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Becoming Muslim in Imperial RussiaConversion, Apostasy, and Literacy$
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Agnès Nilüfer Kefeli

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780801452314

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801452314.001.0001

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Desacralization of Islamic Knowledge and National Martyrdom

Desacralization of Islamic Knowledge and National Martyrdom

(p.213) Chapter Five Desacralization of Islamic Knowledge and National Martyrdom
Becoming Muslim in Imperial Russia

Agnès Nilüfer Kefeli

Cornell University Press

This chapter analyzes the response of Tatar modernists to the success of Eastern Orthodox missionaries in the Kräshen milieu and their criticisms of popular Islamic literature. To reaffirm the supremacy of Christianity, Russian missionaries mocked the content of ancient religious texts to destroy their influence and turn Kräshens into martyrs and vectors of Christianity. Modernist Tatars, however, did not abolish this ancient literature but recalled its colorful images to create a national Tatar identity, which embraced the baptized apostates as Muslim martyrs of the faith. Reformist pedagogues subjected their popular tradition to an internal process of desacralization and historicization even as they defended it from missionary criticism. They adopted a common strategy: they popularized the teachings of Tatar theologians in textbooks by desacralizing the role of prophets, making Muhammad's sayings relevant to modern times, and attributing new meanings to popular Sufi metaphors.

Keywords:   Tatar modernists, Eastern Orthodox missionaries, Kräshen community, jadidism, Islamic literature, historiography

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