Chapter 1: Early History of Spread of Islam in (former) Soviet Union

The former Soviet Union consisted of fifteen Republics, six of them were Muslim majority. These were Azerbeizan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikhistan and Kirghizia. There were also a large number of Muslims in Russian federation under USSR. Tatars and Bashkhirs of Volga-Ural region and most of the population of North Caucasus of Russian federation were Muslims. Besides a large number of Tatar Muslims live in Siberia and other regions. Crimea on the north of Black sea was Muslim majority area. But after second world war, the Communist Soviet government expelled all Tatars from Crimea and exiled them to Siberia, showing the reason that they helped the Germans during second world war. Later Crimea was included in another Soviet state Ukraine and Christian Slavs from Ukraine made settlement in Crimea.

The Muslm population of Soviet Union are mainly concentrated in three regions. These are Central Asia, Volga-Ural and Caucasus. Firstly there are five Muslim states on the north of Afghanistan and Iran. These are Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Secondly the Muslim settlements on the banks of Volga river and Muslim regions of Tataria and Bashkhiria on the Ural mountains. Lastly the region between Black sea and Kashpian Sea.

About one fourth of the area of Soviet Union was Muslim majority. If we exclude Siberia then it can be said that around half of the area of Soviet Union was Muslim majority, because the ice-covered barren Siberia occupies half of Soviet Union.

Total population of Soviet Union was 22 crores(in 1975), of them Muslims are around 4 crores. There is shortage of authentic information about the exact population of Muslims in Soviet Union. In 1913 there were around one crore and eighty lac Muslims in Tsar ruled Russia [Bennigsen. A. Islam in The Soviet Union, Pali Mall Press, London]. In 1960 it was assumed that Muslim population of Soviet Union was more than three crore [Bennigsen. A. Islam in The Soviet Union, Pali Mall Press, London]. Depending on these statistics it is assumed that Muslim population of Russia is now around 4 crore(in the year 1975).

Almost 85% of the Muslim population of Soviet Union are Turkish in origin and Turkish speaking. People of Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan of Central Asia, Tataria and Bashkhiria of Volga-Ural, and Azerbeizan of South Caucasus mountains are Turkish speaking. Beside these there are several Turkish speaking population in North Caucasus, Siberia, Lithuania and Belarus.

The rest 15% Muslim population of Soviet Union are mainly the Farsi speaking population of Tajikhistan. Beside Turkish and Farsi speaking population, there are Muslim population in Caucasus with different local languages (e.g Dagestani, Chechen, Inguish, Kabarda, Adizei) and few Arabic speaking Muslims.

It can be inferred from this discussion that only with the exception of Tajikhistan and North Caucasus whole of the Muslim population of Soviet Union are Turkish speaking and Turkish in origin.

It is true that Turkish language in different parts of Soviet Union have different dialects. Soviet government have divided Turkish Muslim population on the basis of this difference. But the linguistic and nationalist unity of Turkish people cannot be overlooked. According to Alexander Bennigsen one Uzbek feel no problem to understand the language of Kazakh, Turkmen or Azeri people [Bennigsen. A. Islam in The Soviet Union, Pali Mall Press, London].

The call of Islam reached Central Asia and South Caucasus Mountains in the eighth century. At that time the whole of Central Asia(except Northern part of Kazakhstan) and Caucasus came under Muslim Rule. In course of time most of the population of these areas accepted Islam and became Muslims.

Islam entered in different parts of Russia from Central Asia and Caucasus. The Tatars of Volga-Ural accepted Islam in the middle age. The Tatars are also Turkish speaking and Turkish in origin. The nomads of North Kazakhstan and Kirghiz peoples of Kirghizistan accepted Islam between 16th and 19th century.

Almost all Muslims of Lithuania, Siberia and Belarus are Tatar-Turk. They settled there during the reign of Tsar. Most of the Muslim regions came under Russian control during Tsars reign. Yet propagation and expansion of Islam continued upto the beginning of 20th century. Different tribes of Volga like Mari, Mordvinian, Udmut and Chuvas accepted Islam during this time.