In This Review

For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia
For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia
By Robert D. Crews
Harvard University Press, 2006, 480 pp

Russia's wars in Chechnya and Stalin's deportations of Muslims during World War II, not to mention the 11 major wars imperial Russia fought with the Ottoman Empire between the seventeenth century and the twentieth century, seem to bear out the popular impression that Russia and Islam do not get along. Crews, in a most original, intelligent, and well-researched book, demonstrates just how wrong this impression is. Without minimizing the tensions, violence, and brutality in evidence at key moments in the relationship, he convincingly argues that Russia would not have been able to rule for 500 years over what by the end was one of the world's largest Muslim populations had there not been a symbiosis between empire and Islam. From the time Catherine the Great pronounced her policy of "toleration," the tsars treated accepted religions, including Islam, as a further prop for the regime. Muslims, in turn, often relied on the state to settle conflicts within their communities and enhance sharia (Islamic law). Romanov Russia was scarcely the only empire to use religion to help it rule, but Crews makes a good case that it did so longer and better than most.