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By way of preface it should be noted that ever since the late 1st and the early 2nd centuries AH (early 8th cen. AD), the world became increasingly divided between two superpowers: Islam and Christianity. The Khazar Empire was a de facto third force, whose friendship or enmity was just as crucial for both Muslims and Christians. At the same time, the Khazars could not side with either power without forsaking their independence, since they would be compelled to take their cues from the Muslim caliph in Baghdad, or the Christian emperor of Byzantium. Under such circumstances the most logical course of action was to adopt a third religion, with no links to the other two, while retaining the respect of both powers. This, the Khazars concluded, was Judaism. 

It should be borne in mind that the adoption of Judaism was not a sudden impulse on the part the Khazars, who had come into contact with the Jews and their faith for more than a century. Some groups of Jews had migrated to the Khazar region in order to escape the persecution of the Byzantines, while others had done so following the Arab conquest of Asia Minor. In the meantime, a large number of Khazar merchants, craftsmen and others had converted to Islam. Thus, the Khazar territory, and the city of Itil in particular, was home to an eclectic population of Muslims, Christians, Jews and idolaters. The conversion of the ruler of Khazars to Judaism resulted in the spread of the religion among his subjects. The presence of Jews in the Caucasus region is reported to have started before the period of the Muslim conquests. The ancestors of this Jewish population, who were among the lower class of the society, migrated to Dagestan in the first half of the 6th century AD, during the Sasanid period, as a result of the persecution they suffered because of their sympathy for the Mazdakite movement. This accounts, to some degree, for the Khazars’ acquaintance with and final conversion to the Jewish religion. 

Mas`udi places the date of spread of Judaism in the Khazar region in the period of Harun al-Rashid. However, Artamonov is of the opinion that the date should be fixed after 621. According to Mas`udi’s report the population of Itil was predominantly made up of Muslims, who constituted the royal army and among whose agreements with the Khazar king was to be allowed to hold their ceremonies publicly, have their mosques, and announce the call to prayer (adhan). Istakhri (pp. 220 –221) and Ibn Rustah (p. 139) are of the same voice regarding the Jewish affiliation of the king of Khazars as well as their commanders and elite. According to Istakhri (Ibrahim al-masalik wa ’l-mamalik) the bulk of the Muslims and merchants was concentrated in the eastern half of Itil, with some Muslims also residing in the city of Samarqand, which housed a number of mosques. Ibn Rustah also makes mention of two cities in the Khazar region whose Muslim populations had mosques, prayer leaders and mu’azzins. 

Abu `Ubayd Bikri is another author who refers to the Khazar king’s conversion to Judaism in the days of Harun al-Rashid. According to Bikri the majority of the Khazar army was composed of Muslims, who had a magnificent mosque. Among the seven Khazar judges at the capital two were devoted to the Muslims, two to the Khazars, who judged based on the Torah, two to the Christians, and one to the Slavs (Saqalibah), Russians and other idolaters. There is a note in Mas`udi about these judges which indicates the high status of Islam in the eyes of the adherents of other religions. He notes, “In the event of an important case about which the other judges fail to come to a decision, they seek the advice of their Muslim colleague and follow the dictates of the Islamic shari`ah.” Islam, which first spread among the Khazars in the early part of the 7th century AD, came to such prominence that a large majority of the Khazar population turned to Islam, a situation that was not to last for long. In 354 AH (965 AD), the Khazar state was defeated by the Russian Empire’s Kiev government and was brought to an end in 421 AH (1030 AD). 

In the early 10th century AD (the late 3rd and early 4th centuries AH), there came into being a neighboring state to that of Khazar by the name of Bulghar (Balghar). The migrant Bulghar tribes had turned to a sedentary lifestyle prior to the 10th century AD and had become subjects of the khanates of Khazar. In 310 AH (922 AD), the khan of the Bulghars embarked on the unification of his people. To stand up to the Khazars, he appealed for help to the `Abbasid caliph, Muqtadir, to educate the Bulghar people with regard to the rules of Islamic shari`ah and to build mosques in their territory. The caliph dispatched a delegation headed by Ibn Fadlan. 

It appears that the unification of the Bulghar people was effected subsequent to their conversion to Islam, which may have played a crucial role in cementing their union, since the acceptance of Islam brought them under the protection of the caliphate of Baghdad. According to Ansari Dimashqi, “The Bulghars are Muslims who were converted by Muqtadir.” Ibn Rustah notes, “The Bulghar people reside in a land between those of the Khazars and the Saqalibah (Slavs), and their attire and tombs resemble those of the Muslims.” After the defeat of the Khazars, in 354 AH (965 AD), the Bulghars broke free of their subjugation. Some Bulghars joined the Golden Horde, in 638 AH (1241 AD). Up until the reign of Timur, they had remained in their region, but according to certain estimates their power was broken by Timur sometime in the later part of the 8th century AH (mid-1390s AD). In the fourth decade of the 9th century AH (15th cen. AD), the Russians occupied the lands belonging to the Muslim Bulghars.

* source: Reza , Enayat Allah "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.552 - 553

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