Written Culture in Daghestan. Edited by MOSHE GAMMER. Series Humaniora, vol. 369. Helsinki: FINNISH ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, 2015. Pp. 226, figs. [euro]35.
This volume provides an overview of religious literature in Daghestan, today one of Russia's "Muslim" republics in the North Caucasus. The papers stem from a 2008 conference in Jerusalem, convened by the eminent Moshe Gammer (1950-2013), whose monograph Muslim Resistance to the Tsar (1994) had pioneered the study of Daghestani and Chechen history in the West. After Gammer's untimely demise, the volume was furnished with a memorial essay from the pen of Rebecca Gould, which also serves as an introduction.
In a fine piece, Daghestan's leading archeologist Murtuz Gadzhiev discusses what we know about the pre-Islamic alphabet of Christian Albania, a political unit that covered parts of Daghestan and Azerbaijan before the advent of the Arabs. Gennadi Sosunov analyzes seventeenth- to nineteenth-century tombstones of Mountain Jews, from communities in Azerbaijan and southern Daghestan, with a focus on forms and inscriptions. The other contributions are dedicated to Islamic literature in Arabic and in Daghestani languages.
Daghestan has a central manuscript collection at the Institute of History. Archeology, and Ethnography in Makhachkala, and the last two decades brought to light a wealth of smaller libraries in Daghestan's mountain villages. The team around Amri R. Shikhsaidov, the doyen of Arabic historical studies in the country, has identified no fewer than 350 collections in mosques, schools, and in private possession, some boasting manuscript copies dating from the eleventh century. As Shikhsaidov demonstrates, most Daghestani libraries have a very classical profile, with volumes of Shafi'I law, theology, and grammar that had been imported from the Middle East before the sixteenth century; these were studied and copied in Daghestani madrasas up to the 1920s. And from early on Daghestani ulema also produced their own works in these classical disciplines, mostly in Arabic.
Other contributors discuss the circulation of particular manuscripts in Daghestan, and what information one can find in colophons and margins of Arabic manuscripts (e.g., waqf documents). Starting in the fifteenth century Daghestanis also began to use the Arabic alphabet for their native languages like Avar. Dargin, and Lak, as discussed in other chapters. One contribution offers six religious poems by Islamic scholars from...