The Culmination of Half a Century of Work: The Creation of Muslim Religious Boards

Documents 9 10

In 1864 a special commission, chaired by the deputy director of the administrative department, state councilor F. Ye. Bulatov, was formed in Tiflis under the Council of the Viceroy’s Main Administration. The commission was assigned the same task that its predecessors had been unable to manage – to draft Statutes on the governance of the Transcaucasian Muslim clergy and submit it by 1 June of that year. The source material consisted of the 1849 “Draft Statute on the Muslim Clergy of the Teachings of Ali” prepared by N. V. Khanykov, as well as the critical comments about it received from the ministers of internal affairs and justice and from the high commissioner of Department 2 of His Imperial Majesty’s office; the “Regulations” approved in 1863 for the Mufti and the Sheikh ul-Islam (No. 3) and the legal statutes on governance of the Muslim clergy that were already in effect in various parts of the Russian Empire. While working on the draft, officials were supposed to: 1. form a hierarchy of clerics and outline their range of duties and rights; 2. harmonize the relationships of clerics with one another, with gubernia authorities and with the top Caucasus leadership; 3. establish a procedure for appointment to religious positions and eliminate the tradition of inheriting certain of them; 4. shield believers from the influence of foreign religious authorities and “unrecognized religious teachings”; 5. approve the positions that could receive support from the state or from other sources. In addition to the foregoing, the commission was to: 1. find ways to improve the work of religious schools and to oversee them; 2. prescribe measures to prevent abuses by clerics; 3. define the makeup and range of powers and authority of religious boards; 4. describe the terms and conditions for obtaining various religious degrees, including prescribing the required scope of knowledge; 5. search for opportunities and funding for opening local higher religious educational institutions for the training of religious leaders of all levels.[i]

Despite the efforts that were made and the collection of the necessary statistical material, the commission was unable to complete work on the draft by the agreed deadline. There was a repetition of the situation of 1828, when officials worked on this statute that was so important for the state in spurts during their time off from their regular jobs.

The commission determined that its interim version did not fulfill the requirements and tasks, and continued to work on the text. The completed draft Statute on governance of the Muslim clergy was discussed in January 1869 at a meeting of the Council of the Main Administration with the participation of governors and oblast chiefs who were in Tiflis and officials of various departments. The basic idea of the comments that were presented boiled down to the following: “governance of the Muhammadan clergy must be established in a way that, while satisfying the necessity of organizing that class, it avoids, if possible, an excessive increase in the number of persons with religious titles, a strengthening of the clergy’s influence on the populace and its unification more than heretofore into a single corporation that is bound in a single central hub.”[ii] After the necessary amendments were made, the texts of the Statutes were discussed in the Caucasus viceroy’s Council with the participation of gubernia chiefs, the chief of the Caucasus Mountain Administration. After final editing by active state councilor M. K. Lomize, a member of the Council of the Main Administration, the Caucasus viceroy, Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolaevich, sent the approved texts on 15 January 1869 to the chairman of the Caucasus Committee. From there they were sent for an opinion to the ministries of justice, finance and internal affairs, and to Department 2 of His Imperial Majesty’s office. And only after an examination of the draft laws in the combined departments and of government savings at a general meeting of the State Council were they submitted for approval to the emperor.

On 5 April 1872 Emperor Alexander II approved the “Statute on Governance of the Transcaucasian Sunni Muslim Clergy” and the “Statute on Governance of the Transcaucasian Shia Muslim Clergy.” They were published in two languages: Russian and Azerbaidzhani Turkic in Arabic script. On 2 January 1873 the Transcaucasian Shia Muslim Religious Board and the Transcaucasian Sunni Muslim Religious Board formally opened in Tiflis. Their jurisdiction applied to the Muslims of the Baku, Yelisavetpol, Tiflis and Erivan gubernias. All the other territories of Transcaucasia and the North Caucasus (Kuban, Terek and Dagestan oblasts, Zakatala Okrug and Sukhumi Otdel) that did not have Russian national civil administration were outside the jurisdiction of these religious boards. Nevertheless, the archival documents show that, based on special directives or with the permission of the High Commissioner for the Civilian Population in the Caucasus, the Transcaucasian Sunni Muslim Religious Board could review cases received from areas that were not under its jurisdiction.[iii]

The texts of the Statutes with regulations represent an official, functioning publication. I discovered it in the collection of the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia.

[i] TsIAG, f. 7, op. 1, d. 2231, ll. 4ob-5.

[ii] Zapiska o peresmotre polozheniia 5-go aprelia 1872 ob upravlenii Zakavkazskogo musul’manskogo dukhovenstva. Tiflis, 1896, p. 4.

[iii] TsIAG, f. 12, op. 7, d. 929, l. 13.

The Culmination of Half a Century of Work: The Creation of Muslim Religious Boards