Fragmentation of religious authority in Islam (Tyumen case at the turn of the XXI century)

Bobrov I.V., Cherepanov M.S. (Tyumen, Russian Federation)


                     page 155162


The social sciences have been demonstrating a steady growth of interest in Islam in recent decades. It is becoming more obvious that the Islamic faith has different, often conflicting, variations in practice. What influences the process of formation of such different versions of Islam? One way to answer this question is to study religious authority. This article is based on the empirical material gathered in Tyumen region since the beginning of the 1990s and analyzes multiplication of positions of religious authority, which is one of the manifestations of fragmentation of authority in Islam. In the late 1980s early 1990s, basic positions of Islamic authority in the region were mullahs, abystai, astana keepers, and organizers of religious rites among the residents of a particular place. Their activities resulted in the appearance of different interpretations of Adat Islam, which included, among others, Sufi practices. In the early 1990s, new positions began to form alongside with the previously mentioned authoritative Islamic positions: the Ulema and imams. Their attempts to centralize religious authority in order to ensure uniformity of Islamic meanings and practices led to even bigger fragmentation of that authority and increased the number of dogmatic and ritual interpretations of Islam. The already existing interpretations of Adat Islam were supplemented by interpretations of different schools of Sufism, which were more and more taking shape, as well as versions of Salafism, which rejects all practices and meanings not justified by the Koran, the Sunna and fatwas of authoritative, mostly foreign, theologians. Moreover, up to date, the region has a localized Shiite interpretation of Islam too. In addition, Islamic political activists, another position, new for the regional religious field, has been formed since the late 1990s. Due to their efforts, Islam began to be interpreted as a range of religious and political concepts: from recognition of the possibility of living according to the secular laws to jihadism. Thus, the study of the materials of Tyumen region dated starting from the 1990s up to the present day identified a growth in positions of religious authority in Islam, resulting in multiplication of interpretations of Islamic teachings.


Key words: Islam, religious authority, interpretations of Islam, fragmentation of authority.


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2017-37-2-155-162




I.V. Bobrov

Malygina st., 86, 625003, Tyumen, Russian Federation



M.S. Cherepanov

Institute of the Problems of Northern development, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, Malygina st., 86, 625003, Tyumen, Russian Federation,