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Inserts / Messages
- Basic Education
- Interesting Articles
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- Questions about Iman
- Healthy Living
A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith
T.W. Arnold Ma. C.I.F
Professor Of Arabic, University Of London, University College. Written in 1896, revised in 1913
Rearranged by Dr. A.S. Hashim
|There is no event in the history of Islam that for terror and desolation can be compared to the Mongol conquest.
Like an avalanche, the hosts of Chingiz Khan swept over the centers of Muslim culture and civilization,
leaving behind them bare deserts and shapeless ruins
where before had stood the palaces of stately cities, girt about with gardens and fruitful corn-land.
- Account of the Mongol conquests.
- Buddhism, Christianity and Islam in rivalry for the allegiance of the Mongols.
- Their original religion, Shamanism, described.
- Spread of Buddhism, of Christianity, and of Islam respectively among the Mongols.
- Difficulties that stood in the way of Islam.
- Cruel treatment of the Muslims by some Mongol rulers.
- Early converts to Islam. Baraka Khan, the first Mongol prince converted.
- Conversion of the IĺKhans,
- Conversion of the Chaghatay Mongols.
- History of Islam under the Golden Horde:
- Uzbek Khan :
- failure of attempts to convert the Russians.
- Spread of Islam in modern times in the Russian Empire.
- The conversion of the Tatars of Siberia………………………….
When the Mongol army had marched out of the city of Herat, a miserable remnant of forty persons crept out of their hiding-places and gazed horror-stricken on the ruins of their beautiful city—all that were left out of a population of over 100,000.
In Bukhara, so famed for its men of piety and learning, the Mongols stabled their horses in the sacred precincts of the mosques and tore up the Qurans to serve as litter; those of the inhabitants who were not butchered were carried away into captivity and their city reduced to ashes.
Such too was the fate of Samarqand, Balkh and many another city of Central Asia, which had been the glories of Islamic civilization and the dwelling-places of holy men and the seats of sound learning —such too the fate of Baghdad that for centuries had been the capital of the Abbasi dynasty.
Well might the Muslim historian shudder to relate such horrors; when Ibn al-Athir comes to describe the inroads of the Mongols into the countries of Islam,
|“for many years,” he tells us, “I shrank from giving a recital of these events on account of their magnitude and my abhorrence. Even now I come reluctant to the task, for who would deem it a light thing to sing the death-song of Islam and of the Muslims, or find it easy to tell this tale?
O that my mother had not given me birth! Oh would that I had died ere this, and been a thing forgotten, forgotten quite!
Many friends have urged me and still I stood irresolute; but I saw that it was of no profit to forego the task and so I thus resume.
I shall have to describe events so terrible and calamities so stupendous that neither day nor night have ever brought forth the like; they fell on all nations, but on the Muslims more than all; and were one to say that since God created Adam the world has not seen the like, he would but tell the truth, for history has nothing to relate that at all approaches it.
Among the greatest calamities in history is the slaughter that Nebuchadnezzar wrought among the children of Israel and his destruction of the Temple;
but what is Jerusalem in comparison to the countries that these accursed ones laid waste, every town of which was far greater than Jerusalem, and what were the children of Israel in comparison to those they slew, since the inhabitants of one of the cities they destroyed were greater in numbers than all the children of Israel? Let us hope that the world may never see the like again.”
But Islam was to rise again from the ashes of its former grandeur and through its preachers win over these savage conquerors to the acceptance of the faith.
This was a task for the missionary energies of Islam that was rendered more difficult from the fact that there were two powerful competitors in the field.
The spectacle of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam emulously striving to win the allegiance of the fierce conquerors that had set their feet on the necks of adherents of these great missionary religions, is one that is without parallel in the history of the world.
Before entering on a recital of this struggle, it will be well in order to the comprehension of what is to follow briefly to glance at the partition of the Mongol empire after the death of Chingiz Khan, when it was split up into four sections and divided among his sons.
- Ogotay, his third son, succeeded his father as Khaqan and received as his share the eastern portion of the empire, in which Qubilay afterwards included the whole of China.
- Chaghatay the second son took the middle kingdom.
- Batu, the son of his firstborn Juji, ruled the western portion as Khan of the Golden Horde;
- Tuluy the fourth son took Persia, to which Hulagu, who founded the dynasty of the IlKhans, added a great part of Asia Minor.
The primitive religion of the Mongols was Shamanism, which while recognising a supreme God, offered no prayers to Him, but worshipped a number of inferior divinities, especially the evil spirits whose powers for harm had to be deprecated by means of sacrifices, and the souls of ancestors who were considered to exercise an influence on the lives of their descendants.
- To propitiate these powers of the heaven and of the lower world, recourse was had to the Shamans, wizards or medicine-men, who were credited with possessing mysterious influence over the elements and the spirits of the departed.
- Their religion was not one that was calculated to withstand long the efforts of a proselytizing faith, possessed of a systematic theology capable of satisfying the demands of the reason and an organized body of religious teachers,
- when once the Mongols had been brought into contact with civilized races, had responded to their civilising influences and begun to pass out of their nomadic barbarism.
- It so happened that the civilized races with which the conquest of the Mongols brought them in contact comprised large numbers of Buddhists, Christians and Muslims, and the adherents of these three great missionary faiths entered into rivalry with one another for the conversion of their conquerors.
- When not carried away by the furious madness for destruction and insult that usually characterized their campaigns, the Shamanist Mongols showed themselves remarkably tolerant of other religions, whose priests were exempted from taxation and allowed perfect freedom of worship.
- Buddhist priests held controversies with the Shamans in the presence of Chingiz Khan; and at the courts of Mangu Khan and Qubilay the Buddhist and Christian priests and the Muslim Imams alike enjoyed the patronage of the Mongol prince.
In the reign of Mangu Khan the Mongols in China began to yield to the powerful influences of the surrounding Buddhism, and by the beginning of the fourteenth century the Buddhist faith seems to have gained a complete ascendancy over them.
It was the Lamas of Tibet who showed themselves most zealous in this work of conversion, and the people of Mongolia to the present day cling to the same faith, as do the Kalmuks who migrated to Russia in the seventeenth century.
Although Buddhism made itself finally supreme in the eastern part of the empire, at first the influence of the Christian Church was by no means inconsiderable and great hopes were entertained of the conversion of the Mongols.
The Nestorian missionaries in the seventh century had carried the knowledge of the Christian faith from west to east across Asia as far as the north of China, and scattered communities were still to be found in the thirteenth century.
The famous Prester John, around whose name cluster so many legends of the Middle Ages, is supposed to have been the chief of the Karaïts, a Christian Tartar tribe living to the south of Lake Baikal. When this tribe was conquered by Chingiz Khan, he married one of the daughters of the then chief of the tribe, while his son Ogotay took a wife from the same family. Ogotays son, Kuyuk, although he did not himself become a Christian, showed great favor towards this faith, to which his chief minister and one of his secretaries belonged.
The Nestorian priests were held in high favor at his court and he received an embassy from Pope Innocent IV. The Christian powers both of the East and the West looked to the Mongols to assist them in their wars against the Muslims.
It was Hayton, the Christian King of Armenia, who was mainly instrumental in persuading Mangu Khan to dispatch the expedition that sacked Baghdad under the leadership of Hulagu, the influence of whose Christian wife led him to show much favor to the Christians, and especially to the Nestorians. Many of the Mongols who occupied the countries of Armenia and Georgia were converted by the Christians of these countries and received baptism.
The marvelous tales of the greatness and magnificence of Prester John, that fired the imagination of mediaeval Europe, had given rise to a belief that the Mongols were Christians—a belief which was further strengthened by the false reports that reached Europe of the conversion of various Mongol princes and their zeal for the Christian cause.
It was under this delusion that St. Louis sent an ambassador, William of Rubruck, to exhort the great Khaqan to persevere in his supposed efforts for the spread of the Christian faith.
But these reports were soon discovered to be without any foundation in fact, though William of Rubruck found that the Christian religion was freely tolerated at the court of Mangu Khan, and the adhesion of some few Mongols to this faith made the Christian priests hopeful of still further conquests.
But so long as Latins, Greeks, Nestorians and Armenians carried their theological differences into the very midst of the Mongol camp, there was very little hope of much progress being made, and it is probably this very want of union among the preachers of Christianity that caused their efforts to meet with so little success among the Mongols; so that while they were fighting among one another, Buddhism and Islam were gaining a firm footing for themselves.
The arrogant pretensions of the Roman Pontiff soon caused the proud conquerors of half the world to withdraw from his emissaries what little favor they might at first have been inclined to show, and many other circumstances contributed to the failure of the Roman mission.
As for the Nestorians, who had been first in the field, they appear to have been too degraded and apathetic to take much advantage of their opportunities.
|Of the Nestorians in China, William of Rubruck says that they were very ignorant and could not even understand their service books, which were written in Syriac.
He accuses them of drunkenness, polygamy and covetousness,
and makes an unfavorable comparison between their lives and those of the Buddhist priests.
Their bishop paid them very rare visits—sometimes only once in fifty years : on such occasions he would ordain all the male children, even the babies in their cradles.
The priests were eaten up with simony, made a traffic of the sacred rites of their Church and concerned themselves more with moneymaking than with the propagation of the faith.
In the western parts of the Mongol empire, where the Christians looked to the newly-risen power to help them in their wars with the Muslims and to secure for them the possession of the Holy Land, the alliance between the Christians and the IlKhans of Persia was short-lived,
as the victories of Baybars, the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt (1260—1277) and his alliance with Baraka Khan, gave the IlKhans quite enough to do to look after their own interests.
The excesses that the Christians of Damascus and other cities committed during the brief period in which they enjoyed the favor of this Mongol dynasty of Persia, did much to discredit the Christian name in Western Asia.
In the course of the struggle, the adherents of either faith were at times guilty of much brutality. One example may be taken from the middle of the thirteenth century as told by al-Juzjani, who claims to have heard the story, while in Delhi, from the lips of a certain Sayyid Ashraf al-Din who had come there from Samarqand.
|“The eminent Sayyid thus related, that one of the Christians of Samarqand attained unto the felicity of Islam, and the Muslims of Samarqand, who are staunch in their faith, paid him great honor and reverence, and conferred great benefits upon him.
Unexpectedly, one of the haughty Mongol infidels of China, who possessed power and influence, and the inclinations of which accursed one were towards the Christian faith, arrived at Samarqand.
The Christians of that city repaired to that Mongol, and complained saying: The Muslims are enjoining our children to turn away from the Christian faith and from serving Jesus—on whom be peace—and calling upon them to follow the religion of Muhammad—on whom be peace— and, in case that gate becomes unclosed, the whole of our dependents will turn away from the Christian faith.
By thy power and authority devise a settlement of our case.
The Mongol commanded that the youth, who had turned Muslim, should be produced, and they tried with blandishment and kindness, and money and wealth to induce the newly-converted Muslim to recant, but he refused to recant, and put not off from his heart and spirit that garment of freshness—the Muslim faith.
The Mongol ruler then turned over a leaf in his temper, and began to speak of severe punishment; and every punishment, which it was in his power to inflict, or his severity to devise, he inflicted upon the youth, who, from his great zeal for the faith of Islam, did not recant, and did not in any way cast away from his hand the sweet draught of religion through the blow of infidel perverseness.
- As the youth continued firm in the true faith, and paid no heed to the promises and threats of that depraved company, the accursed Mongol commanded that they should bring the youth to public punishment; and he departed from the world in the felicity of religion—may God reward and requite him!—and the Muslim community in Samarqand were overcome with despondency and consternation in consequence.
- A petition was got up, and was attested with the testimony of the chief men and credible persons of the Muslim religion dwelling at Samarqand, and we proceeded with that petition to the camp of Baraka Khan, and presented to him an account of the proceedings and disposition of the Christians of that city.
- Zeal for the Muslim religion was manifested in the mind of that monarch of exemplary faith, and the defense of the truth became predominant in his disposition. After some days, he showed honor to this Sayyid, appointed a body of Turks and confidential persons among the chief Muslims, and commanded that they should slaughter the Christian company who had committed that dire oppression, and dispatch them to hell.
- When that mandate had been obtained, it was preserved until that wretched sect had assembled in the church, then they seized them all together, and dispatched the whole of them to hell, and reduced the church again to bricks.”
For Islam to enter into competition with such powerful rivals as Buddhism and Christianity were at the outset of the period of Mongol rule, must have appeared a well-nigh hopeless undertaking. For the Muslims had suffered more from the storm of the Mongol invasions than the others. Those cities that had hitherto been the rallying points of spiritual organization and learning for Islam in Asia, had been for the most part laid in ashes: the theologians and pious doctors of the faith, either slain or carried away into captivity.
Among the Mongol rulers—usually so tolerant towards all religions—there were some who exhibited varying degrees of hatred towards the Muslim faith. Chingiz Khan ordered all those who killed animals in the Muslim fashion to be put to death, and this ordinance was revived by Qubilay, who by offering rewards to informers set on foot a sharp persecution that lasted for seven years, as many poor persons took advantage of this ready means of gaining wealth, and slaves accused their masters in order to gain their freedom.
During the reign of Kuyuk (12461248), who left the conduct of affairs entirely to his two Christian ministers and whose court was filled with Christian monks, the Muslims were made to suffer great severities.
A contemporary historian, al-Juzjani, gives the following account of the kind of treatment to which a Muslim theologian might be exposed at the court of Kuyuk.
|“Trustworthy persons have related that Kuyuk was constantly being incited by the Buddhist priests to acts of oppression towards the Muslims and the persecution of the faithful.
There was an Imam in that country, one of the men of learning among the Muslims . . . named Nur al-Din, al-Khwarazmi.
A number of Christian laymen and priests and a band of idol-worshipping Buddhist priests made a request to Kuyuk, asking him to summon that Imam of the Muslims that they might hold a controversy with him and get him to prove the superiority of the faith of Muhammad and his prophetic mission—otherwise, he should be put to death.
The Khan agreed, the Imam was sent for, and a discussion ensued upon the claim of Muhammad to be a prophet and the manner of his life as compared with that of other prophets.
At length, as the arguments of those accursed ones were weak and devoid of the force of truth, they withdrew their hand from contradiction and drew the mark of oppression and outrage on the pages of the business and asked Kuyuk Khan to tell the Imam to perform two genuflexions in prayer, according to the rites and ordinances of the Muslim law, in order that his unbecoming movements in the performance of this act of worship might become manifest to them and to the Khan.”
Kuyuk gave the order accordingly, and the Imam and another Muslim who was with him performed the ritual of the prayer according to the prescribed forms.
“When the godly Imam and the other Muslim who was with him, had placed their foreheads on the ground in the act of prostration, some infidels whom Kuyuk had summoned, greatly annoyed them and knocked their heads with force upon the ground, and committed other abominable acts against them.
But that godly Imam endured all this oppression and annoyance and performed all the required forms and ceremonies of the prayer and in no way curtailed it.
When he had repeated the salutation, he lifted up his face towards heaven and observed the form of Invoke your Lord with humility and in secret, and having asked permission to depart, he returned unto his own house.”
Arghun (12841291) the fourth IlKhan persecuted the Muslims and took away from them all posts in the departments of justice and finance, and forbade them to appear at his court.
In spite of all difficulties, however, the Mongols and the savage tribes that followed in their wake were at length brought to submit to the faith of those Muslim peoples whom they had crushed.
Unfortunately history sheds little light on the progress of this missionary movement and only a few details relating to the conversion of the more prominent converts have been preserved to us.
Scattered up and down throughout the length and breadth of the Mongol empire, there must have been many of the followers of the Prophet who labored successfully and unknown, to win unbelievers to the faith.
In the reign of Ogotay (12291241), we read of a certain Buddhist governor of Persia, named Kurguz, who in his later years abjured Buddhism and became a Muslim .
In the reign of Timur Khan (13231328), Ananda, a grandson of Qubilay and viceroy of Kan Su, was a zealous Muslim and had converted a great many persons in Tangut and won over a large number of the troops under his command to the same faith. He was summoned to court and efforts were made to induce him to conform to Buddhism, and on his refusing to abandon his faith he was cast into prison. But he was shortly after set at liberty, for fear of an insurrection among the inhabitants of Tangut, who were much attached to him.
The first Mongol ruling prince who professed Islam
The first Mongol ruling prince who professed Islam was Baraka Khan, who was chief of the Golden Horde from 1256 to 1267.
- According to Abul-Ghazi Baraka Khan was converted after he had come to the throne. He is said one day to have fallen in with a caravan coming from Bukhara, and taking two of the merchants aside, to have questioned them on the doctrines of Islam, and they expounded to him their faith so persuasively that he became converted in all sincerity.
- He first revealed his change of faith to his youngest brother, whom he induced to follow his example, and then made open profession of his new belief.
- But, according to al-Juzjani, Baraka Khan was brought up as a Muslim from infancy, and, as soon as he was old enough to learn, was taught the Quran by one of the Ulama of the city of Khujand.
- The same author (who compiled his history during the lifetime of Baraka Khan), states that the whole of his army was Muslim . “Trustworthy persons have also related that, throughout his whole army, it is the etiquette for every horseman to have a prayer carpet with him, so that, when the time for prayer arrives, they may occupy themselves in their devotions.
- Not a person in his whole army takes any intoxicating drink whatever; and great Ulama, consisting of commentators, traditionists, jurists, and disputants, are in his society.
- He has a great number of religious books, and most of his receptions and debates are with Ulama. In his place of audience debates on ecclesiastical law constantly take place; and, in his faith, as a Muslim , he is exceedingly strict and orthodox.”
- Baraka Khan entered into a close alliance with the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, Rukn al-Din Baybars. The initiative came from Baybars, who had given a hospitable reception to a body of troops, two hundred in number, belonging to the Golden Horde; these men, observing the growing enmity between their Khan and Hulagu, the conqueror of Baghdad, in whose army they were serving, took flight into Syria, whence they were honorably conducted to Cairo to the court of Baybars, who persuaded them to embrace Islam.
Baybars himself was at war with Hulagu, whom he had recently defeated and driven him out of Syria. He sent two of the Mongol fugitives, with some other envoys, to bear a letter to Baraka Khan.
On their return these envoys reported that each princess and Amir at the court of Baraka Khan had an imam and a mu’adhdhin, and the children were taught the Quran in the schools. These friendly relations between Baybars and Baraka Khan brought many of the Mongols of the Golden Horde into Egypt, where they were prevailed upon to become Muslims .
In Persia: Takudar Embraces Islam
In Persia, where Hulagu founded the dynasty of the IlKhans, the progress of Islam among the Mongols was much slower. In order to strengthen himself against the attacks of Baraka Khan and the Sultan of Egypt, Hulagu accepted the alliance of the Christian powers of the East, such as the king of Armenia and the Crusaders.
His favorite wife was a Christian and favorably disposed the mind of her husband towards her coreligionists, and his son Abaqa Khan married the daughter of the Emperor of Constantinople. Though Abaqa Khan did not himself become a Christian, his court was filled with Christian priests, and he sent envoys to several of the princes of Europe—St. Louis of France, King Charles of Sicily and King James of Aragon—to solicit their alliance against the Muslims; to the same end also, an embassy of sixteen Mongols was sent to the Council of Lyons in 1274, where the spokesman of this embassy embraced Christianity and was baptized with some of his companions.
Great hopes were entertained of the conversion of Abaqa, but they proved fruitless.
His brother Takudar, who succeeded him, was the first of the IlKhans who embraced Islam.
He had been brought up as a Christian, for (as a contemporary Christian writer tells us),
“he was baptized when young and called by the name of Nicholas.
But when he was grown up, through his intercourse with the Arabs of whom he was very fond, he became a base Saracen, and, renouncing the Christian faith, wished to be called Muhammad Khan, and strove with all his might that the Tartars should be converted to the faith and Religion of Muhammad,
and when they proved obstinate, not daring to force them, he brought about their conversion by giving them honors and favors and gifts, so that in his time many Tartars were converted to the faith of the Muslims.
|“This prince sent the news of his conversion to the Sultan of Egypt in the following letter:—”By the power of God Almighty, the mandate of Ahmad to the Sultan of Egypt.
God Almighty (praised be His name!) by His grace preventing us and by the light of His guidance, hath guided us in our early youth and vigor into the true path of the knowledge of His deity and the confession of His unity, to bear witness that Muhammad (on whom rest the highest blessings!) is the Prophet of God, and to reverence His saints and His pious servants. Whom God shall please to guide, that mans breast will He open to Islam. …..
By the grace of God, we have raised aloft the standards of the faith, and borne witness to it in all our orders and our practice, so that the ordinances of the law of Muhammad may be brought to the fore and firmly established in accordance with the principles of justice laid down by Ahmad.
Whereby we have filled the hearts of the people with joy, have granted free pardon to all offenders, and shown them indulgences, saying, May God pardon the past!
We have reformed all matters concerning the pious endowments of Muslims given for mosques, colleges, charitable institutions, and the rebuilding of caravanserais;
we have restored their incomes to those to whom they were due according to the terms laid down by the donors. . . .
We have ordered the pilgrims to be treated with respect, provision to be made for their caravans and for securing their safety on the pilgrim routes;
we have given perfect freedom to merchants, traveling from one country to another, that they may go wherever they please; and we have strictly prohibited our soldiers and police from interfering with them in their comings or goings.” He seeks the alliance of the Sultan of Egypt ” so that these countries and cities may again be populated, these terrible calamities be put down, the sword be returned to the scabbard; that all peoples may dwell in peace and quietness, and the necks of the Muslims be freed from the ills of humiliation and disgrace.”
To the student of the history of the Mongols it is a relief to pass from the recital of nameless horrors and continual bloodshed to a document emanating from a Mongol prince and giving expression to such humane and benevolent sentiments, which sound strange indeed coming from such lips.
This conversion of their chief and the persecutions that he inflicted on the Christians gave great offence to the Mongols, who, although not Christians themselves, had been long accustomed to intercourse with the Christians, and they denounced their chief to Qubilay Khan as one who had abandoned the footsteps of his forefathers.
A revolt broke out against him, headed by his nephew Arghun, who compassed his death and succeeded him on the throne. During his brief reign (12841291), the Christians were once more restored to favor, while the Muslims had to suffer persecution in their turn, were dismissed from their posts and driven away from the court.
Ghazan Embraces Islam
The successors of Takudar were all heathen, until, in 1295, Ghazan, the seventh and greatest of the IlKhans, became a Muslim and made Islam the ruling religion of Persia.
During the last three reigns the Christians had entertained great hopes of the conversion of the ruling family of Persia, who had shown them such distinguished favor and entrusted them with so many important offices of state. His immediate predecessor, the insurgent Baydu Khan, who occupied the throne for a few months only in 1295, carried his predilection for Christianity so far as to try to put a stop to the spread of Islam among the Mongols, and accordingly forbade any one to preach the doctrines of this faith among them.
- Ghazan himself before his conversion had been brought up as a Buddhist and had erected several Buddhist temples in Khurasan, and took great pleasure in the company of the priests of this faith, who had come into Persia in large numbers since the establishment of the Mongol supremacy over that country.
- He appears to have been naturally of a religious turn of mind, for he studied the creeds of the different religions of his time, and used to hold discussions with the learned doctors of each faith.
- Rashid al-Din, his learned minister and the historian of his reign, maintained the genuineness of his conversion to Islam, the religious observances of which he zealously kept throughout his whole reign, though his contemporaries (and later writers have often reechoed the imputation) represented him as having only yielded to the solicitations of some Amirs and Shaykhs.
- “Besides, what interested motive,” asks his apologist, “could have led so powerful a sovereign to change his faith: much less, a prince whose pagan ancestors had conquered the world ?”
- His conversion, however, certainly won over to his side the hearts of the Persians, when he was contending with Baydu for the throne, and the Muslim Mongols in the army of his rival deserted to support the cause of their coreligionist. These were the very considerations that were urged upon Ghazan by Nawruz, a Muslim Amir who had espoused his cause and who hailed him as the prince who, according to a prophecy, was to appear about this time to protect the faith of Islam and restore it to its former splendor: if he embraced Islam, he could become the ruler of Persia: the Muslims, delivered from the grievous yoke of the Pagan Mongols, would espouse his cause, and God, recognising in him the savior of the true faith from utter destruction, would bless his arms with victory.
After hesitating a little, Ghazan made a public profession of the faith, and his officers and soldiers followed his example: he distributed alms to men of piety and learning and visited the mosques and tombs of the saints and in every way showed himself an exemplary Muslim ruler. His brother, Uljaytu, who succeeded him in 1304, under the name of Muhammad Khudabandah, had been brought up as a Christian in the faith of his mother and had been baptized under the name of Nicholas, but after his mothers death, while he was still a young man, he became a convert to Islam through the persuasions of his wife. Ibn Baṭuṭah says that his example exercised a great influence on the Mongols.
From this time forward Islam became the paramount faith in the kingdom of the IlKhans.
Tuqluq Timur Khan Embraces Islam
The details that we possess of the progress of Islam in the Middle Kingdom, which fell to the lot of Chaghatay and his descendants, are still more meager. Several of the princes of this line had a Muslim minister in their service, but they showed themselves unsympathetic to the faith of Islam. Chaghatay harassed his Muslim subjects by regulations that restricted their ritual observances in respect of the killing of animals for food and of ceremonial washings. al-Juzjani says that he was the bitterest enemy of the Muslims among all the Mongol rulers and did not wish any one to utter the word Muslim before him except with evil purpose.
Orghana, the wife of his grandson and successor, Qara Hulagu, brought up her son as a Muslim , and under the name of Mubarak Shah he came forward in 1264 as one of the claimants of the disputed succession to the Chaghatay Khanate; but he was soon driven from the throne by his cousin Buraq Khan, and appears to have exercised no influence on behalf of his faith, indeed judging from their names it would not appear that any of his own children even adopted the religion of their father.
Buraq Khan is said to have “had the blessedness of receiving the light of the faith” a few days before his death in 1270, and to have taken the name of Sultan Ghiyath al-Din, but he was buried according to the ancient funeral rites of the Mongols, and not as a Muslim, and those who had been converted during his reign relapsed into their former heathenism.
It was not until the next century that the conversion of Ṭarmashirin Khan, about 1326, caused Islam to be at all generally adopted by the Chaghatay Mongols, who when they followed the example of their chief this time remained true to their new faith. But even now the ascendancy of Islam was not assured, for Buzun who was Khan in the next decade— the chronology is uncertain—drove Ṭarmashirin from his throne, and persecuted the Muslims, and it was not until some years later that we hear of the first Muslim king of Kashgar, which the breakup of the Chaghatay dynasty had erected into a separate kingdom.
This prince, Tuqluq Timur Khan (13471363), is said to have owed his conversion to a holy man from Bukhara, by name Shaykh Jamal al-Din. This Shaykh, in company with a number of travelers, had unwittingly trespassed on the game preserves of the prince, who ordered them to be bound hand and foot and brought before him.
In reply to his angry question, how they had dared interfere with his hunting, the Shaykh pleaded that they were strangers and were quite unaware that they were trespassing on forbidden ground. Learning that they were Persians, the prince said that a dog was worth more than a Persian. “Yes,” replied the Shaykh, “if we had not the true faith, we should indeed be worse than the dogs.” Struck with his reply, the Khan ordered this bold Persian to be brought before him on his return from hunting, and taking him aside asked him to explain what he meant by these words and what was “faith.” The Shaykh then set before him the doctrines of Islam with such fervor and zeal that the heart of the Khan (that before had been hard as a stone) was melted like wax, and so terrible a picture did the holy man draw of the state of unbelief, that the prince was convinced of the blindness of his own errors, but said,
|“Were I now to make profession of the faith of Islam, I should not be able to lead my subjects into the true path.
But bear with me a little; and when I have entered into the possession of the kingdom of my forefathers, come to me again.”
For the empire of Chaghtay had by this time been broken up into a number of petty princedoms, and it was many years before Tuqluq Timur succeeded in uniting under his sway the whole empire as before.
Meanwhile Shaykh Jamal al-Din had returned to his home, where he fell dangerously ill: when at the point of death, he said to his son Rashid al-Din, “Tuqluq Timur will one day become a great monarch; fail not to go and salute him in my name and fearlessly remind him of the promise he made me.”
Some years later, when Tuqluq Timur had re-won the empire of his fathers, Rashid al-Din made his way to the camp of the Khan to fulfill the last wishes of his father, but in spite of all his efforts he could not gain an audience of the Khan.
|At length he devised the following expedient:
One day in the early morning, he began to chant the call to prayers, close to the Khans tent.
Enraged at having his slumbers disturbed in this way, the prince ordered him to be brought into his presence, whereupon Rashid al-Din delivered his fathers message.
Tuqluq Khan was not unmindful of his promise, and said:
“Ever since I ascended the throne I have had it on my mind that I made that promise, but the person to whom I gave the pledge never came. Now you are welcome.”
He then repeated the profession of faith and became a Muslim. “On that morn the sun of bounty rose out of the east of divine favor and effaced the dark night of unbelief. . . .
They then decided that for the propagation of Islam they should interview the princes one by one, and it should be well for those who accepted the faith, but those who refused should be slain as heathens and idolaters.”
|The first to be examined was a noble named Amir Tulik.
The Khan asked him, “Will you embrace Islam?” Amir Tulik burst into tears and said:
” Three years ago I was converted by some holy men at Kashgar and became a Muslim, but from fear of you I did not openly declare it.”
Then Tuqluq Khan rose up and embraced him, and the three sat down again together.
In this manner they examined the princes one by one, and they all accepted Islam, with the exception of one named Jaras, who suggested a trial of strength between the Shaykh and his servant, an infidel who was above the ordinary stature of man and so strong that he could lift a two year old camel.
|The Shaykh accepted the challenge, saying: “If I do not throw him, I will not require you to become a Muslim.
If it is God’s wish that the Mongols become honored with the blessed state of Islam, He will doubtless give me sufficient power to overcome this man.
“Tuqluq Khan and those who had become Muslims with him tried to dissuade the holy man, but he persisted in his purpose.
“A large crowd assembled, the infidel was brought in, and he and the Shaykh advanced towards one another. The infidel, proud of his own strength, advanced with a conceited air. The Shaykh looked very small and weak beside him.
When they came to blows, the Shaykh struck the infidel full in the chest, and he fell senseless. After a little he came to again, and having raised himself, fell again at the feet of the Shaykh, crying out and uttering words of belief.
The people raised loud shouts of applause, and on that day 160,000 persons cut off the hair of their heads and became Muslims. The Khan was circumcised, and the lights of Islam dispelled the shades of unbelief.”
From that time Islam became the established faith in the settled countries under the rule of the descendants of Chaghatay. But many of the nomad Mongols appear to have remained outside the pale of Islam up to the early part of the fifteenth century, judging from the violent methods adopted for their conversion by Muhammad Khan, who was Khan of Mughalistan about 1416.
“Muhammad Khan was a wealthy prince and a good Muslim . He persisted in following the road of justice and equity, and was so unremitting in his exertions, that during his blessed reign most of the tribes of the Mongols became Muslims . It is well known what severe measures he had recourse to, in bringing the Mongols to be believers in Islam. If, for instance, a Mongol did not wear a turban, a horseshoe nail was driven into his head: and treatment of this kind was common. May God recompense him with good.”
Even such drastic measures were ineffectual in bringing about a general acceptance of Islam, for as late as at the close of the following century, a dervish named Ishaq Wali found scope for his proselytizing activities in Kashgar, Yarkand and Khotan, where he spent twelve years in spreading the faith; he also worked among the Kirghiz and Kazaks, from among whom he made 180 convert and destroyed eighteen temples of idols.
By slow degrees, Islam thus began to emerge out of the ruins of its former ascendancy and take its place again as a dominant faith, after more than a century of depression. In the course of the struggle between the followers of rival creeds for the adherence of the Mongols, considerations of political expediency undoubtedly operated in favor of the Muslim party,
And the intrigues of Western Christendom caused the Christians to become suspect, as agents of a foreign power; but at the beginning such of the Mongols as were Nestorians could put forward a better claim to be the national party and could attack the Muslims as adherents of a foreign faith. Ahmad Takudar was denounced by Arghun as a traitor to the law of his fathers, in that he had followed the way of the Arabs which none of his ancestors had known.
The insurrection that caused Ṭarmashirin to be driven into exile, gained strength from the complaint that this monarch had disregarded the Yassaq or ancient code of Mongol institutes.
But though the issue of the struggle long remained doubtful, Islam gradually gained ground in the lands of which it had been dispossessed. The means whereby this success was achieved are obscure, and the scanty details set forth above leave much of the tale untold, but enough has been recorded to indicate some of the proselytizing agencies that led to individual conversions.
Ananda drank in Islam with his foster mothers milk; and the remnant of the faithful, especially the older families of Muslim Turks, exercised an almost insensible influence on the Mongols who settled down in their midst. But of special importance among the proselytizing agencies at work was the influence of the pir (spiritual guide) and his spiritual disciples.
In the midst of the profound discouragement which filled the Muslims after the flood of the Mongol conquest had poured over them, their first refuge was in mysticism, and the pir, or spiritual guide, and religious orders—such as the Naqshbandi, which in the fourteenth century entered on a new period of its development—breathed new life into the Muslim community and inspired it with fresh fervor. “In the hands of the pir and his monks, the Muslim in Asia came to be an agent, at first passive and unconscious, later on the adherent of a party—the party of the national faith, in opposition to the rule of the Mongols, which was at once foreign, barbaric and secular.”
Let us now return to the history of Islam in the Golden Horde. The chief camping ground of this section of the Mongols was the grassy plain watered by the Volga, on the bank of which they founded their capital city Serai, whither the Russian princes sent their tribute to the Khan.
The conversion of Baraka Khan, of which mention has been made above, and the close intercourse with Egypt that subsequently sprang up, contributed considerably to the progress of Islam, and his example seems to have been gradually followed by those of the aristocracy and leaders of the Golden Horde that were of Mongol descent.
But many tribes of the Golden Horde appear to have resented the introduction of Islam into their midst, and when the conversion of Baraka Khan was openly proclaimed, they sent to offer the crown, of which they considered him now unworthy, to his rival Hulagu. Indeed, so strong was this opposition, that it seems to have largely contributed to the formation of the Nogais as a separate tribe.
They took their name from Nogay, who was the chief commander of the Mongol forces under Baraka Khan. When the other princes of the Golden Horde became Muslims Nogay remained a Shamanist and thus became a rallying point for those who refused to abandon the old religion of the Mongols. His daughter, however, who was married to a Shamanist, became converted to Islam some time after her marriage and had to endure the ill-treatment and contempt of her husband in consequence.
To Uzbek Khan, who was leader of the Golden Horde from 1313 to 1340, and who distinguished himself by his proselytizing zeal, it was said, “Content yourself with our obedience, what matters our religion to you? Why should we abandon the faith of Chingiz Khan for that of Islam!” But in spite of the strong opposition to his efforts, Uzbek Khan succeeded in winning many converts to the faith of which he was so ardent a follower and which owed to his efforts its firm establishment in the country under his sway.
A further sign of his influence is found in the tribes of the Uzbeks of Central Asia, who take their name from him and were probably converted during his reign.
He is said to have formed the design of spreading the faith of Islam throughout the whole of Russia, but here he met with no success. Indeed, though the Mongols were paramount in Russia for two centuries, they appear to have exercised very little influence on the people of that country, and least of all in the matter of religion.
It is noticeable, moreover, that in spite of his zeal for the spread of his own faith, Uzbek Khan was very tolerant towards his Christian subjects, who were left undisturbed in the exercise of their religion and even allowed to pursue their missionary labors in his territory. One of the most remarkable documents of Muslim toleration is the charter that Uzbek Khan granted to the Metropolitan Peter in 1313:—
|“By the will and power, the greatness and mercy of the most High! Uzbek to all our princes, great and small, etc., etc.
Let no man insult the metropolitan church of which Peter is the head, or his servants or his churchmen; let no man seize their property, goods or people, let no man meddle with the affairs of the metropolitan church, since they are divine.
Whoever shall meddle therein and transgress our edict, will be guilty before God and feel His wrath and be punished by us with death.
Let the metropolitan dwell in the path of safety and rejoice, with a just and upright heart let him (or his deputy) decide and regulate all ecclesiastical matters.
We solemnly declare that neither we nor our children nor the princes of our realm nor the governors of our provinces will in any way interfere with the affairs of the church and the metropolitan, or in their towns, districts, villages, chases and fisheries, their hives, lands, meadows, forests, towns and places under their bailiffs, their vineyards, mills, winter quarters for cattle, or any of the properties and goods of the church.
Let the mind of the metropolitan be always at peace and free from trouble, with uprightness of heart let him pray to God for us, our children and our nation.
Whoever, shall lay hands on anything that is sacred, shall be held guilty, he shall incur the wrath of God and the penalty of death, that others may be dismayed at his fate.
When the tribute or other dues, such as custom duties, plough tax, tolls or relays are levied, or when we wish to raise troops among our subjects, let nothing be exacted from the cathedral churches under the metropolitan Peter, or from any of his clergy: . . . whatever may be exacted from the clergy, shall be returned threefold. . .
Their laws, their churches, their monasteries and chapels shall be respected; whoever condemns or blames this religion, shall not be allowed to excuse himself under any pretext, but shall be punished with death. The brothers and sons of priests and deacons, living at the same table and in the same house, shall enjoy the same privileges.”
That these were no empty words and that the toleration here promised became a reality, may be judged from a letter sent to the Khan by Pope John XXII in 1318, in which he thanks the Muslim prince for the favor he showed to his Christian subjects and the kind treatment they received at his hands.
The successors of Uzbek Khan do not appear to have been animated by the same zeal for the spread of Islam as he had shown, and could not be expected to succeed where he failed. So long as the Russians paid their taxes, they were left free to worship according to their own desires, and the Christian religion had become too closely intertwined with the life of the people to be disturbed, even had efforts been made to turn them from the faith of their fathers; for Christianity had been the national religion of the Russian people for well-nigh three centuries before the Mongols established themselves in Russian territory.
Another race many years before had tried to win the Russians to Islam but had likewise failed, viz. the Muslim Bulgarians who were found in the tenth century on the banks of the Volga, and who probably owed their conversion to the Muslim merchants, trading in furs and other commodities of the North; their conversion must have taken place some time before a.d. 921, when the caliph al-Muqtadir sent an envoy to confirm them in the faith and instruct them in the tenets and ordinances of Islam.
The Muslim Bulgarians and Vladimir
These Bulgarians attempted the conversion of Vladimir, the then sovereign of Russia, who (the Russian chronicler tells us) had found it necessary to choose some religion better than his pagan creed, but they failed to overcome his objections to the rite of circumcision and to the prohibition of wine, the use of which, he declared, the Russians could never give up, as it was the very joy of their life.
Equally unsuccessful were the Jews who came from the country of the Khazars on the Caspian Sea and had won over the king of that people to the Mosaic faith. After listening to their arguments, Vladimir asked them where their country was. “Jerusalem” they replied, “but God in His anger has scattered us over the whole world.” “Then you are cursed of God,” cried the king, ” and yet want to teach others: begone ! we have no wish, like you, to be without a country.”
The most favorable impression was made by a Greek priest who, after a brief criticism of the other religions, set forth the whole scheme of Christian teaching beginning with the creation of the world and the story of the fall of man and ending with the seven ecumenical councils accepted by the Greek Church; then he showed the prince a picture of the Last Judgment with the righteous entering paradise and the wicked being thrust down into hell, and promised him the heritage of heaven, if he would be baptized.
But Vladimir was unwilling to make a rash choice of a substitute for his pagan religion, so he called his boyards together and having told them of the accounts he had received of the various religions, asked them for their advice. ” Prince,” they replied, ” every man praises his own religion, and if you would make choice of the best, send wise men into the different countries to discover which of all the nations honors God in the manner most worthy of Him.”
So Vladimir chose out for this purpose ten men who were eminent for their wisdom. These ambassadors found among the Bulgarians mean looking places of worship, gloomy prayers and solemn faces; among the German Catholics religious ceremonies that lacked both grandeur and magnificence. At length they reached Constantinople: “Let them see the glory of our God,” said the Emperor. So they were taken to the church of Santa Sophia, where the Patriarch, clad in his pontifical robes, was celebrating mass. The magnificence of the building, the rich vestments of the priests, the ornaments of the altars, the sweet odor of the incense, the reverent silence of the people, and the mysterious solemnity of the ceremonial filled the savage Russians with wonder and amazement.
On their return to Kief, the ambassadors gave Vladimir an account of their mission; they spoke with disaffection of the religion of the Prophet and had little to say for the Roman Catholic faith, but were enthusiastic in their eulogies of the Greek Church. “Every man,” they said, “who has put his lips to a sweet draught, henceforth abhors anything bitter; wherefore we having come to the knowledge of the faith of the Greek Church desire none other.”
Vladimir once more consulted his boyards, who said unto him, “Had not the Greek faith been best of all, Olga, your grandmother, the wisest of mortals, would never have embraced it.” Whereupon Vladimir hesitated no longer and in a.d. 988 declared himself a Christian. On the day after his baptism he threw down the idols his forefathers had worshipped, and issued an edict that all the Russians, masters and slaves, rich and poor, should submit to be baptized into the Christian faith.
Thus Christianity became the national religion of the Russian people, and after the Mongol conquest, the distinctive national characteristics of Russians and Tatars that have kept the two races apart to the present day, the bitter hatred of the Tatar yoke, the devotion of the Russians to their own faith and the want of religious zeal on the part of the Tatars, kept the Russians from adopting the religion of the Tatars. Especially has the prohibition of spirituous liquors by the laws of Islam been supposed to have stood in the way of the adoption of this religion by the Russian people.
The Tatars of the Crimea:
It would appear that not until after the promulgation of the edict of religious toleration in 1905 throughout the Russian empire and the active Muslim propaganda that followed it, were cases observed of Russians being converted to Islam, and those that have occurred are ascribed to the strong attraction of the material help offered by the Tatars to such converts and the influence of the moral strength of the Muslims themselves.
Not that the Tatars in Russia had been altogether inoperative in promoting the spread of Islam during the preceding centuries. The distinctly Hellenic type of face that is to be found among the so-called Tatars of the Crimea has led to the conjecture that these Muslims have absorbed into their community the Greek and Italian populations that they found settled on the Crimean peninsula, and that we find among them the Muslimized descendants of the indigenous inhabitants, and of the Genoese colonists.
A traveler of the seventeenth century tells us that the Tatars of the Crimea tried to induce their slaves to become Muslims, and won over many of them to this faith by promising them their liberty if they would be persuaded.
Conversions to Islam from among the Tatars of the Crimea are also reported after the proclamation of religious liberty in 1905.
Tatars in Lithuania
A brief reference may here be made to the Tatars in Lithuania, where small groups of them have been settled since the early part of the fifteenth century; these Muslim immigrants, dwelling in the midst of a Christian population, have preserved their old faith, but (probably for political reasons) do not appear to have attempted to proselytize.
But they have been in the habit of marrying Lithuanian and Polish women, whose children were always brought up as Muslims, whereas no Muslim girl was permitted to marry a Christian. The grand dukes of Lithuania in the fifteenth century encouraged the marriage of Christian women with their Tatar troops, on whom they bestowed grants of land and other privileges.
The conversion of the Kirghiz of Central Asia by Tatar mullas:
One of the most curious incidents in the missionary history of Islam is the conversion of the Kirghiz of Central Asia by Tatar mullas, who preached Islam among them in the eighteenth century, as emissaries of the Russian government.
The Kirghiz began to come under Russian rule about 1731, and for 120 years all diplomatic correspondence was carried on with them in the Tatar language under the delusion that they were ethnographically the same as the Tatars of the Volga.
Another misunderstanding on the part of the Russian government was that the Kirghiz were Muslims, whereas in the eighteenth century they were nearly all Shamanists, as a large number of them were still up to the middle of the nineteenth century. At the time of the annexation of their country to the Russian empire only a few of their Khans and Sulṭans had any knowledge of the faith of Islam and that very confused and vague.
Not a single mosque was to be found throughout the whole of the Kirghiz Steppes, or a single religious teacher of the faith of the Prophet, and the Kirghiz owed their conversion to Islam to the fact that the Russians, taking them for Muslims, insisted on treating them as such.
Large sums of money were given for the building of mosques, and mullas were sent to open schools and instruct the young in the tenets of the Muslim faith: the Kirghiz scholars were to receive every day a small sum to support themselves on, and the fathers were to be induced to send their children to the schools by presents and other means of persuasion.
An incontrovertible proof that the Muslim propaganda made its way into the Kirghiz Steppes from the side of Russia, is the circumstance that it was especially those Kirghiz who were more contiguous to Europe that first became Muslims, and the old Shamanism lingered up to the nineteenth century among those who wandered in the neighborhood of Khiva, Bukhara and Khokand, though these for centuries had been Muslim countries.
This is probably the only instance of a Christian government cooperating in the promulgation of Islam, and is the more remarkable inasmuch as the Russian government of this period was attempting to force Christianity on its Muslim subjects in Europe, in continuation of the efforts made in the sixteenth century soon after the conquest of the Khanate of Kazan.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century many of the Kirghiz dwelling in the vast plains stretching southwards from the district of Tobolsk towards Turkistan were still heathen, and the Russian government was approached for permission for a Christian mission to be established among them. But this request was not granted, on the ground that “these people were as yet too wild and savage to be accessible to the Gospel.
But soon after other missionaries, not depending on the goodwill of any government, and having more zeal and understanding, occupied this field and won the whole of the Kirghis tribe to the faith of Islam.” 
After the conquest of Kazan by the Russians in the sixteenth century, the occupation of the former Tatar Khanate was followed up by an official Christian missionary movement, and a number of the heathen population of the Khanate were baptized, the labors of the clergy being actively seconded by the police and the civil authorities, but as the Russian priests did not understand the language of their converts and soon neglected them, it had to be admitted that the new converts “shamelessly retain many horrid Tartar customs, and neither hold nor know the Christian faith.” When spiritual exhortations failed, the government ordered its officials to “pacify, imprison, put in irons, and thereby unteach and frighten from the Tartar faith those who, though baptized, do not obey the admonitions of the Metropolitan.”
In the eighteenth century the Russian government made fresh efforts to convert the heathen tribes and the relapsed Tatars, and held out many inducements to them to become baptized.
Catherine II in 1778 ordered that all the new converts should sign a written promise to the effect that “they would completely forsake their infidel errors, and, avoiding all intercourse with unbelievers, would hold firmly and unwaveringly the Christian faith and its dogmas. “But in spite of all, these so-called “baptized Tartars” were Christians only in name, and soon began to try to escape from the propagandist efforts of the Orthodox Church and abandoned Christianity for Islam, their so-called conversion merely serving as a steppingstone to their entrance into the faith of the Prophet.
They may, indeed, have been inscribed in the official registers as Christians, but they resolutely stood out against any efforts that were made to Christianize them. In a semiofficial article, published in 1872, the writer says :
|“It is a fact worthy of attention that a long series of evident apostasies coincides with the beginning of measures to confirm the converts in the Christian faith.
There must be, therefore, some collateral cause producing those cases of apostasy precisely at the moment when the contrary might be expected.”
The fact seems to be that these Tatars having all the tune remained Muslim at heart, resisted the active measures taken to make their nominal profession of Christianity in any way a reality.
For the Russian criminal code used to contain severe enactments against those who fell away from the Orthodox Church,3 and sentenced any person convicted of converting a Christian to Islam to the loss of all civil rights and to imprisonment with hard labor for a term varying from eight to ten years. In spite, however, of the edicts of the government, Muslim propagandism succeeded in winning over whole villages to the faith of Islam, especially among the tribes of northeastern Russia.
The town of Kazan is the chief centre of this missionary activity; a large number of Muslim publications are printed here every year, and mullas go forth from the University to convert the pagans in the villages and bring back to Islam the Tatars who have allowed themselves to be baptized. The increasing number of these Christian Tatars, who have gone to swell the ranks of Islam, has alarmed the clergy of the Orthodox Church, but their efforts have failed to check the success of the mullas. Especially since the edict of toleration in 1905, mass conversions have been reported, e.g. in 1909, ninety-one families in the village of Atomva are said to have become Muslim, and as many as 53,000 persons between 1906 and 1910.
This propaganda is said to owe much of its success to the higher moral level of life in Muslim society, as well as to the stronger feeling of solidarity that prevails in it; moreover, the methods adopted by the Russian clergy, supported by the government, to make the so-called Christian Tatars more orthodox, have caused the Christian faith to become unpopular among them.
On the other hand, the propaganda of Islam is very zealously carried forward; “every simple, untaught Muslim is a missionary of his religion, and the poor, dark, untaught heathen or half-heathen tribes cannot resist their force. In many villages of baptized aborigines the men go away for the winter to work as tailors in Muslim villages. There they are converted to Islam, and they return to their villages as fanatics bringing with them Muslim ideas with which to influence their homes.”
The tribes that have chiefly come under the influence of this missionary movement are the Votiaks, the greater part of whom are baptized Christians, but many became Muslims in the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries; and the influence of Islam is continually growing both among those that are Christian and among the small remnant that is still heathen.
The Cheremiss, like the Votiaks, are a Finnish tribe, about a quarter of whom are still heathen, but many have already embraced Islam and it is probable that most of them will soon adopt the same religion. The movement of the Cheremiss towards Islam made itself manifest in the nineteenth century and though many of them were nominally Christian, whole villages of them became Muslim despite the laws forbidding conversion except to the Orthodox Church. They became Muslim through their immediate contact with the Bashkirs and Tatars, whose family and social customs were very similar to their own.
The process sometimes began with intermarriages with Muslims—e. g. in one village a Cheremiss family intermarried with some Bashkirs and adopted their faith; the converts being persecuted as ” circumcised dogs ” in their own village, moved away and founded a new settlement some miles off, some wealthy Bashkirs helping them with money; but as they were officially registered as heathen, they could not get permission for the building of a mosque, so a few Bashkir families in the neighborhood moved into the new settlement, in order to make up the number requisite for obtaining the necessary official permission.
A similar process has several times occurred in other villages in which Muslims have come to settle and have intermarried with Cheremiss.
In other cases there has been a definite missionary movement—e. g. in the beginning of the nineteenth century the village of Karakul was inhabited by Christian Cheremiss, but shortly after the middle of the century some families were converted to Islam by a Cheremiss who had become a mullah; on his death he was succeeded by a Bashkir from another village. Later on, the converts moved away to Tatar and Bashkir villages, their place being taken by Tatars, until the whole village became practically Tatar, few of the younger generation retaining any knowledge of the Cheremiss language, and intermarriages taking place only with Tatars.
Apart from this proselytizing activity, there has been a very distinct spread of Tatar influence in speech and manners among the Cheremiss. The Tatar language has spread among them, bringing with it the moral and religious ideas of Islam; the adoption of the Tatar dress is held to be a sign of superior culture, and if a Cheremiss does not dress like a Tatar he runs the risk of being laughed at by the first Tatar he meets or by his fellow Cheremiss; all this cultural movement tends to the ultimate adoption of the Tatar religion.
After their conversion, the Cheremiss are said to be very zealous in the propagation of their new faith and receive the assistance of wealthy Tatars; on the other hand, the Russians despise the Cheremiss as an inferior race and apply opprobrious epithets even to those among them who are Christians.
About one fourth of the Cheremiss are still heathen, but Muslim influences are so powerful among them that it is probable that in course of time they will for the most part become Muslims.
The Chuvash, who number about 1,000,000, have nearly all been baptized; there are about 20,000 of them that are still heathen but these are gradually being absorbed by Islam, while some of the Christian Chuvash have become Muslims and the rest are coming under Muslim influences.
The extent of their zeal for their converts may be judged from the instance of a Christian Chuvash village, the priest of which had spent several years in collecting the 300 roubles necessary for the repair of the church; eight Chuvash families became Muslim and in the course of a few months 2000 roubles were collected for the building of a mosque.
Such ready activity is characteristic of the Muslim propaganda now being carried among the aboriginal tribes. Each family that accepts Islam receives help either in money or in kind: a house is built for one; a field, cattle, etc., are purchased for another; when several families in a village are converted, a mosque is built for them and a school established for their children.
The Tatars of Siberia
Of the spread of Islam among the Tatars of Siberia, we have a few particulars. It was not until the latter half of the sixteenth century that it gained a footing in this country. But even before this period Muslim missionaries had from time to time made their way into Siberia with the hope of winning the heathen population over to the acceptance of their faith, but the majority of them met with a martyrs death.
When Siberia came under Muslim rule, in the reign of Kuchum Khan, the graves of seven of these missionaries were discovered by an aged Sheikh who came from Bukhara to search them out, being anxious that some memorial should be kept of the devotion of these martyrs to the faith: he was able to give the names of this number, and up to the last century their memory was still revered by the Tatars of Siberia.
When Kuchum Khan (who was descended from Juji Khan, the eldest son of Chingiz Khan) became Khan of Siberia (about the year 1570), either by right of conquest or (according to another account) at the invitation of the people whose Khan had died without issue, he made every effort for the conversion of his subjects, and sent to Bukhara asking for missionaries to assist him in this pious undertaking.
One of the missionaries who was sent from Bukhara has left us an account of how he set out with a companion to the capital of Kuchum Khan, on the bank of the Irtish. Here, after two years, his companion died, and, for some reasons that the writer does not mention, he went back again; but soon afterwards returned to the scene of his labors, bringing with him another coadjutor, when Kuchum Khan had appealed for help once more to Bukhara.
Missionaries also came to Siberia from Kazan. But the advancing tide of Russian conquest soon brought the proselytizing efforts of Kuchum Khan to an end before much had been accomplished, especially as many of the tribes under his rule offered a strong opposition to all attempts made to convert them.
But though interrupted by the Russian conquest, the progress of Islam was by no means stopped. Mullas from Bukhara and other cities of Central Asia and merchants from Kazan were continually active as missionaries of Islam in Siberia. In 1745 an entrance was first effected among the Baraba Tatars (between the Irtish and the Ob), and though at the beginning of the nineteenth century many were still heathen, they have now all become Muslims .
The conversion of the Kirghiz has already been spoken of above: the history of most of the other Muslim tribes of Siberia is very obscure, but their conversion is probably of a recent date. Among the instruments of Muslim propaganda at the present time, it is interesting to note the large place taken by the folksongs of the Kirghiz, in which, interwoven with tale and legend, the main truths of Islam make their way into the hearts of the common people.