This article is devoted to problematizing the research focus of academic literature on Islamic reformers in the Russian Empire. Studies of the late imperial period typically devote most of their attention to modernity. Jadidist reformers are considered the key protagonists and engines of history. The typical narrative about Jadids includes several elements: political activity, educational reforms, the flourishing of journalism, the renewal of religion, and the “female question.” In this article we consider Jadidism as a narrative about backwardness and progress, which is uncritically reproduced in academic literature. Relying on the memoirs of Gabdulla Bubi, we offer a revision of the framework that is generally applied to describe the intellectual history of Muslims in Russia. We classify Bubi’s narrative as a language ideology and place it within the framework of his own “imperial project.” We do so to offer an alternative to Jadidism as an explanatory model.