chapter  5
20 Pages

The contribution of Oriental scholarship to the Soviet anti-Islamic discourse: from the Militant Godless to the Knowledge Society: Vladimir Bobrovnikov


During my fieldwork among the last generations of Soviet Muslims in the late 1980s and 1990s, I was often surprised by the deep respect the population had for the secular, if not godless, academic scholarship on Islam. In the autumn of 1992 I took part in an expedition of the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies to northwestern Dagestan. The aim of our investigation was Islamic tradition as it had been practiced and maintained in the Dagestani countryside since the Soviet period. We asked local people about their holy places and sheikhs, visited mosques and prayer houses, and read and copied Arabic manuscripts from private collections. All four of us were cordially welcomed, and the young village mullah even praised us at a Friday sermon, and shamed his countrymen who, he said, had less interest in and esteem for Islam than these non-Muslim Orientalists from Moscow. Later, in south Dagestan, I was guest of another village mullah who proudly showed me the encyclopedic lexicon Islam that had been produced in 1991 by Nauka Publishing in Moscow. It was the pearl of his Islamic book collection.