What Is “Traditional Islam”?: Defining the Borders of Islam in Russia

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 12:45
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Lili DI PUPPO, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
The paper will examine the dilemmas faced by Russian Muslims in contemporary Russia and the question of how they relate at the same time to secular authorities and a secular society and to the broader Muslim world. It will use the analytical framework of “domestication of Islam” (Bowen 2004, Humphrey 2009, Sunier 2012, Braginskaia 2012) to study how Russian Muslims answer state efforts to define the borders of a national form of Islam. In contrast to Muslim populations in Western European countries, Russian Muslims have lived in Russia for centuries. The term “traditional Islam” has been used since the 1990s to designate forms of Islam that are inscribed in Russian history; are seen as moderate as well as loyal to secular authorities. The term is widely used, but difficult to define as it has several connotations. The paper will analyze how Muslim religious figures or representatives of Muslim institutions make use of the term, what connotations of the notion of “traditional Islam” they do embrace or reject. For example, Tatar religious figures often refer to the term in relation to a particular historical heritage, while Muslims in the North Caucasus associate “traditional Islam” to Sufism. The paper will study definitions, perceptions and uses of the term by asking the following questions. How do Russian Muslims react to state interference in the religious sphere and the setting of particular boundaries for religious practice? When do they welcome this interference and when are they more cautious in their support? To what extent do they perceive the official state support for an institutionalization of Muslim practices as potentially hindering their efforts to connect to the Islamic world and strengthen their Muslim religious identity? The paper will be based on field research conducted in Moscow and Kazan in 2015-2016.