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The North of the Azov Sea and the Middle Volga Region

The region under discussion constituted a vast part of the territory belonging to the Golden Horde, which, today, covers the land occupied by the Kazakhs of the vicinity of the Don River, the Tatars, the Bashqirs, the Chuvash, the Udmurts, and others. Some of the inhabitants of the region, such as the Bulghars, had embraced Islam as early as the 4th century AH (10th cen. AD), while others converted in later periods. Migration and war resulted in the displacement and relocation of these tribes, which resulted in changes in their beliefs and ethnic traits. In the 8th century AH (14th cen. AD), the city of Azaq was the center of activity of the Genovese and, later, the Venetians. In the days of the Turks the region underwent Islamization (Ibn Battutah, vol. 2, pp. 368 – 371). In 797 AH (1395 AD), the city was razed by Timur. In 880 AH (1475 AD), Azaq was taken over by the Ottomans. By 1047 AH (1637 AD), the entire population of the city was made up of Muslims. Henceforward, the leadership of the city changed hands on a number of occasions, until it fell to the Russians. With the flourishing of the city of Rostov, Azaq lost its prominence as an Islamic city. 

The territory coterminous with the modern-day Tatarstan was occupied, in the 3rd century AH (9th cen. AD), by Majar (Magyar) tribes. Later, the Majars were forced toward the Danube by the Bulghars of the middle Volga region. In the 4th – 8th centuries AH (10th – 14th centuries AD), the area was in the possession of the Bulghars. The fortress of Qazan (Ghazan; Kazan), the capital of the autonomous Republic of Tatarstan, was built by the Bulghars in 573 AH (1177 AD). With the advent of the Mongol invasion, a large number of Turkish-speaking tribes, who later came to be referred to as Tatars, migrated to the region. The Republic of Tatarstan is bounded on the north by the autonomous republics of Mari and Udmurtia, on the east by Bashqiristan, and on the west by the autonomous Republic of Chuvash. All these republics are members of the Russian Federation. 

The final Islamization of the Tartars took place in the reign of sultan Muhammad Uzbek, the khan of the Golden Horde. Ibn Battutah (Rihlah) considered the territory under the control of Uzbek Khan as Islamic and ruled by a powerful king engaged constantly in a struggle against the infidels. The Russians fought the Muslims of the region for many years before they captured Ghazan in 959 AH (1552 AD) and slaughtered its male inhabitants. With the fall of Astrakhan and Ghazan, Tatars, who had been expansionists for three hundred years, suddenly found themselves the subjects of the Russians. 

The Russians exerted much effort in converting the Tatars to Christianity. They destroyed mosques and engaged in widespread confiscation of Tatar property. They forced many into exile. In spite of all this, they failed to achieve their objective. To their dismay, the Tartars brought Islam to the Bashqirs of the Ural and the militant tribes of western Siberia. 

The Muslims resorted to jihad as a means of protecting the dar al-Islam. The first Tartar revolt took place a year after the fall of Ghazan, in 960 AH (1553 AD), and was led by a certain Sayyid Husayn. It lasted for some four years and ended in the eventual arrest and execution of Sayyid Husayn. In the period 979 – 1019 AH (1571 – 1610 AD), the Muslim Tartars rose in revolt on a number of occasions, all of which were brutally suppressed. The Lower Volga region was also the scene of several insurrections, including two led by Kuchuk Sultan, in 1089 AH (1678 AD) and 1117 – 1134 AH (1705 – 1722 AD), and the one by Kilmat Abiz and Sultan Aqa, in 1148 AH (1735 AD). Bashqirs and Kazaks also staged a number of revolts in 1150 AH (1737 AD). Another insurrection by Sultan Bay Bulat was put down in 1155 AH (1742 AD), after two years of conflict. Some time later, the Bashqirs rose in an abortive revolt led by Mulla Batir Pasha, in 1168 AH (1755 AD). 

The Tartars of the Volga, along with the Bashqirs and the Chavush, were among the first Muslims to cave in to the Russian pressure. None the less, they remained faithful to their Islamic beliefs. The majority of the Tartars are followers of Hanafite school. In the 10th – 12th centuries (16th – 18th centuries AD), a small group of them converted to Christianity, but many of them returned to the Islamic fold in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. 

The Chavush were known by the 4th century AH (10th cen. AD). Ibn Fadlan appears to have encountered the Chavush in the Volga, to whom he refers as the Siwas (Siwaz). Considering the conditions of the region, the Siwas may well have been the same Chavush. The land currently occupied by the Chavush is similar to the neighboring region belonging to the Bulghars of the Volga and Kama. It is speculated that the conversion of the Chavush to Islam was after the example of the Bulghars. In the 7th century AH (13th cen. AD), the above territory fell under the control of the Mongols. The Bulghars and the rest of the inhabitants of the region joined the Golden Horde, upon its formation. Following the schism in the Golden Horde, in 958 AH (1551 AD), the Chavush joined the khanate of Qazan. In 958 AH (1551 AD), the Chavush accepted Russian suzerainty and aided the army of Ivan the Terrible in the conquest of Qazan. 

In the 12th – 13th centuries AH (18th – 19th centuries AD), a group of the Chavush adopted the religion of the Russians and joined the Orthodox Church, while others clung to their Islamic faith. In the aftermath of the Declaration of April 17, 1905, which sanctioned the freedom of religion throughout the Russian territory, a number of the Chavush chose to return to the Islamic fold. The Muslim Chavush are Sunnis and follow the authority of the religious center of the European region of Russia and Siberia, based in the city of Ufa. 

The inhabitants of the Republic of Bashqiristan (Bashkortostan) are a mixture of the Fin-Uygur tribes, as well as those of the Kipchak, the Kazakh, the Bulghars of the Volga, the Qarakhtai and others. In the treatise by Ibn Fadlan, the Bashqir are referred to as the Bashghurd, who are said to have worshiped an extensive pantheon. Istakhri refers to them as the Basjurt. It appears that the Bashqirs converted to Islam long before the formation of the Golden Horde. In the early 7th century AH (13th cen. AD), the Bashqirs joined the Golden Horde, after whose dissolution they came under the suzerainty of the khanates of Qazan, Nogay and Siberia. 

In the early 10th century AH (16th cen. AD), the Bashqirs were defeated by the Russians. In 982 AH (1574 AD), a Russian garrison was deployed in Ufa, the present-day capital of Bashqiristan. In time, the city was transformed into an administrative center. In 1188 AH (1774 AD), the Bashqirs staged a revolt led by Salwat Yulayev, which was brutally crushed by the Russians. A group of the Bashqirs converted to Christianity in the 16th – 18th centuries, a great number of whom returned to Islam in the coming century. Today, the city of Ufa is home to the religious leadership of the European part of Russia and Siberia.

* 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.553 - 555

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