Wednesday 7 June 2023 \


The Khanty and Mansi once were Muslims

Islam came to Siberia more than 600 years ago. The ancient manuscripts stored in the Tobolsk city museum-preserve tell of the coming of 366 Sufi of the Nakshbandiya tariqah and 1,700 warriors of Sheban Khan from Central Asia to Siberia. On the banks of the Irtysh they "committed a great battle for faith."
The Sufis carried the Word of Allah
"A martyr's crown was put on some three hundred sheikhs, fallen, who on land, who on the water, who in the swamp," says Said Vakkas Allakulov, a Muslim preacher. "After this, the Islamic faith appeared here, and the paths were opened, so that caravans began to come along the Irtysh river and Alims, Hadjis and Ishans came here to teach faith; most of them were people who could do wonders."
The Sufis carried the Word of Allah to all Siberian peoples, as they all then adhered to paganism. The message most firmly established among the Siberian Tatars, as well as among those living in the basin of the Irtysh and its tributaries Finno-Ugric peoples, Voguls and Ostyaks, more known nowadays as the Khanty and Mansi.
"The Sheikhs used the river as their main transport route," says Elena Mikhaylovna Glatskaya, Doctor of historical sciences, "and therefore the directions of the spread of Islam among the Khanty and Mansi coincided with the riverbeds. The most serious impact was on the Mansi, who lived along Tura and Tavda, and the Khanty of the Irtysh basin and its tributaries."
The active missionary work of Islamic preachers for a long period and close ethno-cultural and economic contacts with the Turkic peoples, especially Siberian Tatars, led to certain religious changes in the province. Thus, in the Siberian chronicle, compiled in 1636 by Savva Esipov, the deacon of the Tobolsk bishop's house, it was reported that the "tatars" - the population of the rivers Tura, Tobol and Irtysh (including the Khanty and Mansi) marked by a common ethnonym - "follow the Mohammetan law."
"Meanwhile, one can not talk about the complete Islamization of the Khanty and Mansi," explains Elena Mikhailovna, "only certain elements of Islam have penetrated their lives. And this process began early enough, much earlier than Christianity penetrated into Siberia."
Now it is very difficult to restore the process of conversion to Islam of these peoples, because medieval sources have remained extremely few. But, apparently, Islam is very firmly entered into their lives.
Suffice it to say that in the battle of Iskera, which was staged by the detachments of Khan Kuchum against the squad of Yermak, both Voguls and Ostyaks fought along with the Siberian Tatars. This is depicted even in the famous painting "The Conquest of Ermak of Siberia."
In the essay devoted to the ethnographic description compiled in the first quarter of the 18th century by the Ukrainian colonel Grigory Novitsky, exiled to Siberia and who participated in missionary trips along the margin of Metropolitan Philotheus of Leszczynski, one can find interesting information. Novitsky reports that the Khanty had armed resistance to the Orthodox mission in the region of Chernykh Yurt and Yurt Burenkov, and, according to the author, they "... called themselves as Besurman ... and raised the klichi."
"Besurmans" in the 18th century called Muslims, and "klichi" - the word of Ukrainian origin, in this case meaning a minaret, from which believers were called to pray. Apparently, it was a small eminence, located in the middle of the yurts.
As the researchers note, because of the lack of sources it is very difficult to determine now how exactly these northern peoples professed Islam. The fact is that the evidence of the religiosity and beliefs of the local population was collected by representatives of Christianity.
It was important for them to eradicate what they called "paganism." It is clear that they probably did not pay much attention to the elements of Islam, therefore now it is difficult to say something definite.
But along with the adoption of Islam to the southern Khanty and Mansi came the rudiments of farming and animal husbandry, which they were taught by the Siberian Tatars. Borrowings can be traced both in clothes and in everyday life. Thanks to the active trade conducted by the state entities of Siberia with the Muslim countries of the Volga and Central Asia, the Voguls and Ostyaks abandoned the pottery profession, as metal utensils appeared in each yurt.
Although, even being in the bosom of advanced Islamic culture, the Khanty and Mansi continued to lead a traditional way of life, based on hunting and fishing. By the way, that is why in the 17th century the state tried to keep the most zealous representatives of the church or the public from missionary activities.
"It was important for the government to protect the Khanty and Mansi from violent Christianization," says Elena Glatskaya, "the economic interests of the state were predominant here. From these peoples in the form of yasak authorities received precious furs, which was one of the basic elements of the export of the Russian state."
The arguments of the government in favor of this policy were formulated and given in the letter of 1685 to Metropolitan Paul of Tobolsk: "... it is for the fact that Siberia is far away and consists of Busurman and people of other faiths from many lands, so that the Tobolsk Tatars and Bukharans and foreign visitors of other lands do not feel burdened, and not to drive them away from the State's mercy, and not to cause such damage to the Siberian state."
The desire to preserve yasak volosts as suppliers of furs and not to allow the emergence of conflicts on the basis of various religious affiliations for some time the religious situation in Siberia was "conserved". At that time, the interests of preserving the peace and stability of the state were placed above the tasks of expanding the boundaries of Christian influence.
Change of course for Christianization
But geopolitics and world economy prevented Khanty and Mansi to remain as Muslims. In the 18th century, Siberian furs began to be valued much less than the American furs that appeared on the international market at that time. In addition, deposits of ores were discovered in the Urals, namely, the Ural-Siberian metal saved Russia in the war with Sweden.
Therefore, the beginning of the 18th century was marked by a change in government policy regarding the religious traditions of the indigenous population of the region. In fact, a course was taken to change the religious situation - a missionary campaign was organized under the leadership of Metropolitan Philotheus of Leszczynski to baptize the peoples of Siberia who preserved the religious traditions of their ancestors.
A significant number of revered places of the aborigines of Siberia were destroyed, images of the deities they worshiped were burned, and baptism rites were performed on the people during missionary trips of Metropolitan Philotheus and his companions. From a formal point of view, the purpose of the mission was achieved, however, real religious changes required a much longer time, on the one hand, and lifestyle changes on the other.
Attempts to use the institution of supervisors to monitor how the baptized observed the norms of Orthodoxy, and administrative measures against those who continued to adhere to the religious traditions of their ancestors, invariably led to conflicts and clashes that often ended tragically for participants in this process. As for the intentions of the metropolitan to extend his activities to the Muslims of Siberia, they did not find support in the government.
The missionary's request addressed to Peter I, about the preparation of a decree directed against the population professing Islam, "... that in Tobolsk the Tatar mosque between the churches of God and their Tatar life should not be practiced among Christians, because from the mosques to the churches of God there is a crossing ...", was not supported. However, Muslims were categorically forbidden to preach Islam.
But here it should be noted that the Orthodox missionaries did not classify the Muslim-speaking Khanty and Mansi as Muslims, believing that they were pagans who borrowed from the Tatars only the external attributes of faith. Thus, without the spiritual support of the Tatars and other Muslims of Siberia, with the passage of time and under the pressure of the church and secular authorities, the Khanty and Mansi eventually withdrew from Islam, although they resisted this process for a long time.
"In addition to the new faith, new demands, new taxes and new pressure were brought," explains Elena Glatskaya, "and not only economic but also ideological, active intervention in the internal affairs of the aboriginals of Siberia. The desire to protect their Muslim faith was also associated with the desire to preserve their way of life. Now it is difficult to judge whether they were deeply religious Muslims, but they accepted the basic elements of the faith, and did not want to accept the new faith brought by Moscow." 
Alexei Starostin

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