Preserving Islamic Tradition: Abu Nasr Qursawi and the Beginnings of Modern Reformism

ISBN : 9780190251789

Nathan Spannaus
344 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Aug 2019
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The end of the eighteenth century was a transformational period for the Muslim communities of the Russian Empire and their relationship with the tsarist state. Though they had been under Russian rule since the sixteenth century, it was at this time that they were incorporated into the imperial bureaucracy, most significantly through the founding of an official hierarchy for the Islamic religious scholars in 1788. The introduction of a state-backed structure for Muslim religious institutions altered Islamic religious authority and, in turn, religious discourse. One of the major figures to emerge from this new context was Abu Nasr Qursawi (1776-1812). A controversial figure who was condemned for heresy in Bukhara in 1808, Qursawi put forward a sweeping reform of the Islamic scholarly tradition. Focusing on taqlid, the principle of conformity to established doctrine, Qursawi argued that its overuse had weakened scholarship in the areas of Islamic law (fiqh) and theology (kalam) and undermined scholars' ability to serve as religious guides. In Preserving Islamic Tradition, Nathan Spannaus presents the first detailed analysis of Qursawi's reformist project, both in its contours and broad historical setting. Spannaus shows how state control of Muslim institutions impacted religious discourse, but also how it altered the entire religious environment into the twentieth century. Addressing issues of modernity, secularity, tradition, and intellectual history, Preserving Islamic Tradition demonstrates how the interaction with a European imperial state transformed the Islamic tradition, both directly and indirectly, and elicited new forms of religious thought and discourse.


Transliteration, Dates, Ethnonyms
Timeline of Volga-Ural History
Chapter 2: An `Alim in the Russian Empire
Chapter 3: An Epistemological Critique
Chapter 4: Ijtihad and the Function of Legal Theory
Chapter 5: The Question of the Divine Attributes
Chapter 6: Post-classical Kalam
Chapter 7: Reform within the Scholarly Tradition
Chapter 8: Modernity
Chapter 9: The Transformation of Bulghar Islam

About the author: 

Nathan Spannaus is a specialist in Islamic intellectual history and religious thought. He is a graduate of McGill University's Institute of Islamic Studies and Harvard's Deparment of Near Eastern Languages aand Civilizations, and he has held positions at Princeton and Oxford. His work has appeared in Islamic Law and Society, Muslim World, Arabica, and Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, and he has contributed to the Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology, the Encyclopedia of Islam and the two-volume Modern Islamic Authority and Social Change. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher in Islamic philosophy at University of Jyvaskyla, Finland.

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