Digitising Dagestan's Manuscript Heritage: Manuscripts from the Library of 'Alī al-Ghumūqī (1878-1943) (EAP957)

Aims and objectives

This project aimed to scan, catalogue, and prepare for long-term preservation all the manuscripts in the collection of ʿAlī al-Ghumūqī (1878-1943, better known in some contexts by his Soviet name Ali Kaiaev), a major figure in modern Dagestani intellectual history, whose oeuvre encompasses an astonishing range of genres, languages, contexts, and cultures. The Ghumūqī Collection is important for many disciplines and areas of inquiry, including Islamic intellectual history, Arabic, Persian, and Turkic literatures, and the Muslim cultures of the former Soviet Union. Al-Ghumūqī was one of the last Soviet citizens to receive extensive training in a major centre of Islamic learning, Cairo’s al-Azhar University. As a provocative thinker whose writings on Islamic law earned him many followers and critics, the manuscripts al-Ghumūqī collected during his travels across the Middle East shed light on the vibrant intellectual milieu of early 20th century Dagestan. More broadly, the Ghumūqī Collection bridges pre-Soviet Dagestani intellectual history with the post-Soviet (and post-secular) present, wherein countless Dagestanis Muslims are returning to Islam, yet unable to access their country’s rich history.

In the world of Islamic manuscript cultures, Dagestan is among the most neglected. Although its state archives contain over four thousand manuscripts dating from the twelfth to the twentieth centuries and its even richer private collections and mosque libraries are almost entirely uncatalogued, there have to date been no catalogues of Dagestan’s manuscript holdings in a European language. Several Russian catalogues of high philological standards have been edited by Saidov, Shikhsaidov, Osmanova, Isaev, and Alibekova, but nothing exists in English, French, or German. The neglect of Dagestan’s rich manuscript culture within mainstream Islamic Studies is largely a function of Soviet legacies and related Cold War politics. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the opening of borders, and the revived interest in Russian Islam, the time has arrived to embark on the first European-funded endeavour to survey, digitise, and catalogue a private collection anywhere within Dagestan.

The Ghumuqi Collection contains more than 154 manuscripts dating from between the first half of the fifteenth century and the first third of the twentieth century, all collected by the Dagestani writer, scholar, and encyclopaedist Ali al-Ghumuqi during the late tsarist and early Soviet period. Al-Ghumuqi was an extraordinarily learned cosmopolitan figure who travelled widely throughout the Islamic world (see Gould 2015; Shikhaliev and Kemper 2012a). His approach to critical legal reasoning (ijtihad) marked a turning point in the history of Dagestani Islam. Many of these manuscripts are unique copies; in the case of the manuscripts originating in Dagestan, many of these unique copies are autographs (manuscripts copied by the authors themselves). They are located in the basement of ʿAlī al-Ghumūqī’s home in the village of Ghumuq (population circa 1930), in central mountainous Dagestan, one of twenty-two republics within the Russian Federation. Ghumuq is one of the most ancient villages in Dagestan, and home to a mosque that dates to 777 CE. It is also home to several renowned Dagestani writers such as Effendi Kapiev, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ghāzīghumūqī.

Just before al-Ghumūqī was arrested by the Soviet authorities in 1939 due to his divergence from Soviet ideology, he told his wife Aishat (d. 1982) in their native language, Lak (so not to be understood by the arresting officers) that the documents and manuscripts stored in a barrel should be concealed from the authorities. After her husband was taken away, Aishat inspected the barrel’s contents and found there many Arabic documents and manuscripts. Because it was impossible to store the entirety of the Ghumūqī Collection in this barrel, she relocated the manuscripts to the basement shelves, where they remained until the 1990s. When al-Ghumūqī was banished to Kazakhstan the following year with no prospect of return, Aishat built a second wall within their home, behind which she immured all the manuscripts in her husband’s collection. As for the manuscripts that she had found in the barrel, she concealed them in a large pot that she sealed and buried in their garden. For much of the Soviet period, the state’s official opposition to Islam meant that the discovery of an Arabic manuscript could result in its owner’s execution. Al-Ghumūqī’s wife therefore kept the existence of the collection a secret from the world in general and from Soviet authorities in particular. Contrary to her husband’s request, Aishat never informed her son Abdul Majid (d. 1989) about the riches buried beneath his home. Afraid that her son would be sent to the GULAG if he were to learn that his father had maintained a collection of Islamic manuscripts, she informed only her daughter Nazhavat (d. 1994) of these treasures. The collection’s existence remained a secret until, after the collapse of the Soviet power and the death of al-Ghumūqī’s son, Nazhavat revealed it to the family soon before her death in 1994. The walls behind which Aishat had immured her husband’s manuscripts were dismantled. During this same year, the pot where certain additional manuscripts had been buried in the garden was also unearthed and the manuscripts stored there were returned to the basement. Although the Ghumūqī Collection has become increasingly important to a small circle of local scholars since 1994, it remains inaccessible to the general public, within and outside Dagestan, much as during the Soviet period, when its existence was unknown.


The catalogue records created by this project can be viewed here: