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The term jadidism is used to describe a late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century project to modernize Turkic Islamic cultures within or indirectly influenced by the Russian Empire. Emerging between the 1840s and 1870s among a small number of intellectuals as a fragmented but spirited call for educational reform and wider dissemination of practical knowledge by means of the modern press, jadidism became by the early twentieth century a socially totalizing movement that was epistemologically rationalist and ultimately revolutionary in its expectations and consequences.

The successes of European and Russian advances into all of the historic centers of world civilization, beginning with the Portuguese explorations of the fifteenth century and lasting through the final stage of the Russian conquest of Central Asia in the 1880s, instigated reactions abroad that ranged from indifference to multiple forms of resistance and accommodation.

In those regions with historically deep literate cultures (China, India, and the Islamic lands from Andalusia to Central Eurasia and beyond), interaction with the West encouraged some intellectuals to question the efficacy for the unfolding modern age of arguably timeless cultural canons, centuries of commentaries, and classical forms of education, as well as political, economic, and social norms and practices. They concluded that modernity, as defined by what Europeans were capable of accomplishing and how they made their lives, was a goal toward which all peoples had to strive, and that its pursuit required reform of indigenous cultures, if not their abandonment, with at least a degree of imitation of Western ways.

Within the Turkic communities of the Russian Empire, beginning with groups inhabiting the Volga-Ural region, Crimea, the Caucasus, and the Kazakh Steppe, the lures of modernity stimulated such reformist sentiments. The early advocates, all Russophiles, included Mirza Muhammad Ali Kazem Beg (18021870), Abbas Quli Aga Bakikhanli (17941847), Mirza Fath-Ali Akhundzade (18121878), Hasan Bey Melikov Zardobi (18371907), Qokan Valikhanov (18351865), Ibrai Altynsarin (18411889), Abdul Qayyum al-Nasyri (18241904), and Ismail Bey Gaspirali (18511914). These men, for the most part isolated from one another temporally and geographically, articulated critiques of the Islamic tradition that held intellectual and institutional sway over their separate societies. This critique did not decry Islamic ethics, nor did it deny historic achievements wherever Islam had taken root. Rather, it approached Islam from a rationalist perspective that reflected the influence of Western intellectual tendencies, through a Russian prism, emanating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This perspective viewed religion as socially constructed and not divinely ordained, as one more aspect of human experience that could and should be subjected to scientific inquiry and reexamination, and as a private, personal matter rather than a public one. For these men, who represent the first jadidists, the properly functioning, productive, competitive, and modern society was secular, guided but not trumped at every turn by religion.

The popular appeal of jadidism remained limited and diffused prior to the turn of the twentieth century. Projects for educational reform and publishing ventures were either short-lived or unfulfilled. The persistence of Ismail Bey Gaspirali in both areas proved a turning point, with his new-method schools (the first opened in 1884) establishing a model and his newspaper Perevodchik/Tercuman (The Interpreter, 1883-1918) becoming the first Turkic-language periodical in the Russian Empire to survive more than two years. These successes and the effects of social, economic, and political turmoil, which gained momentum across the empire between 1901 and 1907, helped expand the social base and influence of jadidism, leading to a proliferation of publications, regional and imperial-wide gatherings, and involvement in the newly created State Duma.

For a brief period, jadidism seemed to have come of age, but its apparent triumph disguised underlying confusion over its long-term goals and meaning. First, growing participation in the movement by Islamic clerics, some remarkably educated and attuned to early-twentieth-century realities, seemed fortuitous, but their attempts to reconcile Islam with the modern age, to draw analogies with the Christian Reformation and raise the specter of Martin Luther, and to persist in the goal of keeping Islam at the center of society ran against the fundamentally secular spirit of jadidism. Second, the jadidist founding fathers had accepted, for practical reasons if not genuine sympathy, Russian political authority and the need for close cooperation with the dominant Russian population. After 1905, such political accommodation seemed less persuasive to a new generation enervated by the patent weaknesses of the monarchy and the equally visible power of the people to influence imperial affairs. Finally, jadidism always spoke to a universal way of life that transcended the limitations of any particular religion, intellectual tradition, culture, or time. In post-1905 Russia, the appeal of local and regional ethnic identities overwhelmed this universalism and its moderating spirit, replacing it with romantic notions of primordial ethnicity, nationalism, and the nation-state. Against such forces, jadidism, as conceived by its putative founders, proved inadequate; by 1917, it had all but disappeared from the public discourse of Central Eurasia.

See also: central asia; islam


Jersild, Austin. (1999). "Rethinking from Zardob: Hasan Melikov Zardabi and the 'Native' Intelligentsia." Nationalities Papers 27:503517.

Khalid, Adeeb. (1998). The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lazzerini, Edward J. (1992). "Beyond Renewal: The Jadid Response to Pressure for Change in the Modern Age." In Muslims in Central Asia: Expressions of Identity and Change, ed. Jo Ann Gross. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Edward J. Lazzerini