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Edward J. Lazzerini
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The nineteenth- and early twentieth-century movement called Jadīdism developed among Russian Muslim intellectuals in response to colonial hegemony and the modern age. The name is a contraction of the phrase uṣūl al-jadīd (new method), proposed in the 1880s to describe the phonetic method of language instruction introduced into mektebs (Ar., maktab; elementary school) first in Crimea and the Caucasus and later in other areas of Russian Muslim settlement. Initially applied to education, Jadīdism always had a larger agenda: to reform many aspects of Islamic society so as to raise the quality of life of Muslims, to improve their economic and technical competitiveness, and restore something of the power, wealth, and dignity gradually lost over previous decades and centuries.

The extraordinary transmutation of Western society and culture between the fifteenth and mid-eighteenth centuries, with which Russia was linked closely if not directly, posed unremitting challenges to the Muslim communities drawn under Russian control. They found themselves unable to change sufficiently so as to sustain the parity that had characterized intercivilizational relations since ancient times. Beginning in areas having the longest and most extensive contact with Russian culture, such as the Volga region, Crimea, and the Caucasus, such concerns generated calls from the intellectual and political elite for revitalizing society. The waning and apparent incompetence of indigenous political authority, the generally stultifying conservatism of intellectual life, and the limitations of traditional economic resources and techniques—as well as the Russian intrusion into the local sociocultural fabric—inspired reformist impulses. These responses took a variety of forms; the most pronounced initially were first a resurgence of Ṣūfī brotherhoods stressing the inner awakening and moral reformation of the individual, and second, an intellectual reassessment by segments of the learned (ʿulamāʿ) of the accepted traditions underpinning Islamic civilization. By the turn of the nineteenth century both phenomena were contributing to a growing interest in renewal (tajdīd) as the means for returning Islamic life to its presumed vital forms—a renewal that promised a better future by authenticating and implementing the fundamental tradition established in the seventh century when Muḥammad lived to guide the faithful.

As the nineteenth century unfolded, calls for change resonated in various Russian Islamic communities. As failures mounted, as the West's challenge (through Russia) struck deeper and deeper, and as circumstances shaping colonial relations within the empire generated more opportunities for Muslims, these backward-looking modalities of reform seemed increasingly inadequate. For all its political and technical impact, the West's most significant influence came from its effect on Muslim minds—on the way knowledge was viewed, categorized, appreciated, and pursued. One consequence was a revolutionary intellectual transformation that led more and more Muslims to accept, however reluctantly, not only new ways of looking at the past and present but also an alien modality of change rooted in an idea of progress. In the process a cadre of Russianized Muslims emerged whose worldview reflected the effects of expanding contact with Russian culture and the modern way of life it represented. These included Abbas Kuli Aga Bakikhanov (1794–1848), Mirza Fetali Akhundov (1812–1878), Chokan Valikhanov (1835–1865), and Mirza Kazem-Bek (1802–1870), all of whom participated actively and fully in Russian life, holding various military, government, or academic positions; to this list should be added Shihabeddin Merjani (1818–1889), Abdülkayyum Nasiri (1825–1902), Hasan Bey Zerdabi (1837–1907), Alimjan Barudi (1857–1921), Rizaeddin Fakhreddin (1859–1936), Ismail Bey Gasprinskii (1851–1914), Münevver Kari (1880–1933), Mahmud Hoja Behbudî (1874–1919), and Abdurrâuf Fıtrat (1886–1938). All strove to ameliorate matters by consciously adapting aspects of modern culture to a base of Islamic identity. To be sure, these “new Muslims” were themselves a rather diverse group in terms of ethnic, social, and intellectual background, extent of commitment to secularization, and interest in syncretic solutions to intercultural contacts, but through their accumulated activities and writings all contributed in some measure to the emergence of the modernist discourse that became known as Jadīdism.

Despite the diversity that characterized Jadīdism, it possessed a central message and focus that recognized the nineteenth century as fundamentally different from every other and accepted the need for basic changes in how life was viewed and practiced. Not all the wisdom and experience of the Islamic past had been rendered irrelevant, but the painful consequences of not sharing in the West's engagement with technology revealed that more was needed for Muslims than could be found in any single culture. If the long-term goal of reacquiring wealth, power, and dignity were to be attainable, the immediate agenda had to focus on developing instruments for appropriate change and on more effective mobilization of material and human resources. At its most basic level, the strategy for implementing the Jadīdist message included the following points:1.  Redefining and reading new lessons from history as well as adopting the analytical methodology (including critical use of sources) that had been evolving in Western historiography; 2.  Refocusing Islam as a cultural force, so that while continuing to regulate human behavior it would cease to be the exclusive object of experience; 3.  Redefining education and restructuring both its curricula and physical arrangements so as to expand the experience for children and raise its effectiveness; 4.  Empowering women and moving them from marginal to more central status in society in such a way that many traditional restrictions on them, such as veiling and inequitable practices associated with polygamy and divorce, would be cleared away and women's public role would be expanded; and 5.  Strengthening material productivity so as to reverse economic stagnation and the consequent inability to compete with the technically more advanced and aggressive powers of the Christian West and the “pagan” East (especially Japan).Jadīdism never fully supplanted more traditional modes of thought and action, but from the second half of the nineteenth century to at least 1917 its influence spread ever more widely and deeply among new generations of Muslims, even beyond Russia's borders. With the passage of time efforts were made to institutionalize the movement: a political faction (Ittifak-i Müslümin) was established in 1906 to speak for Muslims in governing circles by convening empire-wide congresses to debate goals and aspirations; and professional organizations were created with an eye toward unifying thought, word, and deed in the service of a common purpose. The press for unity, however, diminished rather quickly in the early twentieth century as regional differences among Russian Muslims sparked counterarguments and actions emphasizing parochial and ethnic identities. As a force for change, the spirit of Jadīdism retained its vitality and leading role, but it fragmented geographically in the last decade of the tsarist system, rendering it unable to put up more than a token defense shortly thereafter against the more extreme challenge posed by Bolshevism.



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