Muslim Female Religious Authority in Russia: How Mukhlisa Bubi Became the First Female Qāḍī in the Modern Muslim World

On 11 May 1917, the participants of the All-Russia Muslim Congress elected a woman, Mukhlisa Bubi, as a qāḍī (a Muslim judge) to the Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Inner Russia and Siberia. Granting legal authority to a woman at a

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   135 󰁍󰁵󰁳󰁬󰁩󰁭 󰁆󰁥󰁭󰁡󰁬󰁥 󰁒󰁥󰁬󰁩󰁧󰁩󰁯󰁵󰁳 󰁁󰁵󰁴󰁨󰁯󰁲󰁩󰁴󰁹 󰁉󰁮 󰁒󰁵󰁳󰁳󰁩󰁡  󰁄󰁩󰁥 󰁗󰁥󰁬󰁴 󰁤󰁥󰁳 󰁉󰁳󰁬󰁡󰁭󰁳 󰀵󰀷 (󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀷) 󰀱󰀳󰀵-󰀱󰀶󰀱* The author is grateful to Marianne Kamp and Michael Kemper for their critical comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper. Muslim Female Religious Authority in Russia: How Mukhlisa Bubi Became the First Female Qāḍī   in the Modern Muslim World  Rozaliya Garipova Kennan Institute, Wilson Center, Washington, D.C.  Abstract On 11 May 1917, the participants of the All-Russia Muslim Congress elected a woman, Mukhlisa Bubi, as a qāḍī   (a Muslim judge) to the Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Inner Russia and Siberia. Granting legal authority to a woman at a central religious institution was unprecedented in the Muslim world. This article explores how this election was possible in Russia and suggests that it was the outcome of several fac-tors. First, Muslim women of the Volga-Ural region already occupied a well-established place in traditional Muslim education, and many women were part of the Islamic schol-arly culture. Second, modernist (Jadīd) religious scholars and intellectuals had brought up the issue of women education and female schooling, and supported the formation of a network of young women who made new claims about women’s education, rights, and active public stance in serving the nation. Among these were Bubi’s brothers. Third, the Russian revolutionary atmosphere worked as a catalyst for promoting the claims of  women activists and provided the Jadīds the opportunity to take over the authority at the Central Spiritual Administration. Finally, Mukhlisa’s election seems to be a compro-mise between conservative and feminist/liberal groups in the society, and seems to have therefore been acceptable to most male congress delegates. Keywords Muslim modernism (Jadidism) – women’s education – reformist madrasa – Mukhlisa Bubi (Mukhliṣa Būbī) – legal authority – abïstay   © 󰁫󰁯󰁮󰁩󰁮󰁫󰁬󰁩󰁪󰁫󰁥 󰁢󰁲󰁩󰁬󰁬 󰁮󰁶, 󰁬󰁥󰁩󰁤󰁥󰁮, 󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀷 | 󰁤󰁯󰁩   󰀱󰀰.󰀱󰀱󰀶󰀳/󰀱󰀵󰀷󰀰󰀰󰀶󰀰󰀷-󰀰󰀰󰀵󰀷󰀲󰁰󰀰󰀱 󰁄󰁩󰁥 󰁗󰁥󰁬󰁴 󰁤󰁥󰁳 󰁉󰁳󰁬󰁡󰁭󰁳 󰀵󰀷 (󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀷) 󰀱󰀳󰀵-󰀱󰀶󰀱ISSN 0043-2539 (print version) ISSN 1570-0607 (online version) WDI 2 International Journal for the Study of Modern Islam  136 󰁇󰁡󰁲󰁩󰁰󰁯󰁶󰁡  󰁄󰁩󰁥 󰁗󰁥󰁬󰁴 󰁤󰁥󰁳 󰁉󰁳󰁬󰁡󰁭󰁳 󰀵󰀷 (󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀷) 󰀱󰀳󰀵-󰀱󰀶󰀱 On 11 May 1917, just a couple of weeks after the abdication of Nikolai 󰁉󰁉, the participants of the All-Russia Muslim Congress elected a woman, Mukhlisa Bubi (Mukhliṣa Būbī) , as a qāḍī  􀀱 (a Muslim judge) to the Central Spiritual Ad-ministration.   This was a unique event not only in the history of Russia’s Mus-lims but also in the whole modern Muslim world.􀀲 Approximately nine hundred Muslim delegates from di󰁦ferent regions of the Russian Empire par-ticipated in the Congress of 1-12 May 1917, representing all social, intellectual, and political trends, with Muslim modernists constituting the majority of the delegates.􀀳 For the 􀁦􀁩rst time, 112 Muslim women also participated in a political congress as delegates. These women proposed reforms to women’s political, social, and marital rights, reforms that a special Muslim Women’s Congress had formulated a month earlier; and the issue of women’s rights became one of the most 􀁦􀁩ercely debated issues at the congress.󰀴The main concern of the congress was, however, not the women question; rather, the central issue was whether Muslims should strive for cultural or ter-ritorial autonomy in the future political structure of Russia. Regardless of their political and intellectual stances, all delegates agreed that sharīʿa  and Muslim identity, which di󰁦ferentiated Muslim populations from the Christian popula-tion of Russia, must constitute the foundation of any kind of autonomy.􀀵 The congress decided to transform the Orenburg Muslim Spiritual Assembly, the main institution that had represented Muslims in the Russian Empire, into a modernized Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Inner Russia and Siberia. They made the position of muftī   subject to elections instead of direct 󐀱 For Arabic terms and concepts, I use Arabic transliteration. For words written in Tatar with  Arabic script I use Arabic transliteration with the addition of some vowels and consonants that exist in the Tatar language. I follow Tatar phonetic transliteration for words written in Tatar with Cyrillic alphabet.󐀲 Female judges, whose jurisdiction was limited to family law, were appointed in 1964 in Indonesia, in 2009 in the Palestinian territories, and in 2010 in Malaysia. Ilene R. Prusher, “New female judge transforms Islamic court”, The Christian Science Monitor  , May 13, 2009 <http://>; Daniel Lev,  Islamic Courts in Indonesia (Berkley, University of California Press, 1972), 110; Vaudine England “Malaysian Groups Welcome First Islamic Women Judges”, 󰁂󰁂󰁃 <>.󐀳 İhsan Ilgar,  Rusya’da Birinci Müslüman Kongresi Tutanakları  (Ankara: Kültür Bakanlığı  Yayınları 1990); “ʿUmūmī möselmān isyezdï ḥaqïnda ijmālī ḥisāb”,  Mäʿlūmāt   8-9 (1917), 5. 􀀴 Şengül Hablemitoğlu and Necip Hablemitoğlu, Şe󰁦󰁩ka Gaspıralı ve Rusya’da Türk Kadını  Hareketi (1893-1920)  (Ankara: 󰁁󰁊󰁁󰁎󰁓-󰁔󰁕󰁒󰁋, 1998), 163. 󐀵 Marianne Kamp, “Debating Sharia: The 1917 Muslim Women’s Congress in Russia”,  Journal of Women’s History  27.4 (2016), 15, 29.   137 󰁍󰁵󰁳󰁬󰁩󰁭 󰁆󰁥󰁭󰁡󰁬󰁥 󰁒󰁥󰁬󰁩󰁧󰁩󰁯󰁵󰁳 󰁁󰁵󰁴󰁨󰁯󰁲󰁩󰁴󰁹 󰁉󰁮 󰁒󰁵󰁳󰁳󰁩󰁡  󰁄󰁩󰁥 󰁗󰁥󰁬󰁴 󰁤󰁥󰁳 󰁉󰁳󰁬󰁡󰁭󰁳 󰀵󰀷 (󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀷) 󰀱󰀳󰀵-󰀱󰀶󰀱 appointment by the Tsar.􀀶 Also elected, for the 􀁦􀁩rst time, were six qāḍī  s. In the  Administration, muftī   and qāḍī  s represented a collegiate body. They gathered regularly to hear, discuss, and decide on requests of Muslims to construct new mosques and establish new maḥalla s. They also assessed the quali􀁦􀁩cations of candidates for o󰁦􀁦􀁩cial religious positions, who had been nominated by maḥalla  communities. They also responded to petitions (‘arḍ  ) on family and inheri-tance disputes, reassigned cases to local ākhūnd  s and imām s for further inves-tigation if needed, and controlled the resolution of these cases.For one of these qāḍī   positions the assembly elected Mukhlisa Bubi – in absentia, for she was not even present at the congress. By May 1917, Mukhlisa  was already a well-known and respected woman of religious authority. In 1897 she and her brothers had set up the 􀁦􀁩rst girls’ madrasa, in Ij-Bubi, a Tatar vil-lage in present-day Tatarstan, Agryz district. This school provided new-method ( uṣūl-i jadīd  ) education to girls of all ages, and trained female teachers. After the government closed the school in 1911, under the pretext that it was a hotbed of Pan-Turkist and Pan-Islamist activities, Mukhlisa was invited to teach at an-other girls’ madrasa, in Troitsk, where she worked as the principal and a teach-er from 1911 to 1917. After her election to the o󰁦􀁦􀁩ce of qāḍī   in May 1917, Mukhlisa Bubi directed the newly established Family Department within the Central Spiritual Admin-istration, which dealt with issues of divorce, dower ( mahr  ), marital consent, inheritance, and other legal complaints of women. On subsequent All-Russian Muslim congresses in 1923 and 1926 she was reelected to this position. In the meantime, she continued to write in  Islām mäjälläse , the Administration’s Ta-tar-language journal, on legal and social issues concerning Muslim women. Beginning in the late 1920s, the Bolsheviks started their full-blown repression of Islam in the 󰁕󰁓󰁓󰁒, and closed almost all mosques and Muslim schools. Like so many other Tatar Muslim activists, intellectuals, and religious scholars, Mukhlisa was accused of being a member of an anti-Soviet bourgeois-nation-alist organization, and was executed in 1937. Around that time the Central Spiritual Administration practically ceased operating.􀀷 󐀶 The Orenburg Muslim Spiritual Assembly (  Mäḥkämä-i shärʿiyya ) was administered by a col-legiate body of muftī   and three qāḍī  s and functioned as an Islamic court of appeal. For the analysis of the Islamic legal transformation in nineteenth-century Russia, see Rozaliya Garipova, “Did the  Ākhūnd  s Disappear? Islamic Legal Experts and the Breakdown of the Traditional Islamic Legal Order in the Russian Empire”, Yearbook of Islamic and Middle Eastern  Law  (forthcoming in June, 2017).󐀷 Despite the rumors about the closure of the Central Spiritual Administration in 1937 and 1938, it remained open and, after the death of Rizaeddin Fakhreddinov (Riḍā al-Dīn bin Fakhr al-Dīn) in 1936, was headed by Gabdrakhman (ʿAbd al-Raḥmān) Rasulev. The activity of the  138 󰁇󰁡󰁲󰁩󰁰󰁯󰁶󰁡  󰁄󰁩󰁥 󰁗󰁥󰁬󰁴 󰁤󰁥󰁳 󰁉󰁳󰁬󰁡󰁭󰁳 󰀵󰀷 (󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀷) 󰀱󰀳󰀵-󰀱󰀶󰀱 This article analyzes the conditions that made possible Mukhlisa Bubi’s election as the 􀁦􀁩rst woman qāḍī   in the Russian empire. I argue that Mukhlisa’s election was the result of a dynamic relationship between tradition, Muslim modernism, and revolution in the Russian empire. First, female teachers ( abïstay s) had always played an important role in Tatar communities, where they organized traditional female education and participated in the scholarly network of men.  Abïstay s taught basic Islamic knowledge to womenfolk in Muslim communities, but they also provided talented girls with a more pro-found education. Next to Mukhlisa Bubi, in the early twentieth century other famous abïstay s also established schools for girls, most of them integrating ele-ments of the Jadīd education that unfolded at that time (including standard-ized school curricula, a modernized pedagogy especially in teaching reading and writing, and nonreligious subjects not taught at traditional schools).󰀸Second, new-method madrasas for girls created a forum for both students and teachers to make new claims about the need to encompass modern educa-tion for girls to enhance the Muslim women’s contribution to the service of the nation, however the latter was de􀁦􀁩ned. These women could reach out beyond their small local groups by mobilizing female youth across the region. The spread of Jadidist ideals about women’s education, enlightened motherhood, and service to the community (or nation, both embodied in the concept of mil-lät  ) played an important role in the emergence of a group of women with a similar world view. Jadīds called on men to support women in their acquisition of modern secular education, so that the latter could become better mothers Central Spiritual Administration was revived in 1941 when the “Great Patriotic War” (World  War 󰁉󰁉) broke out and the Soviet government sought the help of Rasulev in mobilizing Muslims for the war. After that the Central Spiritual Administration remained a tightly controlled in-strument of the Soviet state and still exists today, next to many other Muftiates that emerged in Russia in the 1990s. Yaacov Ro’i,  Islam in the Soviet Union: from the Second World War to Gorbachev  (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 102-05; S.G. Rakhmankulova,  Muftii Gabdrakhman Rasulev – starshii syn Ishan Khazrata Rasuleva  (Cheliabinsk, 2000), 111-16.􀀸 On Jadidism, see Adeeb Khalid, The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); Damir M. Iskhakov,  Fenomen tatarskogo dzhad-idizma: vvedenie k sotsiokul’turnomu osmysleniiu  (Kazan, 1997); Aidar Iuzeev “Mesto dzhadi-dizma v tatarskoi obshchestvennoi mysli kontsa 19go - nachala 20go vekov”,  Ekho Vekov , 1-2, 1999; Christian Noack,  Muslimischer Nationalismus im Russischen Reich: Nationsbildung and  Nationalbewegung bei Tataren and Baschkiren, 1861-1917  (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2000);  Ahmet Kanlidere,  Reform within Islam - The ‘Tajdid’ and ‘Jadid’ Movement among the Kazan Tatars (1809-1917): Conciliation or Con􀁦lict?   (Istanbul: 󰁅󰁒󰁅󰁎, 1997); Mustafa Tuna,  Imperial  Russia’s Muslims: Islam, Empire and European Modernity, 1788-1914  (Cambridge University Press, 2015); James Meyer, Turks Across Empires: Marketing Muslim Identity in the Russian-Ottoman Borderlands, 1856-1914  (Oxford University Press, 2014).   139 󰁍󰁵󰁳󰁬󰁩󰁭 󰁆󰁥󰁭󰁡󰁬󰁥 󰁒󰁥󰁬󰁩󰁧󰁩󰁯󰁵󰁳 󰁁󰁵󰁴󰁨󰁯󰁲󰁩󰁴󰁹 󰁉󰁮 󰁒󰁵󰁳󰁳󰁩󰁡  󰁄󰁩󰁥 󰁗󰁥󰁬󰁴 󰁤󰁥󰁳 󰁉󰁳󰁬󰁡󰁭󰁳 󰀵󰀷 (󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀷) 󰀱󰀳󰀵-󰀱󰀶󰀱 in raising the new generation and serve as teachers and doctors. Mukhlisa her-self hailed from a family of devoted Jadīd teachers.Third, the 1917 February Revolution was crucial in the election of Mukhlisa to o󰁦􀁦􀁩ce. The revolutionary atmosphere allowed female Muslim activists to mobilize and push for equal rights. These activists faced little opposition to their demands for political equality and for universal su󰁦frage as these rights had been granted to women in Russia in the aftermath of the February Revolu-tion. They freely convened congresses, and in several towns Muslim women demanded to join Muslim political organizations. They even received a   fatwā  from ʿulamāʾ   in Troitsk declaring that sharīʿa allowed women to assume politi-cal o󰁦􀁦􀁩ce.󰀹 The 1917 February Revolution allowed the Jadīds to sideline the con-servative ʿulamāʾ   who opposed educational innovation. With the demise of the Tsarist regime, the conservatives lost ground also in the Orenburg Muslim Spiritual Administration, and the Jadīds had gained control of the institution by 1917. Jadīds numbers might be exaggerated in most of the research litera-ture, but they clearly dominated the public discourse, not the least through their newspapers and journals. The 1917 Revolution created favourable condi-tions for Jadīds to seize power from their conservative counterparts, and to elect reformist-minded members to the Religious Administration, including a female qāḍī  .In the revolutionary atmosphere, the Muslim Congress supported the de-mands for women’s social and political equality, including their enfranchise-ment. However, to maintain the Muslim community’s unity, the modernists  wanted to avoid alienating the conservative ʿulamāʾ  . Therefore, the congress did not embrace the more radical demands of some women delegates, such as complete equality within the family (including in matters of divorce and in-heritance) and the abolition of polygyny. Neither did the congress support the candidacy of women with secular education to the post of qāḍī  . In this light, Mukhlisa appears as a compromise candidate: she was not a radical reformist but a modest woman of the middle ground. It is this factor that made her can-didacy most appropriate for both liberal and conservative forces. The Tatar Tradition of Educating Girls The presence of a well-developed and widespread network of female Muslim teachers and religious authorities who played an active role in transmitting 􀀹 Sagit Faizov,  Dvizhenie musul’manok Rossii za prava zhenshchin v 1917 gg.: stranitsy istorii (Nizhnyi Novgorod: Makhinur, 2005), 23.  
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