The Muslim Clergy in Service to the State
The earliest attempts to count the population of the Transcaucasian Krai were local in nature and recorded the number of inhabitants only of the towns and communities to which the system of military and administrative governance applied. This information usually did not reach the central agency – the Ministry of the Police. Until the 1820s, statistical record-keeping was not among the range of duties of the military-administrative government; it was related to reconnoitering surveys and was intended not only for the collection of digital material but also for the economic-geographic study of those lands. With the completion of the annexation of the principal Transcaucasian territories by the Russian Empire as a result of the Russo-Turkish (1827-1829) and Russo-Iranian (1826-1828) wars, the task of a comprehensive study of the region, which was supposed to result in future policy-making by the imperial authorities, became an urgent one.
Keeping records of the number of Muslims in Transcaucasia was under the purview of an institution of the Caucasus administration until 1872. The statistical data that existed before that time was not especially precise. The reasons for this were related both to the costs of the period of development of the field of statistics in Russia and to the complex political and military situation in the region. It was not until the Transcaucasian religious boards opened in 1873 that mosque- and parish-based record-keeping of the Muslim population was introduced and it became systematic in nature. The mosque clergy was required to keep civil registers, in which the numbers of births, deaths, marriages and divorces were recorded, and to deliver all this information to the gubernia majlises, and from there to the religious boards. The latter, in turn, prepared annual reports that contained, in addition to the progress of current matters, records of the number of parishes, mosques and clergymen, as well as information on the total number of Muslim inhabitants of both genders in the Transcaucasian gubernias. The annual reports were delivered to the Main Administration of the Office of the Caucasus Viceroy.
The number of Islamic clerics and their legal status from the very outset were matters of close attention and discussion by the Caucasus administration. With the annexation of the Transcaucasian khanates, the tsarist authorities encountered a phenomenon new to them: the large numbers in that class and their traditionally privileged status. The Committee for Governance of the Muslim Provinces, formed by Count I. F. Paskevich-Erivansky in 1828, engaged, among other things, in collecting information about the rights of the upper Muslim class and classifying it.
Officials of the tsarist administration in the Caucasus found the following categories of clerics in the Muslim provinces of the Transcaucasian Krai: the higher one consisted of mujtahid (for the Shiites); kadis; akhunds (for the Shiites) and effendi (for the Sunnis), who conducted services; and sayyids; the lower one comprised mullahs and dervishes. Right up until the final determination of their status, the tsarist government allowed the top-level Muslim clergy to retain the former privileges. In particular, they were exempted from taxes and obligations, and some of them were large-scale landowners. The sayyids, however, did not receive such benefits, which was a reason for their complaints and dissatisfaction. Only in the mid-1850s did the government grant them the general rights of clerics, but only if they performed the relevant duties.
The top priority for tsarist authorities was to create a well-structured and understandable Muslim religious hierarchy. This required reducing the number of clerics, making religious positions no longer hereditary and forming a Muslim religious elite loyal to the empire out of the remaining legalized part. In 1823 the title of Sheikh ul-Islam of the Caucasus was established, and in 1832, the title of Mufti of the Caucasus. In the draft Statutes officially approved in 1872, clerics were divided into a lower “parish clergy” and a higher one. Both categories had a number of privileges. Sheiks and dervishes, especially the leaders and Murid members of Sufi orders, remained outside the circle of religious officials. And of course, under no circumstances were members of foreign clergy allowed to participate in the religious life of Transcaucasian Muslims.