[Chris Burks]

Jadidism was an Islamic reform movement which aimed to revive Islamic culture in Central and East Asia without endangering Islamic identity in the process. It originated among the Volga Tatar intelligentsia, mostly the descendants of merchants and mullahs, in response to Russian modernization and Christianization efforts. It spread to Middle Asia and Bukhara by the early 20th century. The term is derived from usul al-jadid, the ‘new method’ of teaching advanced by Islamic scholars such as Ismail Bey Gaspirali in his journal Tercuman (‘Interpreter’) (Kappeler, 235). The Jadids saw Central Asian Muslim society in crisis – falling behind Europe – due to a departure from the true path of Islam. At the height of Islamic power, the Muslim world was the center of knowledge and learning. It was argued, therefore, that only through a return to true Islam and acquisition and cultivation of knowledge would the Islamic civilization restore its power and return to its former glory.

This return to the true path of Islam would be based primarily on a return to the scriptures – specifically the Quran and Hadith, as opposed to scholarly commentaries and interpretations – because the scriptures, not traditional practices, were believed to define Islam (Khalid, 41-42). Accordingly, the Jadids called for sweeping reforms of the traditional educational system, in which Islamic schools were to adopt the methods and ideas of the West. The Jadid education project can be neatly summed up by the word taraqqiy, a term which incorporates progress, development, and growth. Literacy was stressed so that the scriptures could be open and accessible to all, but the Jadids also emphasized the study of science and technology, arguing that only through these pursuits could Central Asians escape European control and acquire their own knowledge, wealth, and power (Khalid, 42). In addition to the introduction of secular subjects such as science and history, the curriculum would be taught in vernacular language and would not simply consist of rote memorization and recitation as was common in the traditional Islamic madrasas (Edgar, 32-33). it is important to note, though, that the Jadids’ attitudes towards Europeans were not entirely, or even mostly, negative. Resentment of European colonialism was combined with a real admiration of European technological and societal progress (Khalid, 41). As Andreas Kappeler so eloquently articulates, the Jadids sought to create a “synthesis of Islamic culture, modern science and technology and western ideas of progress.”

By the turn of the 20th century, Jadidism had become popular among Volga and Crimean Tatars, Bashkirs, and Azerbaijanis, and the Volga Tatars were spiritual leaders of Russian Muslims. Kazan had numerous Jadidist schools, Tatar printers, Tatar intellectuals forming Islamic-socialist political circles (Kappeler, 236). Naturally, the arrival and growth of this new ideology had significant implications for the power brokers of Central Asian culture, and the Jadids were met with opposition on multiple fronts. The main thrust of this opposition came from the traditional, conservative Islamic leadership, whose own power was threatened as Jadidism’s following grew and influence expanded. In particular, the traditional Islamic leaders were worried that Jadidist education reforms would erode their conservative base, as fewer students studied in the traditional madrasas and the scriptures were directly accessible to more Muslims. Notably, by the outset of WWI, the growth of Jadidism had triggered a debate about legitimacy in society and the ‘correct’ way of Islam, and, most importantly, about the legitimate spokespersons of Islamic community (Khalid, 47). The Jadids encountered political opposition as well. Although the Jadidists remained loyal to the tsar, the Russian Empire still considered them dangerous for their articulation of pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism (Kappeler, 235). As such, the Jadids were often linked to the Young Turks, even though they rejected their vision of pan-Turkism (Edgar, 33). Political organizations, such as the Union of Muslims (Ittifak), which was composed of moderate liberal and pan-Islamic groups, even formed for the sole purpose of countering the Jadidist ‘threat’ (Kappeler, 236).

The outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917 was followed by a scramble for authority and legitimacy within the Islamic community. The Jadids formed Islamic Councils in key regions, while the conservatives drew power from the Society of Ulama. Both sides drew up competing proposals for the future of Turkestan, and initially, conservatives had the edge, especially militarily, and were able to effectively portray the Jadids as too young and inexperienced (Khalid, 52). Nevertheless, the Jadids continued to clamor for the implementation of their reforms with mixed results. In Bukhara, the Jadids were harshly persecuted for opposing conservative rule, but with the arrival of the Bolsheviks in 1920, the Jadid-influenced “Young Bukharans” were given control of the country for a brief period, during which they instituted education and public health programs, and cleaned house of the old conservative leadership (Khalid, 53). In general, the Jadids embraced the Bolshevik ideology, radicalized by their revolutionary message and previous failures at gradual reform. Still, in the Turkestan government, the Jadids were underrepresented due to Soviet preference for Russian-educated, Russian-speaking Muslims, often Kazakhs. The Jadids did, however, dominate the cultural realm, working to shape national culture and identity using Soviet funding and attempting to establish national legitimacy through the creation of modern literature, theatre, journalism. More importantly, the Soviets adopted many Jadidist reforms such as the ‘new method’ school system and shariat administrations, religious boards overseeing application of shariat law. Additionally, Uzbek, Turkmen, and Kazakh were elevated to official languages of Turkestan alongside Russian, and the Latin script was adopted for Turkic languages, representing an ostensible cultural reorientation towards progress, modernity, universalism (Khalid, 58-61).

Despite many common goals and ideals, such as modernization and universalism, the Jadids soon fell out of favor with the Soviets, as the Bolsheviks consolidated power in the 1920s and 1930s. The Soviets re-drew boundaries along ethnic lines, attempting to pre-empt and co-opt nationalism, forming Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and later Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan (Khalid, 66). At this same time, Jadid institutions were replaced with Soviet ones devoid of Islamic association. The emergent new group of intellectuals pushed Jadids out of their previous roles, and Jadids were labeled as bourgeois, imperial agents, and were targeted in the purges (Khalid, 66-69). With the Jadids marginalized, Islam was de-modernized under the Soviets (Khalid, 115). Despite their short-lived time on top, the Jadid movement cannot be considered a complete failure. The removal of Islam from the curriculum by the Soviets was significant, but the Jadids were successful in modernizing the education systems of Central Asia, increasing literacy and study of vernacular language, and overseeing the implementation of a Latin alphabet for the Turkic languages of the region, all while eroding the power of conservative Islamic leadership. Some Jadidist goals even resonated with Soviets after Jadidism’s demise, most notably the liberation of women (Khalid, 74). Overall, the Jadid movement exemplified the type of group fragmentation that inhibited national mobilization in Central Asia even under the banner of broad cultural elements such as Islam.


Works cited

  • Adrienne Lynn Edgar,Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).
  • Andreas Kappeler, The Russian Empire: A Multiethnic History (New York: Pearson Education, 2001).
  • Adeeb Khalid, Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007).