The Islamic Tradition: from Inspiration to Censorship

Documents 35 36 37 38 39

According to the materials from the archival sources, the Transcaucasian Muslim boards (Shia and Sunni) were an instrument of oversight and monitoring of “unreliable” clerics, including those who maintained ties with religious centers in Iran and the Ottoman Empire. For example, the 1872 Statutes on the governance of the Transcaucasian Muslim clergy specifically stressed that Muslim clerics shall be subordinate only to the Russian authorities and were prohibited, without special permission, from consulting foreign religious authorities for any directions or clarifications. If harmful interpretations and teachings not tolerated by the government or disloyal disclosures between Muslims are discovered, it shall be incumbent on every cleric to spurn them with rebukes and admonitions and to report thereon to the local authorities” (Nos. 9 10). The reference in this case was to the ideas of Muridism that had proliferated among the Muslims of the Baku and Tiflis gubernias in the 1870s and 1880s.

The Muftis and Sheikh ul-Islams delivered sermons and instructions to believers during inspection tours of the krai that were part of their official duties. The “homilies” were composed in Azerbaidzhan Turkic in Arabic script, the official language of record-keeping and schools of Muslims in Transcaucasia, and translated into Russian. Prayers were read in Arabic.

The topics of the instructions were not only the affirmation of religious and moral principles and prayer for the tsar and members of the ruling family but also the events that were worrying the tsarist authorities in the Caucasus. For example, the propagation in the 1870s and 1880s of the ideology of Muridism made it urgently imperative to explain how such practices did not conform with Islamic norms. In this connection, during his tour of the Transcaucasian Krai in 1873 the Transcaucasian Mufti Haji, Hamid Efendi Mustafa Efendi Zadeh, included in the concluding part of his sermon excerpts from religious books by Sunni Muslims who condemned Sufi practices and refuted, in their view, Muridism (No. 36).

The most extensive of the sermons presented below is the “Homily” by the Transcaucasian Mufti and the chairman of the Transcaucasian Sunni Muslim Religious Board, Husein Effendi Gaibov (No. 37), which he delivered to parishioners during an 1892 inspection tour. It was composed according to the traditional canons of khutba (preaching) and contains all of the necessary components: a salutation to the attendees, giving praise to Allah, blessings of the Prophet Muhammad, a reading of excerpts from the Quran, a prayer for believers and instruction of them in piety. The selection of prayers and Quranic quotations and exhortations was determined by the task of the “Homily” itself, which was intended to motivate the Muslim populace of the Transcaucasian Krai to be loyal and devoted to the tsarist authorities. The political importance of the khutba was also related to the part where the prayer for believers is said, which was supposed to mention the name of the current ruler, who had at that time was the Russian Emperor Alexander III, and members of the ruling family.

A year later, in 1893, the texts of the “Homily” and the prayer of thanksgiving were translated in Arabic, mimeographed and distributed among the mountain-dwelling people of Kuban and Terek oblasts.