boharzi Sheikh in the city of Bukhara. And he, mighty heir of the throne of one fourth of the Empire which included most of the inhabited world, the grandson of “Conqueror of the Universe“, is said to have waited for three days for an audience at the doors of the Sheikh – a resident of the subdued country! Truly, what patience, what faith he had!
Immediately after adoption of Islam Berke Khan establishes relations with the largest in the middle of the 13th century Muslim State – the Mamluks’ State, which included Egypt, Al-Sham (the historical region of modern Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan), Sudan, Hejaz (the part of modern Saudi Arabia, which includes Mecca and Medina).

After the Mongols took Baghdad, the Mamluks negotiated with the Abbasids and declared the Caliphate. Despite the power of the Caliph being just a formality, it, however, gave the Mamluks’ governing some sacrality and opportunity to disseminate sovereignty to the rest of the Islamic world. Beside the Mamluks’ State, at that time in the world there yet existed Muslim Spain (Al-Andalus), the Seljuk sultanates of Asia Minor and separated emirates of the North Africa.

Who are the Mamluks?

Salah ad-Din al-Ayûbi, having set free most of Al-Sham from the Crusaders and defeating the Ismaelian State of the Fatimids in Egypt, created on this territory an independent state, formally resubmitted under authority of the Abbasid Caliph in the 12th century. His troops mainly consisted of the Mamluks - slaves-warriors, bred specifically for combat. The Mamluks were white and black. If the blacks came from Sudan, the whites represented Russian peoples – Kipchaks and Circassians. Kipchaks were steppe natives and Circassians were all Caucasian mountaineers without distinction as to their origin. What is very important, that all the Mamluks at the time they got into slavery were not Muslims, they adopted Islam while in captivity. This fact played a very significant role in the dissemination of Islam in the West Caucasus, but it was a bit later.

The Mamluks played stupendous role in military operations of Salah ad-Din al-Ayûbi, being the core of his active armed forces, consisted, besides them, of Kurds (his fellow tribesmen), hired Turkmen and Bedouins. Subsequently, when the descendants of Salah ad-Din dropped the banner from their hands, the yesterday's slaves, who became emirs from the Mamluks, picked it up. There came the time of the Mamluk sultans - our compatriots, who, by the will of Allah, arrived as slaves to Egypt, adopted Islam, and became governors of this vast land. The first in chain of the sultans was Kotuz, who ruled for a short period and he was succeeded by Zahir Rukn ad-Din Bejbars (1260-1277).

The Mamluk emirs and sultans left indelible trace in history and culture of Egypt and Syria. Having protected them from the Crusaders and Mongols, they became patrons of sciences and arts. Many of them became scientists - hanafi faqih Argun-naib, Khalil ibn Kikladi al-Alai, also known as «the keeper of the East and West». Carrying literary traditions of their peoples, some of the Mamluks became excellent writers in the Arabic language: al-Ashraf Khalil (son of Kalaun Emir), Emir Bashkerd and many others. For instance, about emir of Damascus Ala ad-Din ibn Abdallah at-Tanbag al-Jawali (died in 1343-44), known as "the most poetical turk”, his contemporary Ibn al-Adim al-Katib wrote: «I’ve always thought that the Turks are distinguished with charming eyes and eyelids. I found divine rhymes, an excellent divan and became assured that all is wonderful in them». Madrasahs “Saragatmyshiya” and “Beibarsiya”, built by the Mamluks, have been shining for ages in Egypt. A lot of historical information of that time we found in the works of Ibn Tagribardi, a historian and Mamluk by origin.

Sarai Berke

As mentioned above, one of the first deeds of Berke Khan, as the Muslim ruller of ulus Juchi, in Russian-speaking tradition called the Golden Horde, was the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Mamluk State, the keeper of the Caliph power. Moreover, he even ordered the armies, fighting on the party of his cousin Hulagu Khan against the Mamluks, to come over to the party of the latter. During the reign of Berke Khan from 1256 to 1266 his state several times exchanged embassies with faraway Egypt. Sarai Berke, the new capital, built by Berke Khan, fast became one of the greatest cities of Europe. As describes the geographer Ibn Batuta, who visited the city in the 14th century, it took for a traveler half a day to go around it. According to archeologists, its population was around 75 to 100 thousand people. Compare: the population of Rome was 35, and Paris - 58 thousand inhabitants. (Right after formation of ulus Juchi, - the fourth part of the empire, given by Temujin to the descendants of Juchi’s sons, - Batu Khan placed its capital in Bulgar - central city of the cultural and developed area of the country. But shortly it was transferred to the Lower Volga, where the city of Sarai Batu had just been built.)

Sarai Berke, or Sarai-al-Jadid, was not only one of the largest cities in Europe of that time. While in Paris, a riding messenger could be bogged down in filth, Sarai Berke had a developed system of water pipes and sewers (it should be noted, that that was a feature of many large Muslim cities of that time). According to Ibn Arabshah, for Berke Khan, Uzbek, Djanibek, and other rulers of the Horde worked such sheikhs as Kutb ad-Din al-Islam al-Razi, Sheikh Saad ad-Din at-Taftazani, Sheikh Jalal ad-Din and other scholars of Hanafi and Shafii schools and Hafiz ad-Din al-Bazzazi, Ahmed al-Hadjandari, and others. Sarai-al-Jadid, being a young city, would first invite scientists from many scientific and cultural centers of the world, and then produce its own staff, who glorified the capital city.

Unfortunately, the legacy of our ancestors is poorly studied – this is the result of systematic destruction of the collections of Muslim books, initiated by “the oprichniks in cassocks” in the time of Ivan the Terrible, continued by their heirs, and so, down to the “commissars in the dusty helmets”. One of the largest collections of books in Turkic is the Cairo one (the great service of the Mamluks), but it is still waiting for being studied.

Just for ten years of reign, Berke Khan achieved the situation when the Muslims stopped to perceive the Mongols as something hostile, at least within the territories of their possession. After his death, khans would succeed each other on the throne of ulus Juchi. Most were Muslims, few were pagans-tengrians or Christians. However, the main thing was reached – ulus Juchi gradually took the image of a Muslim State. Finally, Uzbek Khan, who ruled in 1312-1340, dotted his i’s and crossed his t’s in this matter. He declared Islam as the state religion of Ulus Juchi, which had become a sovereign power by that time. It happened in the city of Narovchat (now the Penza region), the centre of Ulus Juchi. Unfortunately, nowadays in this city, according to the data of the Religious Board of Muslims of the Penza region, there are no Muslims and no functioning mosque any more.

Notable is the fact that of all khans of the Mongolian State, the khan of Ulus Juchi, whose territory mostly located in Russia of nowadays, was the first to embrace Islam. The other Mongol rulers subsequently adopted Islam: ulus Djagatai - in 1378, ulus Tuluy - in 1294-95, although percentage of the Muslim population there was quite higher. Of course, when adopting Islam in those countries, it could not go without annoying curiosities. For example, the ruler of ulus Tuluy, Ilhan's son Ghazan, before adopting Islam, had been fighting against Muslims, Egyptian Mamluks, over a long period. Having adopted Islam, with a new title of "great Sultan, Sultan of Islam and Muslims, the victorious in the world and faith Mahmoud Ghazan", he continued to fight against the Mamluks. Having taken Damascus, he read out his Decree: "We have heard that the rulers of Egypt and Syria are shying away from the path of faith, do not adhere to Islam, breach their obligations, take unholy oath; they have neither fidelity nor duty; when one comes to power, he seeks for lands to bankrupt them, though Allah does not love ruining; religious interests of protecting Islam led us to this country to eliminate such injustice."

About good “harm” of soap

The only ulus, given by the mighty conqueror Temujin (Genghis Khan) to his sons, where the rulers declined Islam, was ulus Ugedei. In the time when the ruler of the latter was the Temujin’s grandson Gadahn (Kadagan), he one day fell ill with a severe skin disease. None of healers could help him, but one, a Buddhist monk, who managed to cure a mysterious illness and the thankful ruler ordered his people to practice Buddhism. The interpreters of this legend, being familiar with Mongolian life and Jasa, the code of Temujin, which strictly prohibited washing, argue that the miraculous cure was just a piece of ordinary soap. Perhaps, this is the first example of using inventions, made by Muslims (in this case soap), against Islam.

The spread of Islam in the land Ugedei was permanently stopped. Some known facts from the history of one of his successors, the Jungar Khanate may illustrate this fact. The one, who killed an animal under the Shariat, must be executed in the same manner. Even individual tribal groups, particularly former Muslims, having come to Jungaria, had to renounce Islam. Among them is the hotan- kipchak genus, which came to Altai from the East Turkistan, and maybe altaian naimans and kipchaks.

The population of the western regions of the Mongol Empire (Juchi, Jagatai and Tuluy), consisted of a large local population, sedentary and nomadic, and comparatively few travelers from Central Asia (hereinafter in this region we are aware of Mongolia and the surrounding areas of modern Russia and China). These comers, the Mongols and Turks in origin, despite their insignificant quantity, would play a very important role: it is them, who were feudal nobility – in modern language, the Generals, the upper officials and the administers. Moreover, the policy of Islamization, which Uzbek Khan led, having proclaimed Islam the religion of his power, was especially focused on them.

What were the results? The Mongolian tribes, settled in ulus Juchi, as we know, were, for example, the Keraits, Kongirats, Katakins, Jalairs, Mangyts and many others. It is worth mentioning the turkic tribe of Naimans, who also came with Temujin. Most of them were tengrians and shamanists or some (Naimans and Keraits) – nestorians. Today the mangyts-shamanists or tengrians don’t exist, neither do they among the Jalairs and Katakins. There are quite few kongirats-buddhists, and many kongirats-muslims among the Kazakhs and Uzbeks, among the Tatars they were a lot, but they were no longer divided by tribes. Among the Naymans there are no nestorians – all are Muslims (the Kazakhs, Bashkirs, Tatars), there left only few Naymans-Pagans in Altai just due to the policy of the Jungars. All mangyts, the Tatars, Nogais, Kazakhs, and Uzbeks were Muslims. (Being an ambitious tribe, they formed a substantial layer of the feudal aristocracy; it gave way to the terms “mangyts” and “the Golden Horde aristocracy” in the Tatar historical tradition; from those mangyts came the dynasty of the Bukhara Emirs.) There is no trace of nestorians in the modern keraits – the Bashkirs, Nogajs, Tartars, - but they gave their names to the great dynasty of the Gireys of the Crimea, who ruled over a vast territory from the boundaries of the Astrakhan Khanates to modern Romania.

Islamization, declared by Uzbek Khan, influenced the indigenous nomads of the ulus – the kypchak and bashkir tribes, which had been long living on this land. Having begun as far back as in the pre-Mongol epoch, it emerged with new strength. It is the 14th century, when Husain-bek, a disciple of sheikh Khoja Ahmad Yasawi spread Islam among the Bashkirs. The tomb of Husain-bek near Ufa over the centuries has been the subject of respect for the man, who brought the light of Islam to many hearts. Though certain muslims among the Bashkirs were mentioned by Ibn Fadlan much earlier, massive adoption of Islam by the Bashkir tribes began in the 14th century and is connected with the name of Uzbek Khan.

Islam in Siberia

In the end of the 14th century, governors of the lands, later called Siberian Khanate, invited 360 naqshbandi sheikhs from Maverannahr (Central Asia) to explain Islam to their subjects. Not everyone in the da`wah of these sheiks was immediately understood, some of them died while explaining Islam to people. The place of their deaths, around the aul of Astana in the South of the Tyumen region; is still revered by people. Part of the sheikhs returned to their homes, and descendants of those who remained there are highly respected by Muslims in Siberia. It is from them originated our great compatriot, Siberian tatar Abdur Rashid Ibrahimov, who would spread Islam in Japan in the early 20th century and built first mosque there. Thus, Islam started to spread over the large areas of modern Sverdlovsk region in the West to Tomsk and the North Kemerovo region in the East, from the edge of the Barrens to the South and further into the boreal forest, to the North.

The lands of Omsk and southern Tyumen were the ethnic core. In addition to the local Turkic population, with the growth of trade exchanges, in the orbit of Islamic civilization, Finno-Ugric peoples – the Khanty and the Mansi were gradually involved. Some authors state that Islam caused divisiveness between Turks, who became Muslims, and Finno-Ugrians, who remained pagans. So how to explain the existence of the Tatar villages in Siberia of the Khanty origin, which retained their life-style and domestic traditions. Some of these villages were formed later, but the foundation was laid back in the 14th century.

One of the traditional occupations of the Siberian Tatars was exchanging traffic with their northern neighbours, right up to the Arctic Ocean, and the eastern ones - to the Yenisei River and farther. In the course of trade contacts, the peoples of taiga and tundra were gradually coming into Islam. Another interesting fact: some traces of influence of the Muslim culture are found in the indigenous people of Taymyr – the Nganasan. Among the Pantheon of their spirits is mentioned "Iblis". There may be other evidences of the Islamic influence, but it requires serious consideration, also even among cultures of other Northern peoples.

Why did Uzbek stop?

Frequently asked question is why Uzbek Khan did not go further and spread Islam among the Slavs and the Finno-Ugrians (the latter made up not less than half the population of the Kazan Khanate, most of the Kasimovski Khanate and, in the opinion of many historians, most of the population of Vladimir- Suzdal Russia, Novgorod region and Ryazan land).

Moreover, under Uzbek Khan and his son Janibek Khan, very active missionaries of Islam in the inner areas of the Horde, the positions of orthodoxy in Russian principalities increased. There might be two reasons:

First - in Uzbek Khan’s opinion the population of his power consisted of two unequal groups – those "at the top”, and all the rest. Cavalry was the reliance of his power, and its position determined the fate of the country. It is not without reason the lands, directly subordinate to Khan (“Takht Ile” – «country of the throne) were lands of nomad tribes. And it was here where imams of da`wah (Da`i), prepared in the madrasahs of Bulgar and Khoresm were directed, and if there was a shortage of them "the foreign ones" would be invited from Maverannahr (ulus Jagatai). Maybe these great khans-warriors, also famous for consolidation of state power, simply ignored, nothing serious, from their point of view, christian and pagan population. However, such an arrogant approach soon produced a very negative result.

Second - maybe Uzbek did intend Islamization of Slavic, Finno-Ugric and others. But he had to strengthen the positions of Islam among the equestrian units – the support of his throne. He even went to repressions against his relatives, having executed 70 chingizids (Genghis Khan’s offsprings), for refusal to adopt Islam. This is why Christianity among the Finno-Ugrians thrived.

If to consider Christianity a transitional stage from Paganism to Islam, the Finno-Ugrians could, possibly, get closer to the adoption of Islam. However, not all the equestrians adopted Islam. One part went to the Slavic lands, protected by the Horde; there they were received and given lands. Another one, which was away from the Islamic culture centres, preferred to stay in steppe. Their ancestors are the Don and Zaporozh Cossacks.

All these facts clearly demonstrate that the Muslim community is the most tolerant one. It is important that the active policy of spreading Islam under the Hord only took place during the reign of Uzbek Khan (1312-1341) and his son Janibek Khan (1342-1357). Subsequently the spread of Islam had a folksy character and was of private nature. However, starting with the Uzbek Khan and until the mid-16th century, the population of the modern Russian Federation had been living in the Muslim country, and it framed the people's minds. Moreover, the Muslim governing spread to the distant provinces and peripheral zones of the Golden Horde.

Source : “Islam” magazine