Reform: Muslim Communities of the Russian Empire

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Jadidism was an intellectual current among the Muslims of the Russian empire that emerged in the 1880s, and it remained active into the first decade of Soviet rule. Although Jadidism is commonly defined as a manifestation of Islamic reformism, it would be more correct to label it as a form of Islamic modernism.The word "Jadidism" is derived from the term usul-e jadid, signifying "new method," and initially first came to prominence as an educational reform movement. However, during and after the 1905 revolution the movement became increasingly politicized, and its adherents, known as jadids, began to articulate a political agenda increasingly and variously influenced by pan-Turkic, pan-Islamic, and nationalist ideas. At the same time, as actors in the political life of Russia as a whole, the jadids were not politically unified and were to be found among several of the empire's radical, liberal, and even conservative political parties. Following the Russian Revolution (1917), jadids were active in the various factions engaged in the Russian Civil War, notably among the various Muslim nationalist movements, within the Socialist Revolutionary Party, and among the Bolsheviks. Following the Bolshevik victory, jadids became increasingly politically marginalized, as their vision of secularized Muslim communities, and their ability to effect political change, were rapidly eclipsed by revolutionary social change and secularization that became the hallmark of Soviet rule. Furthermore, their association with nationalism, pan-Turkic, and pan-Islamic ideas resulted in the complete purging of active jadids from political and even social life during the rule of Stalin, which ended the jadidist movement in Russia.

The ideological founder of jadidism is usually identified as Isma˓il Bey Gasprinskii (1851–1914), a Crimean Tatar from the town of Bakhchesaray in the Crimea. Having studied and lived in Paris and Istanbul in the 1870s, where he came under the influence of French liberals, the Young Turks, and the pan-Islamist ideas of al-Afghani, Gasprinskii returned to the Crimea, where in 1883 he founded the newspaper Tarjuman (The interpreter). Until the 1905 revolution, this publication was the sole Turkic-language newspaper in the Russian empire, and a major platform for disseminating Gasprinskii's jadidist ideas. An avowed monarchist, Gasprinskii sought to unify the Turkic peoples of Russia (who constituted the vast majority of Russia's Muslim population) and facilitate their integration into the economic and civic life of imperial Russian society. To this end, Gasprinskii championed the creation of a common Turkic literary language and, most significantly, sought to reform Muslim education to make it conform more to Western models. Gasprinskii especially championed the teaching of Russian language, arithmetic, geography, and the sciences. In addition, he is credited with introducing a phonetic system of reading for pupils to learn to read faster. Gasprinskii opened the first jadidist school in Bakhchesaray in 1884.

As an educational reform movement, jadidism grew steadily from the 1880s to 1917. It was received most enthusiastically among the Tatars and Bashkirs of Russia's Volga-Ural region. The urban elites of these Muslim communities were relatively well integrated into Russian economic life, and it was precisely the Tatar urban bourgeoisie who were the most active backers of jadidist educational institutions. While jadidist schools could be found throughout the Russian Empire's Muslim regions, it was mainly brought to outlying regions by Tatar colonists. Yet jadidist schools were viewed with suspicion among traditional Muslim elites, particularly in Central Asia and Kazakhstan, but even in the Volga-Ural region as well.

Jadids, including numerous graduates of jadid madrasas, had a substantial impact on the growth of nationalist, pan-Turkic, and pan-Islamic political activity following the 1905 revolution, especially in the emergence of Muslim nationalism. At the same time, jadids also came into conflict with conservative and traditionalist elements within their own societies. This conflict between the jadids and the traditionalists is often depicted as simply a conflict between "reaction and reform," but in fact was in large measure a political struggle mirroring the conflict in Russia between political conservatives and increasingly radical proponents of social and political change within the Russian Empire. In the Volga-Ural region, this conflict was characterized by a politicization of the religious debate between jadids and conservatives; in Central Asia, where local adherents of jadidism were far fewer, it was even more restrictive than in Russia proper. Both native rulers and Russian administrators were openly hostile to jadidist activity.

During the period from 1905 to 1917 the jadidist movement remained ideologically heterogeneous, although many jadids became increasingly secular and radicalized, as the Russian Empire drifted toward revolution. At this time, especially after 1910, many jadids began making an ideological shift from Muslim nationalism to local nationalisms. This process was most evident in the Volga-Ural region, Azerbaijan, and to a lesser extent among the Kazakhs. With the outbreak of civil war following the 1917 revolution, jadids played important political roles in Muslim nationalist movements, particularly in Azerbaijan, in the short-lived Idel-Ural Republic in the Volga-Ural region, and in the Qoqand Autonomy in Turkestan. Other more radical jadids, who rejected nationalism in favor of class struggle, joined the Communist Party or allied themselves with the Bolsheviks. In Central Asia, Bolsheviks briefly installed local jadids as the rulers of the short-lived People's Republics of Bukhara and Khorezm.

The historical legacy of jadidism remains debated both in the West and in the former Soviet Union. As Muslims, the jadids were certainly the first members of imperial Russia's Muslim societies to coherently articulate a vision of secularized Muslim community integrated within the Russian Empire and, by extension, into European society. Indeed they sought to harmonize, and actually alter, Islamic culture to function within a European framework. In fact, the transition from pan-Islamic or pan-Turkic jadidism to jadidist-inspired Muslim nationalism, and even ethnic nationalism, was a relatively seamless one. Some modern Tatar nationalists, for instance, depict jadidism as a manifestation of Tatar national identity, and national genius. However, other scholars, especially those who have examined jadidism within the context of Islamic intellectual and cultural history as a whole, have depicted jadidism as a rather marginal movement within Islamic society, especially in comparison to existing traditional institutions and ideas, not only in Central Asia, but in the Volga-Ural region as well.

See alsoGasprinskii, Isma˓il Bay ; Reform: Arab Middle East and North Africa ; Reform: Iran ; Reform: South Asia .


Frank, Allen J. Muslim Religious Institutions in Imperial Russia: The Islamic World of Novouzensk District and the Kazakh Inner Horde, 1780–1910. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2001.

Khalid, Adeeb. The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1998.

Allen J. Frank

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Reform: Muslim Communities of the Russian Empire

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