Статья 'Религиозный синкретизм в похоронно-поминальной обрядности крымских татар в новое время. ' - журнал 'Genesis: исторические исследования' - NotaBene.ru
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Genesis: Historical research

Religious syncretism in the funeral and memorial rites of the Crimean Tatars in modern times

Kadyrov Rasim Reshatovich

Lecturer of the Department of History, F. Yakubov Crimean Engineering and Pedagogical University;Museum items registration specialist, Crimean Tatar Museum of Cultural and Historical Heritage

295001, Russia, Republic of Crimea, Simferopol, lane Educational, 8

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Abstract: The author touches upon the funeral and memorial customs and rituals of the Crimean Tatars, in particular their content and transformation. The main purpose of the study is to examine the mutual influence of religions and identify elements of ancient pre-Islamic beliefs in the funeral culture of the Crimean Tatars during the late XVIII-early XX centuries. Based on this, the author of the work had two main tasks: 1. To highlight and characterize the main customs and rituals that formed the funeral and memorial complex during the specified period; 2. to highlight the rituals that are conditioned by religious prescriptions and rituals formed as a result of the mutual influence of ancient Turkic views with Islamic religious norms. In general, based on the fact that customs and traditions imply an inherited set of behavior, studying the ritual component will allow us to assess the stability of the development of the spiritual culture of the Crimean Tatars. An analysis of ethnographic descriptions, diaries and records of travelers published in the XIX - early XX century was carried out on this topic. The 20th century allows us to reconstruct the funeral rite and identify elements not related to religious dogmas. The novelty of the research lies in the fact that the conducted rituals are considered through the prism of Islamic doctrine, which allowed us to partially determine the degree of religious syncretism in the culture of the Crimean Tatars and identify specific elements associated with ancient pre-Islamic views. As part of the study, it can be concluded that Muslim religious norms were generally observed. Among them: the order for the speedy burial of the body, the correct corpse laying and the vestments of the deceased. At the same time, there are separate descriptions of the funeral rite, where some variability in the performance of rituals is presented, in particular, improper sitting of the corpse and the presence of inventory, which is explained by religious competence and the preservation of echoes of ancient pre-Islamic cults. The echoes of ancient cults are mainly traced in memorial rites, through a ritual meal. Cooking, especially the food that the deceased loved, refers us to the veneration of the cult of ancestors, which was represented among the Turkic-speaking tribes before the adoption of Islam. At the same time, since the meals were accompanied by the recitation of prayers for the deceased, they were firmly associated with religious norms among the inhabitants.


Crimea, Crimean Tatars, customs, funeral rites, rituals, memorial, Islam, religion, syncretism, ethnography

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.




Funeral rites are a complex of ritual actions with a set of certain rules and prohibitions that must be performed strictly and consistently. To cover a wide range of issues related to this topic, the sources of the XVIII – early XX century are of value to us. XX centuries. It should be noted here the works of both professional ethnographers, whose activities were purposefully connected with the study of the culture and way of life of the Crimean Tatars, as well as materials compiled in the form of notes and personal diaries of people who came into contact with the Crimean Tatars in everyday life.

The entire ritual cycle is divided into three main stages. The first of which is related to the death of a person and preparation for burial. The second stage is the burial of the deceased himself. The third stage consists of rites of remembrance of the deceased.

The sources based on observations mostly contain information similar in presentation, with the exception of some changes that were probably of a regional nature. So at the first stage, according to ethnographers and travelers, a priest came to the dying man, who, sitting at the head of the person, was engaged in reading prayers until the death of the latter. Next, the body of the deceased was taken out into the courtyard for the purpose of ablution.  It was mandatory to cover the place of ablution from prying eyes with a partition or screen. After ablution, the body was wrapped in a shroud, placed on a stretcher (tabut) and quickly taken out of the yard. This process was accompanied by crying and wailing of women, who, having escorted the deceased to the street, washed their hands and returned back, while the men went to the cemetery.

As for the second stage, it is represented by the rituals performed directly in the cemetery at the grave.  The grave was a dirt structure with a cut horizontal lining.  Grave grave depth was not strictly regulated, according to V.H. Kondaraki, the grave for men was dug up to the waist, and for women up to the chest. The size of the side lining, where the body of the deceased was placed, had to correspond to the dimensions of a person [5, p. 33; 15, p. 251]. After the human body was lowered into the grave, the side wall was laid with a stone or planks, and covered with redeposited soil. Upon completion of the burial, the priest addressed all those present with the question: do they testify that the deceased was a good person during his lifetime? Traditionally, those present gave an affirmative answer.

Kondaraki, describing the actions he saw, noted that after the grave was buried, the mullah began to "salavat" – instructions for the deceased. Kondaraki writes that the Tatars were sure that the deceased not only listened to the instructions of the priest, but was also able to respond to him.  According to the author, the so-called salavat was intended to help the deceased to pass the tests that he would face in the grave [5, p. 34].

It is obvious that the mentioned tests are nothing but Islamic religious precepts.  The Sunnah of the prophet mentions that after a person's death, two angels named Munkar and Nakir descend to his grave, who will ask questions: Who is your God? What is your religion? Who is your prophet? It is believed that if a person was God-fearing during his lifetime, he will easily answer the questions posed and the gardens of paradise will open to him. Otherwise, a person will not be able to give an answer and hell will appear before him. Therefore, according to beliefs, it was necessary to ask the Almighty for help so that the deceased would pass the tests. Obviously, the Salavat mentioned by the author is intertwined with a ritual called talkin. Talkin is a petition to the Almighty to grant the deceased the ability to correctly and firmly answer the questions of angels and to inspire him [the deceased] with words of testimony [13, p. 287].  In turn, we note that these actions are contradictory from the point of view of religion. Some Muslim theologians consider this to be correct and cite the words from the Prophet's Sunnah as evidence. In the hadith narrated by Uthman ibn Affan, it is said: "That after the burial of the deceased, the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, standing at the grave, said: "Ask forgiveness for your brother and ask for his steadfastness, for now he is being asked. Scholars interpret these words as a prayer to God that He would help the deceased to answer the question correctly" (Hadith 3221, Sunan Abu Dawud) [12].

          According to field ethnographic studies by A. Efimov, the mullah came to the cemetery for 40 days to read the so-called telkin dua (prayer of instruction) [4, p. 202]. This episode is also mentioned by M. Holderness, only according to her statement, the mullah goes to the cemetery for 40 days to read prayers, since the Tatars believe that spirits hover over the grave at this time. Also, according to her observations, after the funeral procession was completed, small money was distributed to all those present at the cemetery as a donation so that people would pray to God for the soul of the deceased and undergo grave tests [15, p. 251].

Special attention should be paid to the description of the funeral rite left in the work of corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences G.I. Radde and a similar publication printed on the pages of the ethnographic essay "Peoples of Russia".  According to the publication, the Crimean Tatars buried their dead in a sitting position, leaning their backs against one of them. The walls of the graves were lined with planks, and the legs of the deceased were stretched into the dug side pillow. At the same time, as the author writes, the body was wrapped in white shawls, stockings and shoes were put on the legs, and a yarmulke with a white brush was put on the head.  In addition, water, flint and tobacco were placed in the grave of the deceased so that the deceased would not suffer need while waiting for the angels of the testers. After the grave was covered with earth, the ritual of "communicating with the deceased" followed. The mullah, crouching down to the ground, asked loudly: "What are you doing there? Are you happy with your funeral? Have you seen anyone?" The questions asked were answered aloud by the priest himself and his answers were taken as the answers of the deceased [7, pp. 99-101; 9, p. 28]. It should be noted that this ritual, with the exception of the questions asked, closely resembled the rite of instruction, which we wrote about earlier.  This description, presented by the authors, is quite contradictory from the point of view of canonical Islam, which was practiced by the Crimean Tatars. There are violations of several basic rules on the face: first, the position of the body and its orientation. According to religious norms, the deceased are buried on their backs, with their heads facing south with their faces turned towards Mecca. The second important point is that according to religious norms, burials should be non–invasive, and the presence of clothing elements, flint and tobacco contradict this rule.

By the nature of the burial and judging by the questions that the priest asked the deceased, we can assume that some of the elements found here are a reference to the pre-Islamic Turkic past, where there was just a sitting corpse, the presence of inventory, and beliefs in reunification with ancestors [3, p. 315]. In Modern times, similar elements are not found in descriptions of funeral rites of Turkic peoples close in religion and culture [7]. Based on the reports of other authors who write about the traditional method of burial, we can again assume that this took place in individual families.

The echoes of the described funeral rite are very superficially traced according to archaeology. During the study of the Muslim necropolis in the area of the village of Gurzuf (Crimea), two types of graves were identified. One, the predominant one, consisted in a straight corpse position with straight arms and a turn of the head to the southeast. In another, according to the researchers, the corpse position imitated a "sitting position" in which the arms are stretched along the trunk, the legs are bent at the knees, the head is lowered to the forearm. Grave graves, however, lack inventory in all graves, with the exception of items that could have entered the grave along with the redeposited soil [14, p. 177]. Unfortunately, archaeological studies of Muslim necropolises, in addition to the above, have not yet received due attention from researchers, which currently does not allow for complete clarity on this issue.

At the same time, despite the obvious pre-Islamic elements, we cannot talk about an obvious and deliberate distortion of the burial rite.  According to researchers, in the everyday consciousness of Muslim believers, all beliefs and rituals, regardless of their real origin, were perceived as Muslim at that time [1, p. 61].

In general, the canonical requirements of religion regarding the funeral rite were mostly observed. First of all, it is the duty to give the deceased to the ground as soon as possible, observing all necessary procedures, and the correct location of the deceased's body in the grave. According to available sources, these actions, for the most part, were carried out in strict accordance with religious requirements, despite some obstacles. It should be noted here that the obligation to give the body of the deceased to the earth as soon as possible went against the secular laws of the Russian Empire, according to which burials had to be performed three days after death.  The Muslim clergy naturally disagreed with this rule. In particular, the decree "On non-deviation from the general rules for the burial of Mohammedans" contains the opinion of the Tauride Mufti, who insisted on the inadmissibility of this law from the point of view of religion [8, p. 396].  Ethnographers and travelers also noted in their works that the burial procedure was carried out no later than 12 hours from the moment of death [15, p. 251]. On the pages of the above-mentioned essay, the Peoples of Russia provide the following: "Superstitious and squeamish, Tatars do not like to mess with the dead for a long time. No sooner will any of them die than they are already being dragged to the cemetery" [7, p. 99]. The author of this text was clearly far from the religious views of Muslims, since the situation was far from superstition and fastidiousness, but in religious precepts, which were also strictly observed by other Turkic peoples who professed Islam [7, p. 23, p. 259].  In one of the hadiths, the words of the prophet are transmitted: "Truly, I believe that Talha is dying, so inform me as soon as he passes away and hurry, because the body of a deceased Muslim should not linger among his family members" (Hadith 3159, Sunan Abu Dawood) [12].

The final element of funeral and memorial ceremonies, where religious syncretism is clearly visible, is the holding of commemorations. According to sources, these rituals were performed on the 3rd, 7th, and 40th days after the burial. In some families, for another 37, 52, 100 days, 6 months and a year later. It is important to mention that they are not regulated in any way by the canons of Sharia, although in the minds of the Crimean Tatars, commemorations were firmly considered an important religious element. Muslim scholars and theologians in the 19th century regarded the rites of commemoration as undesirable innovations [10, p. 730]. In addition, some Muslim scholars condemn the tradition of holding commemorations on specific days. Since this is an assimilation to other confessions [13, p. 376].

Attempts to explain these traditions can be seen in the authors of ethnographic essays. Thus, according to V. Kondaraki, these actions are carried out in order to assist the deceased in atoning for sins, since the wake was accompanied by the recitation of prayers. The British traveler M. Holderness writes: that the Tatars believe that spirits roam around the grave for 40 days, and again, in order to help the deceased, commemoration is held [15, p. 251].

The origins of the rite of commemoration have not been fully clarified, according to researchers, they are of ethnic origin and are associated with pre-Islamic Turkic beliefs, as indirectly evidenced by the holding of a ritual meal as a tradition of distributing food, which was considered the share of the deceased. The meal also represented one of the forms of feeding the deceased, which reflected the care of deceased ancestors [11, p. 104].  The Crimean Tatars have echoes of these stories, just traced in the customs of commemoration (dua). According to custom, after reading prayers, those present were invited to set tables, where pumpkin treats were desirable, since according to legend pumpkin was considered a heavenly dish. It was also customary to serve dishes that the deceased himself loved. Another echo of ancient pre-Islamic traditions can be found in the table etiquette of the Crimean Tatars.  After the meal, people, in addition to the traditional words of gratitude, could say the phrase: "About the grain janina tiisin", which literally translates as: "Let [this food] touch the soul of the dead" [6, p. 93].

Echoes of the rite of feeding the deceased have also been preserved by some Kryashchen Tatars. Before the start of the memorial dinner, several people went to the cemetery and invited the deceased to lunch. There was a place at the memorial table and the dishes were set. According to beliefs, the deceased should have been sitting in this place. The researchers note that this custom existed among the Orthodox Tatars as a relic of the mentioned ancient pagan beliefs of the Turks. The similarity of some elements of Orthodox Tatars and Muslim Tatars is explained by the preserved stable layer of pagan views [16, p. 139]

Based on the above, it should be noted that the entire funeral and burial complex of the Crimean Tatars consists of two components: Muslim religious obligations and ethnic customs. Considering the ritual culture of the Crimean Tatars, it is difficult not to agree with the statement of the Soviet scientist G.A. Bonch-Osmolovsky, who writes: "When studying the life of the Tatars, we come across an example of their extraordinary resilience, when customs developed in completely different conditions are transferred to another environment and have been here for centuries [2, p. 52]. The facts presented in the article demonstrate to us the stability of those very ethnic customs, which over time were adjusted to religious norms and merged with them into a single whole. Thus, the medieval cult of ancestors, which was obviously forgotten by everyone in modern times, has been preserved only in fragments and in a streamlined manner, as evidenced by the holding of commemorations, reading the mentioned talkin (reading instructions) and the incorrect corpse location found in the descriptions of ethnographers. The performance of rituals in each family largely depended on their well-being and religious competence. This also explains the variability in the performance of rituals, the description of which we find in the sources.





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2. Bonch-Osmolovskij, G. (1925). Crimean Tatars: ethnographic essay. Guide to Crimea. Simferopol.
3. Gol'den, P.B. (2008). Religion among the Qıpčaqs of Medieval Eurasiai (pp. 309-340). Transl.  V.P. Kostjukova. Religion among the Qıpčaqs of Medieval Eurasia. Doneck.
4. Efimov, A.M. (1993). An Attempt to Reconstruct a Funeral Ceremony of the Crimean Tatars (on the Materials of Field Ethnographic Research) (198-203). Materials in Archaeology, History and Ethnography of Tauria. Simferopol'. Vol. 3. 
5. Kondaraki, V.H. (1875). Universal description of the Crimea. St. Petersburg.
6. Memetova, A. S. (2020). Traditional ritual and funeral cuisine of the Crimean Tatars (pp. 92-94). Traditional culture of the Crimean Tatars. Simferopol.
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Approximately from the second half of the XVI century. in the context of the rapid expansion of the borders of the Moscow Kingdom, the process of its transformation from a mono-ethnic to a multi-ethnic state begins. In the future, a Eurasian community was formed in the space of 1/6 of the land, connecting peoples differing in language, culture, economic structure, mentality and religious affiliation. President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin rightly notes that we are "a united people bound by a common history, fraternal ties of friendship and mutual understanding." In this regard, it is important to study the culture of various Russian ethnic groups, among which the culture of the Crimean Tatars is quite little known. These circumstances determine the relevance of the article submitted for review, the subject of which is the funeral and memorial rites of the Crimean Tatars in the late XVIII - early XX centuries. The author sets out to show the stages of the ritual cycle, as well as to consider the funeral and burial complex of the Crimean Tatars. The work is based on the principles of analysis and synthesis, reliability, objectivity, the methodological basis of the research is a systematic approach, which is based on the consideration of the object as an integral complex of interrelated elements. The scientific novelty of the article lies in the very formulation of the topic: the author seeks to characterize religious syncretism in the funeral and memorial rites of the Crimean Tatars in modern times. Considering the bibliographic list of the article, as a positive point, we note its versatility: in total, the list of references includes 16 different sources and studies. The source base of the article is represented by various materials: religious books, normative legal acts, ethnographic records. Of the studies used, we will point to the works of A.S. Memetova and A.M. Efimov, whose focus is on various aspects of the study of the funeral rite of the Crimean Tatars. Note that the bibliography of the article is important both from a scientific and educational point of view: after reading the text of the article, readers can turn to other materials on its topic. In general, in our opinion, the integrated use of various sources and research contributed to the solution of the tasks facing the author. The style of writing the article can be attributed to scientific, at the same time understandable not only to specialists, but also to a wide readership, to everyone who is interested in both the culture of the Crimean Tatars, in general, and funeral and memorial rituals, in particular. The appeal to the opponents is presented at the level of the collected information received by the author during the work on the topic of the article. The structure of the work is characterized by a certain logic and consistency, it can be distinguished by an introduction, the main part, and conclusion. At the beginning, the author defines the relevance of the topic, shows that "funeral rites are a complex of ritual actions with a set of certain rules and prohibitions that must be performed strictly and consistently." Based on various sources, the author shows that "the conduct of rituals in each family largely depended on their well-being and religious competence." The work notes that "the similarity of some elements of Orthodox Tatars and Muslim Tatars is explained by the preserved stable layer of pagan views." The author traces those elements of funeral and memorial rituals, where religious syncretism is traced, in particular the burial procedure, holding commemorations, etc.: at the same time, "the canonical requirements of religion regarding the funeral rite were mostly observed." The main conclusion of the article is that "the entire funeral and burial complex of the Crimean Tatars consists of two components: Muslim religious obligations and ethnic customs." The article submitted for review is devoted to an urgent topic, will arouse readers' interest, and its materials can be used both in educational courses and in further ethnographic studies of the Crimean Tatars. There are some comments to the article: for example, at the beginning of the article it is desirable to show at least a little general information about the Crimean Tatar people. However, in general, in our opinion, the article can be recommended for publication in the journal Genesis: Historical Research.
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