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The Decline of the Ākhūnd and the Transformation of Islamic Law under the Russian Empire

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In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the ākhūnds were the elite of the ʿulamāʾ in the Russian empire. The highest experts in Islamic law, the ākhūnds were charged with upholding Islamic legal institutions and functions, including qaḍāʾ and iftāʾ. This made them an obvious focal point for Russian attempts to co-opt these institutions in the eighteenth century. With the founding of the Muslim Spiritual Assembly in 1788, the ākhūnds were brought under Russian state control. They soon found their legal function circumscribed and marginalized within the state religious hierarchy, and, by 1900, they had drifted into obsolescence. As the embodiment of Islamic legal institutions in the region, the history of the ākhūnds parallels that of Islamic law in the Russian empire. By studying references to ākhūnds from before and after the establishment of the Spiritual Assembly in regional biographical dictionaries, as well as the writings of various ākhūnds, we can trace the changes in Islamic law that took place under Russian state control.

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Islamic Studies, 3485 rue McTavish #319, Montréal, QC Canada, H3A 1Y1


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