Accepted paper:

Constructing russkii Islam: Discursive Strategies of Russian Muslim converts


Gulnaz Sibgatullina (Leiden University)

Paper abstract:

The paper focuses on discursive and translation strategies of Russian converts to Islam. In my analysis, I draw on a text corpus consisting of fifty conversion narratives that are published online and target both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences. On a linguistic level, the texts demonstrate that converts avoid using Islamic terminology, replacing it by Orthodox Christian vocabulary. Arabic and Persian loanwords are perceived as elements that pollute the Islamic discourse in Russian and make it unintelligible even for coreligionists. Discursively, converts attempt to present conversion to Islam as a result of an intellectual search and not of coercion or persuasion. They argue that "their" Islam is different from the religion of existing Muslim communities in Russia, for it is free from undemocratic ethnic traditions and customs. According to converts, their form of Islam does not only contradict Russian norms and values but, to the contrary, enables a rediscovery of "authentic" Russianness. I argue that the primary goal of these strategies is the creation of a legitimate space for ethnic Russian Muslims and distancing from negative images associated with Islam, and conversion, in general. The authors of the analysed texts construct the russkii Islam enrooted in Russian culture and way of living. The flipside of this discourse is that Russian converts end up repeating and reinforcing mainstream prejudices and stereotypes about Russia's Muslims, and place the russkii Islam above other forms of Islam. Remarkably, the converts' attempt to "purify" Islamic Russian and rid it from "foreign" elements resembles linguistic strategies of Russia's Islamic elites. Such similarities in language use of two politically antagonistic groups signal the complexity of Russia's Islamic scene, where opposing parties often have to share the set of tactics. In this paper I demonstrate that the choice of religious vocabulary does not entail theological considerations, rather it reflects the process of defining what constitutes "true" Russianness and Muslimness.

panel REL-05
Religion, Morality and Values in Eurasia