The Mahometan Visionaries

The flood of religious mania reached even beyond the borders of

European Russia, and its effects were seen as much among the followers

of other religions as among the Christians.

Mahometanism, although noted for its unshakable fidelity to the dogmas

of Mahomet, did not by any means escape the mystic influences by which

it was surrounded. To take one example from among many: in the month

of April, 1895, a
case of religious mania which had broken out among

the Mahometan inhabitants of the south of Russia was brought before the

law-courts at Kazan. It concerned a set of Tartars called the

_Vaïsoftzi_, which had been founded in 1880 by a man named _Vaïsoff_,

whose existence was revealed in unexpected fashion. A lawyer having

called at his house, at the request of one of his creditors, Vaïsoff

showed him the door, explaining that he did not consider himself under

any obligation "to repay what had been given to him." The other

returned later, however, accompanied by several policemen, and

Vaïsoff's adherents then attacked the latter, while chanting religious

hymns and proclaiming the greatness of their leader. They next

barricaded themselves into the house, which was besieged by the police

for some days, during which prayers issued from it towards heaven and

stones towards the representatives of the law. Finally the rebels were

overpowered, and sentenced to several years' imprisonment.

The police had a similar experience on another occasion when they tried

to arrest one of the _Vaïsoftzi_, but in the end they got the upper

hand, and several Tartars were delivered up to justice.

After being judged and sentenced, they presented themselves before the

Court of Appeal, but when the usual questions were put to them, all

began to pray and sing loudly. Silence was at last reestablished, and

the judge again asked one of them for his name and profession. "Who

are you, that you should question me?" was the reply, and once again

all chanted together in chorus. The Tartars who had crowded into the

court seemed deeply impressed by this attitude, and the judge thought

it well to dismiss the prisoners while the case was considered. They

were brought back to hear the sentence, and again began to sing their

prayers and hymns, while one of them cried out: "I am the chief of the

heavenly regiment; I am the representative of Vaïsoff upon earth; and

you, who are you that you should take upon yourself the right to judge

me?" The others then calmly continued their interrupted song to the

Lord, but they were all condemned to a period of forced labour, and

their spokesman, in addition, to twenty-five strokes with the birch.