The article explores a multifaceted conflict that, in the 1880s, involved various factions of the Muslim community of Semipalatinsk in the north of present-day Kazakhstan and different imperial administrators. The disagreement over candidates for a local mosque's imam revealed the heterogeneous composition of the seemingly uniform Muslim society and the lack of any consistent "imperial" or "colonial" policy upheld by the Russian state. Common religion did not neutralize the tensions between the Semipalatinsk Kazakhs and Tatars, or the class rift between the rich and the poor. To the contrary, it was common membership in a single parish that brought these structural differences to a state of active conflict. Likewise, the bureaucratic hierarchy of the Russian state and the lack of a clear separation of responsibilities by parallel administrative structures allowed individual administrators to perceive the conflict in different contexts depending on their position within the state system. These multiple contexts both reflected the heterogeneity of the colonial situation and reinforced this heterogeneity. The petitions addressed by various Muslim factions to different imperial authorities demonstrate their ability to manipulate the imperial state in the colonial situation of strategic relativism, changing rhetoric depending on the addressee. This tactic presents Semipalatinsk Muslims as political actors rather than powerless victims of colonial rule and implies a significant degree of their integration into the Russian imperial polity and society.