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Regular version of the site

Article

The paradoxes of a localised Islamic orthodoxy: Rethinking Tatar traditional Islam in Russia

Ethnicities. 2019. Vol. 19. No. 2. P. 311-334.

The question of the process of developing national or local forms of Islam is often approached through the lens of the domestication of Islam and by emphasising the role of the state or Muslim officials close to the state in this process. In my analysis of the process, undertaken by certain Tatar Muslim representatives in Russia, of developing what I call a localised Islamic orthodoxy, I aim to study shifts in the debate on ‘traditional Islam’ towards a more theological understanding of the term. I examine attempts to develop a local interpretation of Islam that, while based on universal religious fundaments, is not in opposition to Tatar national traditions and a secular modern lifestyle. The representation of an ‘orthodox traditional Islam’ is necessarily paradoxical to the extent that a localised orthodoxy claims to be timeless, ‘natural’ and established but still needs to be defined, learned and taught following decades of Soviet atheist policies. Furthermore, this representation relies on the projection of orthodoxy onto the past in a process in which certain elements of a complex Tatar Muslim identity are made visible and emphasised (in particular, the Hanafi tradition), while others are obscured. By referring to the literature on orthodoxy in the anthropology and sociology of Islam and in Islamic studies, I aim to examine the theological dimension of the process of defining a local Islam that is currently being pursued by certain Tatar Muslim representatives in Russia.