Islam: Islam in Central Asia
Islam: Islam in Central Asia
ISLAM: ISLAM IN CENTRAL ASIA
Geographically, Central Asia (comprising modern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) may be divided into three zones: the oasis belt (sometimes called Transoxiana), which stretches from Iran to China along the main river valleys of the southern tier, mainly through Uzbekistan, but also encompassing contiguous areas of the other states; the steppe-desert zone in the northern and central tiers (Kazakhstan) and in the far south (Turkmenistan); and the high mountain zone in the southeast (Badakhshan, part of Tajikistan).
Islamicization of Central Asia
Islam penetrated these regions in different forms and at different times. The cultural and ethnic heritage of local populations was very diverse. This influenced the way in which they responded to Islam. The chief distinction was between the sedentary, largely urbanized population of the oasis belt and the nomads of the steppes and deserts. The scattered communities that inhabited the high mountain zone had their own, quite distinct, traditions; they had little direct contact with the peoples of the plains, so they played little part in the cultural, social, and religious developments in the region.
In 622 ce, the year of the hijrah (Mu-ḥammad's flight from Mecca to Medina and the accepted commencement of the Muslim era), the population of the oasis belt of Central Asia was mainly of Iranian origin, but there was also a substantial Turkic element. There was a flourishing urban tradition in the region, particularly in cities such as Merv, Samarqand, and Bukhara. Moreover, the so-called Silk Road—a transcontinental network of trade routes—linked Central Asia to China, India, and Iran, and also to the Black Sea and Europe.
Prior to the introduction of Islam, the main religions of the oasis belt were Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Manichaeism. There were Nestorian Christian communities in several of the cities (a bishopric was established at Merv in the fourth century and at Samarkand in the sixth century) and a significant Jewish presence in the Samarkand-Bukhara area. In the southwest (modern Turkmenistan), there were traces of Hellenistic cults.
Islam was brought to the region by the Arab armies that invaded Khorasan and Transoxiana in the mid-seventh century. In 705 ce Qutaybah ibn Muslim, who became governor of Khorasan, established his principal seat at Merv. Until his death in 714 he repeatedly undertook campaigns eastwards into the Ferghana Valley and beyond. By the beginning of the ninth century the oasis belt had been so thoroughly integrated into the Muslim world that Caliph Maʿmūn made Merv, instead of Baghdad, his capital from 813 to 817.
At first the Arabs imposed Islam by force. Later, however, a more moderate approach to the Islamicization of the region was adopted. The form of the faith that came to be practiced in this part of Central Asia was initially Sunnī Islam of the Ḥanafī school of law. Central Asian scholars traveled throughout the Muslim world. Several made major contributions to the development of applied and theoretical sciences, as well as to Islamic philosophy and jurisprudence. Known to history by the Arabicized forms of their names, they include al-Bukhārī (compiler of one of the fundamental collections of the Traditions of the Prophet, still revered and consulted today), at-Tirmidhī, al-Farghānī, and al-Khwārazmī in the ninth century; al-Fārābī, al-Bīrūnī, and Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) in the tenth century; and Nāṣir-i Khusraw in the eleventh century.
In the early thirteenth century, Mongol hordes conquered Central Asia. Initially, they inflicted huge damage, destroying cities, wrecking the irrigation systems that supported agriculture, and disrupting long-haul trade. In time, however, peace returned and the cultural and intellectual life of the oasis belt revived. The Mongol rulers were eventually Turkicized and Islamicized. Under Tamerlane (1336–1405) and his successors (the Timurid period), there was a new flowering of Muslim scholarship. Eminent thinkers of the day included the astronomer-ruler Ulugh Beg (who reigned in Samarkand from 1409 to 1449) and the poet Alisher Navoi (1441–1501).
From the sixteenth century onward, however, Transoxiana became increasingly isolated from the rest of the Islamic world. There were several reasons for this. One was that routes from Central Asia to the Arab lands were blocked by hostile neighbors and long-running wars. To the south, Shāh Ismāʿīl (1485/1486–1524), founder of the Safavid dynasty, established Twelver Shiism as the state religion of Iran, thus adding an ideological element to the power struggle that was then in progress with the Sunnī Sheibanid dynasty of Transoxiana. To the northwest, the nascent Russian state was advancing into the Volga region, defeating the Tartar khans of Kazan in 1552 and of Astrakhan in 1556. Across the Caspian Sea, the Ottomans and the Safavids were fighting for possession of the Caucasus. Transoxiana itself, wracked by internecine strife, was fragmenting into small, semi-independent principalities. Meanwhile, a change was taking place in patterns of global trade as sea routes began to replace the arduous transcontinental land routes across Central Asia. Factors such as these led to economic decline and intellectual stagnation. Increasingly, a highly conservative form of Muslim education took hold in the madrasah s (Muslim colleges).
The steppes and deserts
At the time of the Arab invasion of the oasis belt, the steppes and deserts were inhabited by Turkic-speaking nomadic pastoralists. By religion they were shamanists. Islam took far longer to influence these peoples than it did the sedentary population of the oasis belt. Their way of life precluded the establishment of fixed, centrally located institutions. Thus, it was itinerant Ṣūfī missionaries who played the decisive role in spreading the new faith in this region. The Islamicization of the nomads in the areas that bordered the oasis belt was probably completed by the mid-tenth century, albeit superficially. The remoter regions, however, were scarcely affected by Islam until the eighteenth century or later.
The high mountains
The high mountains and valleys of Badakhshan, today part of Tajikistan, have been inhabited from time immemorial by small Pamiri tribes of Eastern Iranian origin. Most of these people were eventually converted to the Ismāʿīlī sect of Shīʿī Islam, which spread northwards from centers in Afghanistan and India from the late eleventh century onwards. A few groups, however, adopted Sunnī Islam. Until the twentieth century, the Pamiris were almost entirely isolated from the Muslim communities, both sedentary and nomadic, of the Central Asian lowlands.
Sufism and Ishanism
Sufism, the mystical tradition of Islam, began to penetrate Central Asia in the immediate aftermath of the Arab invasion. The first centers appeared in Balkh and Nishapur in the eighth and ninth centuries. Later, Merv, Bukhara, Khwarezm, and other cities in Transoxiana became bastions of Sufism. The early adepts were disciples of the Baghdad school of mystics. Indigenous Central Asian orders began to appear towards the end of the twelfth century.
The first major figure in the development of Central Asian Sufism was Yūsuf Ḥamadānī (1048–1141). After a period of study in the major centers of the Middle East, he moved to Central Asia and spent most of his adult life there; he established a khānqāh (Ṣūfī monastery) in Merv that came to be known as the "Kaʿbah of Khorasan." Two parallel chains of authority were derived from him. One led to Aḥmad Yasavī (d. mid-twelfth century), who crystallized the spiritual legacy that had been bequeathed to him into the ṭarīqah (path) of the Yasavī order. The other led to Bahāʾ ad-Dīn an-Naqshbandī (1318–1389), who formulated the ṭarīqah of the Naqshbandī order. Both these orders were to expand far beyond the confines of Central Asia. The former attracted adherents throughout the Turkic-speaking world, while the latter spread to India and China, as well as to the Ottoman Empire and, in more recent times, to Western Europe.
The chief distinction between the Naqshbandīyah and the Yasavīyah was that the former practiced a silent or hidden (khafiyah ) dhikr (set of devotions), the latter a vocal or loud (jahrīya ) dhikr. The Yasavī ṭarīqah, which contained elements of ritual that were reminiscent of shamanistic practices, was particularly successful among the Turkic-speaking nomads of the steppes and deserts; the Naqshbandī ṭarīqah tended to appeal more to the sedentary, Iranian-speaking population. However, there was no rigid boundary between their different spheres of influence; the Naqshbandī order, for example, had many adherents among the nomads. Two other great orders that attracted a substantial following in Central Asia were the Kubrawīyah, whose ṭarīqah was crystallized by Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrá (1145–1221), and the Qādirīyah, who traced their ṭarīqah to ʿAbd al-Qādir Gīlānī (twelfth century).
The most influential ṭarīqah in Central Asia, in terms of political weight, was the Naqshbandī. The foundations of their control over state affairs were laid during the Mongol period, when they played a pivotal role in the conversion of the conquerors to Islam. Since the Mongol khans not only became rulers of Transoxiana, but also assumed leadership of the tribal confederations of the steppes, the Naqshbandī order acquired a privileged position among both the sedentary population and the nomads. They consolidated their position under Tamerlane, who was himself possibly a murīd (disciple) of one of the teachers of Bahā al-Dīn an-Naqshbandī. Tamerlane did, however, also show the Yasavīyah signs of favor, notably by the construction of a superb (and materially well-endowed) mausoleum over the tomb of Aḥmad Yasavī at Turkestan. This city was later captured by the Kazakhs; thereafter, the Yasavī shaykhs (spiritual leaders) came to exert a strong influence over the nomad khans and sultans. Several Kazakh nobles were buried near the tomb of Yasavī, thus emphasizing the nexus between the spiritual and civil sources of authority.
During the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries, the leading Ṣūfī shaykhs occupied a dominant position in the political life of the Central Asian khanates. Some, such as Hoja Aḥrār (1404–1490), became great magnates, possessing vast tracts of agricultural land, as well as urban settlements, together with the attendant income arising from the dwellings, crafts, and trade that were located on such land. The position of particular Ṣūfī dynastic lines was further underpinned by intermarriage with the ruling families. Throughout most of the sixteenth century, Naqshbandī shaykhs acted as kingmakers, playing off one pretender to the throne against another. However, their influence waned in the next century, especially under the Manghit dynasty, which came to the throne in 1753, and they never regained their former political power. Their spiritual power was also gradually eroded.
There is another mystical tradition in Central Asia that is related to Sufism but has characteristics of its own. It is frequently termed Ishanism to distinguish between the major orders described above and the largely autonomous, local networks of mystics whose activities were mainly associated with popular (i.e., folk, lay) religion. In the early Islamic period the distinction is perhaps an irrelevance: it is difficult now to determine whether or not semi-legendary figures such as Ḥakīm-ata or Chopan-ata were fully fledged initiates of a Ṣūfī order. Later, however, there does appear to have been a divergence. By the early nineteenth century this resulted in the proliferation of local ishans, each of whom established his own ṭarīqah, with a personal circle of devotees.
The phenomenon was most widespread in rural areas, where every village or nomad community sought to secure the presence of an ishan of their own; allocations of free land and water were set aside for this purpose. Often, ishans would have charge of a particular shrine or holy place, which gave them added legitimacy and authority. The fact that they generally had a modicum of education also helped to enhance their standing amongst their neighbors, most of whom were illiterate. The duties of an ishan included a variety of social, as well as quasi-religious, quasi-magical functions: they dispensed protective amulets and healing potions, gave counsel and comfort, and conducted prayers, rituals, and ceremonial invocations for divine assistance and protection. There was a strong dynastic element in Ishanism. In several areas there existed whole clans of "holy" families; strictly endogamous, they traced their lineage (not necessarily reliably) back to Arab forebears.
Indigenization of Islam
Islam, in the form that it was first brought to Central Asia by the Arabs, retained its formal, doctrinally regulated character in the learned institutions in the cities, but elsewhere it was modified by local traditions and beliefs. In some areas, for example, Zoroastrian practices were absorbed, while in others, traces of Buddhism, Manichaeism, or Hellenistic cults became embedded in local Muslim beliefs and observances; shamanism and pantheism provided an even broader substratum of pre-Islamic references.
Among the most tenacious of the ancient customs was the cult of "saints"—the veneration of figures who were regarded as protectors and intercessors. They may or may not have had identifiable historical antecedents, but in any case they were the focus of cults that usually had ancient, non-Islamic origins. Such figures were often associated with a number of widely scattered sites, and specific biographical details varied accordingly. The best known included Burkut-baba, who was regarded by the Turkmen as having the power to ensure rain; Chopan-ata, widely regarded as a protector of sheep; and Kanbar-ata, regarded as a protector of horses. Individual saints (usually inherited from pre-Islamic traditions) were associated with particular crafts and occupations. Fertility cults, especially those connected with the annual farming cycle, were also preserved in one form or another.
Shrines to such individuals were to be found in many parts of the region; these were often associated with much older forms of faith, now reinterpreted within the framework of Islam, as elsewhere in the Muslim world. Such places were often located by springs, caves, trees, or cliffs. It was common practice (and has remained so up to the present) to visit these holy places to pray for assistance and good fortune. Generally this act of supplication was sealed with the ritual sacrifice of an animal (usually a sheep) and by lighting candles or leaving scraps of material tied to twigs. Another common feature, reminiscent of pre-Islamic ancestor cults, was the emphasis on showing respect for the dead; this was especially common in rural areas. The healing and soothsaying arts of the shamans also continued to be practiced.
The northern rim of Central Asia (northern Kazakhstan) was brought under Russian control towards the end of the eighteenth century. By the middle of the century, Russian troops were poised to take the oasis belt. The subjugation of the khanates of this region was completed within less than a decade. Bukhara and Khiva retained some degree of autonomy as protectorates, albeit after ceding a portion of their lands to the Russian crown.
Tsarist policies towards Islam fell into two categories: those employed among the nomads of the steppe region and those employed among the sedentary population of Transoxiana. In the steppe region, the new administration deemed it politic to show good will and even support for Islam in order to win the loyalty of the nomad Kazakh aristocracy, who were strongly Muslim in their convictions, if not always observant in their practices. Tartars from the Volga region (under Russian rule since the mid-sixteenth century), who, like the Kazakhs, were Sunnī Muslims of the Ḥanafī school, were encouraged to inculcate a perceived Islamic orthodoxy in the steppes. The Tsarist authorities allocated funds for the printing of Muslim literature and for the construction of mosques in the steppes (prior to this the Kazakhs had possessed very few mosques, and those only in their winter grazing grounds). The Tartar missionaries were at first much resented by the nomads, who were accustomed to a much freer, more heterodox interpretation of Islam. Educated, urbanized Kazakhs, such as Shokan Valikhanov (1835–1865) and Ibrai Altynsaryn (1841–1889), were also deeply disturbed by the Tartars' attempts to spread a form of Islam that they perceived to be narrowly dogmatic and, moreover, alien to Kazakh tradition. Nevertheless, the zealous proselytizers from the Volga gradually succeeded in introducing a more orthodox element into local worship.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Russian policy towards Islam in the steppe region began to change. Belatedly, a campaign was launched to convert the Kazakhs to Christianity. However, it met with little success. At the same time, measures were introduced to curb Muslim activities. The interface between Islam and the Russian administration was brought under the jurisdiction of the Tsarist Ministry of Internal Affairs. New measures included restrictions on the number of mullahs in a given district. In addition, mosques and other Muslim educational establishments could only be opened with official sanction, and the collection of obligatory Islamic taxes (zakāt, ṣadaqah ) was prohibited. Yet even under these conditions the network of formal Islamic institutions continued to expand. In 1895, for example, there were only thirty-one mekteb (primary schools) in the Steppe Territory, but by 1913 this number had increased to 267. There were also madrasahs in most of the bigger cities.
In Transoxiana the situation was somewhat different. The main urban centers fell to the Tsarist troops comparatively quickly. Thereafter, relations between the Russians and the local population were remarkably amicable. Eugene Schuyler (an American official who made an extensive visit to the region in 1873) commented, "what was strange for Mussulmans, [was that they] spoke in the highest terms of the Russian Emperor. The conduct of General Tchernaief made a most favourable impression upon the natives and from that time on there was not the slightest trouble of any kind on the part of the native population."
The institutional framework of Islam in Transoxiana largely was retained, although some of the highest offices of the ʿulamā ʾ (trained Muslim scholars; e.g., Shaykh-al Islām and Kazi Kalan) were later abolished. Muslim courts continued to function, albeit under the nominal control of colonial officials and with some restriction of their powers. Islamic education at mekteb and madrasah levels was provided as previously, although gradually, and to a limited extent, alternative forms of schooling became available (principally, the Russo-Native schools and the reformist "new method" Muslim schools). Christian institutions began to appear, but they were few in number and served the needs of the immigrant population; missionary work was virtually nonexistent (and initially specifically prohibited). One Islamic obligation that became easier to observe under Russian rule was the ḥajj. The Tsarist authorities organized special travel facilities for the pilgrims and made provision for consular support, quarantine, and other such needs; by the end of the century, some twenty thousand "Russian" Muslims, mostly Central Asians, were making the pilgrimage annually.
Muslim reformist (jadīd) trends in the tsarist period
The Muslim reformists in Central Asia (known as jadīds or jadīdists, from the Arabic word for "new") constituted not so much a group as a broad trend. Relatively few in number, they were united by common convictions and aspirations rather than by set programs (although distinct clusters did eventually emerge, including some with specific sociopolitical agendas). The aim of the reformists was to modernize Central Asian society, without abandoning the Islamic framework. The first to propound these ideas were Kazakhs such as Ibrai Altynsaryn (1841–1889) and Abai Kunanbayev (1845–1904) in the mid-nineteenth century. Later, in Transoxiana, Bukharans such as Donish (c. 1828–1897) and Fitrat (1886–1938) began to follow a similar line of thought.
The reformists, especially in the early period, were drawn mostly from wealthy merchant families or the local aristocracy. They were familiar with traditional Muslim scholarship and also, either through further study in Russian institutions or through travel and personal contacts, had some knowledge of European culture. This dual experience on the one hand gave them a great admiration for Western science and technology, but on the other hand it strengthened their faith in Islamic values. They were particularly concerned with modernizing the system of education in Central Asia by introducing Western-style methods of teaching (uṣūl-i jadīd, "new method": hence the term jadīdist ). However, they were interested in a wide range of social and political issues; some were remarkably radical in their views, advocating the overthrow of the emir, on the grounds that he was not fulfilling his obligations as a Muslim ruler, long before the Bolsheviks put forward this idea.
The reformist movement in Central Asia was greatly strengthened by the influx of Muslim activists from other parts of the Russian empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, since the concept of modernization within Islam was already far better established in intellectual circles in the Volga region, Crimea, and Transcaucasia. The incomers, especially the Tartars, played an important role in establishing a local, independently owned press and in implementing educational innovation. They also gave a certain impetus to the politicization of the Central Asian reformists. Some of these joined Tartar-dominated Muslim political groupings, some moved closer to the liberal Russian Constitutional Democrats (Kadets), and some were drawn to the Socialists and later to the Communist Party.
The significance of the reformist movement in Central Asia lies more, perhaps, in the fact that it appeared at all than in any specific achievements. Similar trends were emerging at the same period in other parts of the Muslim world, notably in Turkey, India, and Egypt. In Central Asia the process was more difficult and fraught with greater obstacles. First, there was the physical remoteness of the region, which hampered the development of links with like-minded thinkers elsewhere; some contacts were established, but for the most part they were sporadic. Second, the reformists were frequently under pressure from the ʿulamā ʾ. A few members of the ʿulamā ʾ were sympathetic to reformist ideas, but most were bitterly opposed to any form of innovation. The conservative faction was particularly powerful in Bukhara, where it had the support of the emir. In the Governorate-General of Turkestan, which was under Russian rule, the situation was somewhat easier, though even here the colonial administration was careful not to offend the ʿulamā ʾ. The reformists also faced many practical problems. These included poor communication networks, a low level of literacy, and few printing facilities. Not surprisingly, they made little impact outside a relatively narrow circle of urban intellectuals. This might have changed had they had time to build up a broader base, but this did not happen: the reformist movement was abruptly terminated once Soviet rule was established.
Soviet rule was first established in Tashkent in September 1917, and shortly thereafter it was extended to the industrial centers of the northern tier. The Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, encompassing the Tsarist Governorate-General of Turkestan, was created in April 1918 as an administrative unit within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. In 1920 the emir of Bukhara and the khan of Khiva were deposed and their states transformed into the nominally independent People's Soviet Republics of Bukhara and Khorezm, respectively. In 1924 the People's Republics of Bukhara and Khorezm were formally annexed and the whole of Central Asia was repartitioned into five administrative units, the precursors of the independent states of today, namely, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.
Soviet policies towards Islam went through a number of different phases. Moreover, they were often not implemented uniformly; much depended on local conditions at any given time. This apparent lack of consistency may be ascribed to the fact that such policies were motivated not solely by the desire to eradicate the religion, but more broadly, to secure the triumph of socialism and victory in the class war. This was most clearly reflected in the first years of Soviet rule (1917–c.1925), when pragmatism, more often than not, prevailed over ideology. Had the Bolsheviks taken precipitate action against the Muslim clerics they would have risked alienating the very people whose support they were aiming to attract. Moreover, Soviet power was as yet far from securely established in the region, and counterrevolutionary forces in various parts of Central Asia (basmachi ) were using religion as a means of rallying support, calling themselves the "Army of Islam" and claiming that they were defending the faith against the infidel.
In late 1917, V. I. Lenin and Joseph Stalin made a famous appeal, "To all the Toiling Muslims of Russia and the East," assuring them that from that day forth their "beliefs and customs, national and cultural institutions would be free and inviolable." In March 1919, at the Second Conference of the Communist Party of Turkestan, a Muslim Bureau was created for the express task of carrying out agitational work among the indigenous population. Material was prepared in the local languages and services at mosques, which brought together large numbers of people, were used for spreading Communist ideas. Believers were admitted to the Party and for some years thereafter constituted a significant proportion of the membership. Muslim trade unions were set up for local craftsmen (e.g., tanners, cobblers); so, too, were soviets of Muslim deputies and soviets of Muslim workers.
Meanwhile, the social, legal, and economic basis of Islam was being systematically dismantled, to be replaced by Soviet institutions. From 1918 to 1924 a number of laws and decrees were put in place that established the legal framework for the secularization of society. These included the right of freedom of conscience, the separation of church and school, and the marriage and family laws. In 1921, at the Tenth Party Congress, a resolution was passed calling for the launch of a comprehensive antireligious campaign. However, in the Turkestan and Kirghiz/Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics, conditions were still too unstable for decisive steps to be taken in this direction. In 1919 attempts had been made to close down Muslim schools and courts and to confiscate waqf property (i.e., endowed trusts), but this aroused such anger amongst the local population (not to mention giving a tactical advantage to the basmachis ) that in 1922 these measures were relaxed. Nevertheless, it became increasingly difficult for the schools and the courts to continue to function and their numbers fell rapidly.
By 1925 the Soviet government was in a strong enough position to take a much firmer line towards Islam. The waqf lands were nationalized as part of Union-wide land and water reforms. Muslim schools and courts were phased out by 1927 to 1928. The Arabic script, which had been used in Central Asia for over a thousand years and was, moreover, the script in which the Qurʾān was written and therefore of great religious significance, was abolished in favor of the Latin script (in turn to be replaced by the Cyrillic alphabet in 1940); the whole world of Muslim scholarship was thus effectively rendered inaccessible to future generations of Central Asians. The campaign for the emancipation of women, which was intensified during these years, was likewise used to undermine Islam by portraying the religion as a source of ignorance, oppression, and social injustice.
Atheistic propaganda was intensified in the late 1920s. Republican branches of the Union of Atheists, later renamed Militant Atheists, were set up at this time and large quantities of antireligious materials (books, journals, brochures, posters, etc.) were produced in the local languages. Outreach activities (e.g., lectures and discussion groups) were used to underline and amplify this message in schools and the workplace, and in social and professional organizations. Women, who were generally more devout than men, were singled out as special targets for anti-Islamic propaganda; wherever possible they were drawn into atheistic work. From 1925 onward, discriminatory legislation was introduced to limit the rights of religious functionaries of all faiths. Initially, clerics were deprived of the right to elect, or be elected, to soviets. The Law of Religious Associations (which remained in force from 1929 to 1990) made such activities as the provision of religious education for minors, proselytizing, and fundraising for religious purposes illegal. Beginning in about 1930, arbitrary arrests and executions were used to eliminate Muslim leaders who refused to cooperate with the authorities; Muslim literature, or any material at all in the Arabic script, even if nonreligious, was liable to be confiscated and the owner severely punished. All but a few mosques were closed. Some were destroyed, and some were used for other purposes, often of an emphatically antireligious nature (e.g., bars or atheistic museums). All the madrasahs were abolished. No religious literature was published. The annual ḥajj was suspended, and contacts with foreign Muslims virtually ceased.
After the outbreak of World War II there was an abrupt change of policy: the repression of the 1930s was suddenly replaced by a spirit of cooperation. In Central Asia an official Muslim administration, known as the Muslim Board for Central Asia and Kazakhstan, was established in Tashkent. Its responsibilities included the upkeep of mosques and the appointment of clerics. In 1944 the ḥajj was officially reinstated, though only a very small and select group of clerics were able to benefit from this. The following year the Mir-i Arab madrasah in Bukhara was reopened, becoming the only Muslim educational institution in the whole of the Soviet Union. The number of functioning mosques was slightly increased, and the public celebration of religious ceremonies became a little easier. The loyalty of the Muslim community and their contribution to the Soviet war effort was acknowledged in the central press, a clear indication that Islam was no longer regarded with the categorical disapproval of the 1930s.
This trend towards greater accommodation continued in the postwar period, despite renewed bouts of religious persecution in the mid-1950s and early 1960s. In 1971 another madrasah was opened in Tashkent, the second in the Soviet Union. In 1974 it was officially named the Ismāʿīl al-Bukhārī Institute, to commemorate the ah 1,200th anniversary of al-Bukhārī's birth. The motivation for this policy was not born of a greater degree of tolerance towards Islam, but rather of a desire to present the Soviet Union in a favorable light to the developing world, particularly the oil-rich Arab countries of the Middle East. This entailed creating at least a facade of acceptance toward Soviet Islam. To further this aim, selected students from the madrasah were allowed to go to Islamic universities in Egypt and other Arab countries to complete their Qurʾanic studies and to perfect their Arabic. A small number of religious publications were permitted, including several editions of the Qurʾān and a journal, Muslims of the Soviet East, originally printed in Uzbek and Arabic, later in several other languages. These publications were intended for the ʿulamāʾ, Muslim scholars, and for foreign Muslims, not for local distribution. During this period the restoration of major Islamic monuments in Central Asia was undertaken, and Muslims from abroad were encouraged to visit the region, though in official delegations with set programs, rather than for private, individual purposes. Soviet Muslims became regular participants in international Islamic conferences and hosted some such events in their own republics. They also played a prominent part in the international peace movement, acting as mouthpieces for the Soviet government's views on such issues as nuclear disarmament and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Middle East.
The Soviet policies of the 1920s and 1930s were aimed at bringing about the radical transformation of Central Asian society. They included positive measures, such as the introduction of mass literacy and compulsory education, the provision of social welfare services, and the emancipation of women, as well as measures specifically aimed at destroying the legacy of the past, such as the purges and the antireligious campaigns. They were implemented with such force and speed that they could not but have an impact. Consequently, a significant level of modernization was achieved in a very short space of time. One aspect of this was a marked degree of external secularization. Some of the older generation certainly continued to perform the prescribed ritual prayers and other obligations in private throughout the Soviet period. Younger members of the family (it was not uncommon for three or even four generations to live together) learnt by example, and out of respect for their elders they tried to keep these practices alive. However, the meaning underlying the words and the gestures was gradually forgotten, and by the 1960s even those who considered themselves to be devout were often reduced to the mechanical repetition of incomprehensible formulae.
Western writers, especially in the 1980s, often made a distinction between so-called official (ʿulamā ʾ-led) and unofficial or parallel (Ṣūfī- or ishan -led) Islam. The latter was supposed in some way to be more "genuine." The majority of Central Asians do not appear to have subscribed to this categorization. On the contrary, those who attended the mosque might also be in contact with an ishan, and vice versa. Moreover, some members of the ʿulamā ʾ were from Ṣūfī/ishan lines; they, too, kept alive some beliefs and practices, even if largely in a private, personal capacity.
The observances that were most persistently maintained were those connected with rites of passage: male circumcision, marriage ceremonies (though these came to be somewhat influenced by European and Christian practices), and above all, burial services. The obligation to honor the deceased took precedence over almost all other considerations, to the point even of jeopardizing career prospects, since it was seen not only as a mark of respect to the dead, but also as an affirmation of membership in the community. Social customs such as the payment of kalym (in Islamic legal terminology, mahr— the dower or bride price paid by the groom) and, to a lesser extent, polygamy and the underage marriage of girls, although forbidden by law, continued to be practiced surreptitiously. Dietary prohibitions regarding the consumption of pork and alcohol were observed unevenly. The pressure on men to conform to standard Soviet norms was far greater than on women, since the latter tended to live and work in environments that were more culturally homogeneous, thus less vulnerable to external influences.
Group outings to holy places, especially mazars where saints were buried, remained popular, but in general were regarded as social occasions, without any specific religious significance. Several other traces of religious practices, reinterpreted as folk tradition, persisted throughout much of the Soviet period. These included the blessing given in traditional crafts (e.g., pottery, carpet-weaving) by the "master" to the "freed" apprentice as a sign that the latter's training was complete.
The resurgence of Islam in Central Asia began in the early 1970s with the emergence of a small-scale revivalist movement in the Ferghana Valley. The Soviet press referred to its adherents as Wahhābīs, implying that they were backed by foreign sponsorship (presumably from Saudi Arabia), but there is no evidence to indicate that they received either external influence or support during this period. It is possible that the movement drew its inspiration from an ascetic sect that was active in the area at the beginning of the century. It is more likely, however, that it was a spontaneous, grass-roots reaction against the relentless materialism of Marxism-Leninism and its sterile doctrine of "scientific atheism" (similar revivals in other religions were to be observed in many parts of the Soviet Union at that time).
Another and stronger impetus for the reintroduction of Islamic values was the shift in government policy. From 1989 on, the Soviet authorities adopted a conciliatory approach toward Islam. This was to some extent the result of greater tolerance towards religion throughout the Soviet Union, but more specifically, it was an attempt to combat the perceived threat of Iranian-style Islamic revolution by bolstering a sense of pride in indigenous Islamic traditions. A new muftī was elected at this time, Muḥammad Ṣadyk Muḥammad Yūsuf Hoja-ogli (b. 1952). He had previously been the rector of the Tashkent madrasah. A young and highly educated cleric (graduate of the two Soviet madrasahs, followed by postgraduate studies in Libya), Muḥammad Ṣadyk was a persuasive proponent of government policies, but he also worked hard to improve conditions for the practice of Islam. His efforts met with official approval and he received substantial support from the authorities, who not only gave him a prominent role in public affairs, but also made several concessions to the Muslim community, such as permission to open more mosques, the relaxing of restrictions concerning the pilgrimage to Mecca, and the increased provision of religious literature.
These measures generated a surge of gratitude to the Soviet state and specifically to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the architect of this new liberalism. There was a genuine sense of satisfaction that the validity of Central Asian culture had been recognized and was finally being accorded proper respect. For the great majority of the population this was sufficient: at this stage there were few who were in favor of religion assuming a more dominant role in society.
Only in Tajikistan was the picture somewhat different. Here, the Islamic revival soon acquired a political aspect. The first Islamic political party in Central Asia was the Islamic Rebirth Party (IRP) of Tajikistan. It began as an offshoot of the all-Union Islamic Rebirth Party, founded in Astrakhan (on the Volga) in June 1990. However, the Tajik party soon began to follow an independent course; it was formally registered by the Tajik authorities in October 1991. Thus, on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union, in this one republic, Islam was not only beginning to play a significant role in public life but was also operating with a degree of autonomy that was not to be found elsewhere in the region.
The Soviet Union was formally abolished in December 1991. Few had expected its sudden collapse. When the Central Asian states gained independence at the end of 1991 there was much speculation, within the region and abroad, as to the possible impact of the "Islamic factor" on politics and society. In Tajikistan the IRP joined other independent political parties to form an antigovernment alliance. Confrontation between the two factions soon escalated into violence, triggering the outbreak of civil war in mid-1992. The IRP and other opposition parties were banned by the government. They moved to Afghanistan and continued to fight the government from there. The IRP formed the core of this resistance movement. Thus, the conflict came to be seen as a struggle between Islamists and secularists. However, the situation was more complex. Although Islam was undoubtedly a major factor in the conflict, it was not the sole cause. Rather, it was an aggravating feature in the struggle for national supremacy that broke out between different socio-regional groupings in the aftermath of independence. The conflict continued sporadically for five years. It was formally brought to a close in June 1997, when a peace treaty was signed by the warring factions. Despite the shortcomings of this agreement, and the imperfect manner in which it was implemented, it remained in force as of 2004. This has permitted a certain amount of political and economic restructuring to take place. In 1999 several independent political parties were granted registration (or re-registration), including the Islamic Rebirth Party.
Elsewhere in Central Asia, post-Soviet Islam exhibits three tendencies. These can be described as traditional Islam, government-sponsored Islam, and radical Islam.
Traditional Islam is characterized by a conservative, overall passive attitude to religion. Moreover, there is great attachment to popular practices which, though understood as being Islamic, are contrary to orthodox teachings. This is the form of Islam that is still espoused by the great majority of Central Asian Muslims. However, the situation is beginning to change. In the immediate aftermath of independence there was great enthusiasm for mosque construction. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, there were only thirty-four mosques open for worship in 1987, but by 1994 there were almost a thousand; in Uzbekistan in the same period the number rose from eighty-seven to some three thousand. The same phenomenon was to be observed in the other Central Asian states. Moreover, many Muslim schools and madrasahs were opened and courses were provided for children and adults in the study of Arabic, the Qurʾān, and related religious topics. By the second half of the 1990s this upsurge of interest in Islam had somewhat abated. Nevertheless, among the younger generation there has been a distinct change of outlook. Mosque attendance has increased again, particularly in the south (notably the Ferghana Valley and southern Kazakhstan). Thus, a more orthodox form of Islam is gradually replacing the indigenous syncretic beliefs and practices of the past.
This form is a continuation of the late Soviet-era policy of co-opting religion to serve the needs of the state. Today, the constitutions of all the Central Asian countries enshrine the principle of the division of religion and state. Yet throughout the region, Islam has been elevated to a status akin to that of a state ideology. This seems to have been prompted by the conviction that unless urgent action was taken to fill the ideological vacuum left by the discrediting of Marxism-Leninism (which possibly had more support in Central Asia than elsewhere in the Soviet Union), anarchy would follow. Consequently, in all the Central Asian states an immediate campaign was set in motion to emphasize the role of Islam as an integral component of the national heritage, and likewise of the ethical foundation of the state. This message was conveyed through the teachings of Muslim clerics, as well as through the pronouncements of senior political figures and editorial and documentary features in the mass media. In Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan this dual ethical-national significance was made explicit when the presidents swore their respective oaths of office on both the constitution and the Qurʾān. On a personal level, the heads of state (all former Communist Party members who came to power under Soviet rule) have been at pains to establish Muslim credentials. This has included fulfilling the lesser (ʿumrah ) pilgrimage to Mecca.
Since independence, new laws on religion and on religious associations have been passed in the Central Asian states. The law adopted in Uzbekistan in 1998 is regarded as the most restrictive. However, the draft amendments that are currently under consideration in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan propose measures that are almost equally severe. Political parties of a religious orientation are proscribed everywhere except in Tajikistan, where in mid-1999, in the run-up to parliamentary elections, the Islamic Rebirth Party, outlawed in 1993, was again legalized. In all five states, religious communities must be officially registered by the authorities. If not, they are likely to be prosecuted and to suffer personal harassment, as well as the confiscation or destruction of community property. Most of the so-called nontraditional faiths (i.e., those that have only recently been introduced into the region) have experienced great difficulties in securing registration; insofar as they operate at all, their activities are regarded as illegal, and therefore criminal.
The form of Islam favored by the Central Asian governments of today is based on the teachings of orthodox Sunnī Islam of the Ḥanafī school of jurisprudence. However, the sphere of application is strictly limited. There is little question, for example, of introducing elements of sharī ʿah law (Muslim canon law) into the legal framework of these states. The main concern at the governmental level is to promote "good" Islam, which, it is implied, is beneficial to the development of the state; and to banish "bad" Islam, which represents a threat to stability. To underline this last point, frequent reference is made to Tajikistan and Afghanistan, where, it is alleged, the spread of "bad" Islam has brought misery and suffering. Yet there is no public debate in any of the Central Asian countries as to where, and on what basis, the dividing line should be drawn between the acceptable and the unacceptable. Thus, men who grow beards (a traditional Muslim sign of piety) are regarded with suspicion, particularly in Uzbekistan, where they run the risk of summary arrest. Why these manifestations, which are in keeping with orthodox Muslim practice, should be labeled extremist, while other aspects of Islamic behavior should be encouraged, is not discussed.
The institutional control of Islamic activities in Central Asia today largely follows the Soviet model. However, whereas under Soviet rule there had been a unified, overarching administration for all the Muslims of the region (i.e., the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of Central Asia and Kazakhstan), separate national administrations, each headed by a muftī, were established in the early 1990s. In Tajikistan, the office of muftī was abolished in 1996, and the work of the muftīyāt was reorganized; the chief Muslim authority is now the chairman of the council of ʿulamā ʾ. In the other states, the muftīyāt remains responsible for administering Muslim affairs within the state and maintaining formal contacts with Muslims abroad. The work of the muftīyāt is closely monitored by a Committee (or Council) for Religious Affairs, a body that serves as the interface between the government and the religious communities (yet another Soviet-era survival). The interests of Muslims, as well as adherents of the other established faiths (chiefly Orthodox Christianity and Judaism), are officially represented in this body. Such "nontraditional" faiths as Bahāʾī, Pentecostal Christianity, and Jehovah's Witnesses are regarded with suspicion and given little opportunity for official representation. In Turkmenistan the muftīyāt and the Committee for Religious Affairs have virtually merged into a single entity, as the chairman of the latter body is the deputy muftī, while the muftī is deputy chairman of the Committee.
The muftīyāt is responsible, among a number of other functions, for the formal examination and registration of Muslim clerics. Unregistered preachers are liable to criminal prosecution. The ostensible aim of registration is to disbar unqualified individuals from holding religious posts. At the same time, however, registration enables the state authorities to keep a close check on the ideological orientation of the religious establishment. Clerics who hold views that do not conform to the official line, or who are felt to be lacking in loyalty to the government, can be excluded from the system.
The most marked example of government control over the Muslim establishment is in Uzbekistan. The last muftī of the Soviet era, Muḥammad Ṣadyk, was forced from office in the wake of accusations of Wahhābī sympathies and financial improprieties. In 1993 he went into voluntary exile, though he later returned to live as a private individual in Tashkent. Since the mid-1990s the official Muslim hierarchy has been relegated to a subordinate role, remarkable chiefly for its unquestioning support of government policies. Elsewhere in the region, state control of the religious establishment is also increasing, though it is still well below the Uzbek level. Kyrgyzstan has, as of 2004, shown a fairly consistent commitment to maintaining the independence of the religious establishment. This appeared to falter in December 1996, when covert government pressure resulted in the ousting of Muftī Kimsanbai-aji Abduraḥmān uulu (elected in 1993), a cleric who had a large following within the Muslim community but was suspected by some of Wahhābī leanings. However, he was reinstated as muftī in 2000.
The radical trend embraces a loose grouping of activists who want to purge Islam of the distortions that have been introduced over time. They are collectively referred to as Wahhābīs, a term that today, as during the Soviet era, is a generic expression of abuse rather than a literal description of religious affiliation.
From the early 1990s onward, the radical trend has been gaining ground. In Tajikistan, it was one of the factors that led to the outbreak of the civil war. Elsewhere in the region the main expression of radical Islam has been the emergence of clandestine groups, based in Uzbekistan and adjacent areas of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. There are no reports of Islamist movements in Turkmenistan, which could mean either that they do not exist or that they are suppressed more effectively than elsewhere.
It is impossible to set a figure either to the number of individuals who are involved, or to the number of separate groups. Names of some of these groups have appeared in various sources from time to time, though with almost no background information. These include Adolat (Justice); Akromiya (named after their founder, Akrom Yuldashev), they are also known as the Iimonchilar (Believers) or Khalifatchilar (Caliphate Supporters); the Tawba (Repentance) movement; and Islom lashkarlari (Soldiers of Islam). The first such group to acquire wide notoriety was the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. It was formed around 1996 under the leadership of Ṭāhir Yoldashev and Jumabai Khojiev and may have attracted members from some of the earlier groups. Based predominantly in the Ferghana Valley, the great majority of its members were Uzbeks. The movement was also active in southern Kyrgyzstan and southern Kazakhstan, where it was said to find support among local Uzbek minorities. In 2001 there was a move to rename the party the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, but this does not appear to have been implemented.
Likewise in the mid-1990s, a very different, and potentially far more powerful, radical element appeared. This was Ḥizb ut-Taḥrīr (transliterated in various forms, including Ḥizb al-Taḥrīr, and usually translated as the "Liberation Party"). A transnational Islamist organization, it was created in 1953 in Jerusalem; it soon attracted a substantial following in Jordan and spread to other countries in the Muslim world. In several countries it was banned as a dangerously subversive organization and its members were imprisoned. The headquarters of the movement are not known, though it is credibly suggested that they are based in the United Kingdom. It is not known how the Ḥizb ut-Taḥrīr is funded, but it produces numerous publications and has an impressive Internet presence.
The first Ḥizb ut-Taḥrīr leaflets reportedly appeared in Tashkent in 1992 or 1993, but the movement does not seem to have established a definite presence in the city until 1995. There were an estimated eighty thousand Ḥizb ut-Taḥrīr members in Uzbekistan in 2004. Since 2001, Ḥizb ut-Taḥrīr documents have referred to Uzbekistan as a wilāyah (province) of an imagined worldwide Islamic state. The party has launched excoriating attacks on the Uzbek government and, in particular, on President Islom Karimov, who is depicted as an archenemy of Islam. It is not known whether Ḥizb ut-Taḥrīr and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are in any way linked. Initially, they were separate organizations, but in the late 1990s there were rumors to suggest that some degree of rapprochement had taken place.
On February 16, 1999, there was an attempt on the life of President Karimov in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Within hours of the incident, "Islamic fundamentalists" were being blamed for the outrage. This triggered a renewed onslaught on devout Muslims. The incident was used as an excuse to conduct a campaign against all shades of dissident opinion. According to reports from numerous sources, tens of thousands of people were arrested. It is difficult to verify such estimates, but certainly the fear of reprisals caused many Uzbeks to flee across the border into neighboring states, from where some of them launched attacks on Uzbekistan. A serious clash occurred when armed fighters crossed into Kyrgyzstan in August 1999 with the aim, according to official sources, of invading Uzbekistan "in order to establish an Islamic state." Estimates of the size of this force vary greatly, but it seems likely to have numbered some five hundred men. When the guerrillas reached the border they found Uzbek troops blocking their route; they thereupon retreated into the Kyrgyz mountains, taking with them a number of hostages, including four Japanese geologists. The hostages were released in October 1999, reputedly after the Japanese government paid a large ransom. There were similar armed clashes in the same area in mid-2000, though on a smaller scale.
There is no information as to why such attacks were mounted at precisely this juncture. It may have been retaliation for the repression that followed the February assassination attempt on Karimov. It is also possible that it was part of a struggle between local mafia barons to gain control of lucrative narcotic-trafficking routes. In September 2000 the U.S. State Department placed the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan on its list of international terrorist organizations to which U.S. citizens are forbidden to give assistance, and whose members are denied entry into the United States.
The Islamic revival in the Central Asian states is to some extent inspired and supported by Muslims in other countries. Some of the financing for the building of mosques and madrasah s, as well as the restoration of Islamic monuments, has come from abroad, from both private sources and government funds. Students from Central Asia have gone in large numbers (a few hundred a year) to study in countries such as Turkey, Egypt, and Pakistan. Since independence, many thousands of Central Asians have performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, some already two or three times. In the early 1990s, and again in 1999, the travel expenses of several thousand pilgrims were covered by the Saudi monarch. All the Central Asian states have now joined the Organization for Islamic Conference, hence there are also institutional links with the Muslim world.
The main foreign influence, however, has come from missionaries. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union they flocked to Central Asia from many parts of the Muslim world to preach and to open schools. At first they were warmly welcomed. Gradually, though, the mood in the region began to change. On the one hand, the traditionalists—the mass of ordinary believers—objected to being told that some of their most respected customs (for example, those connected with burials) were not authentic and should be replaced by more orthodox procedures. On the other hand, the state authorities also became uneasy that the missionaries were encouraging independent Islamic thought. Uzbekistan was the first to impose restrictions on Muslim missionaries from abroad; in 1992 to 1993 some fifty Saudi preachers were expelled. Other expulsions followed, and since then the activities of foreign Muslims have been very carefully monitored. A similar tendency can be observed in the other states.
Foreign commentators initially expected Iran to play the lead role in the re-Islamicization of Central Asia. In fact, Iranian clerics have been conspicuous largely by their absence. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, delegations from Iran began to visit the Central Asian states and to acquire firsthand familiarity with the region. They soon realized that an Islamic revolution along the lines of the Iranian model was not a realistic prospect; this was partly because of the low level of knowledge of Islam among the population at large, but also, and very importantly, because of the lack of a trained, independent-minded ʿulamā ʾ. The fact that the Iranians represent the Shīʿī tradition also placed them at a disadvantage. By contrast, Sunnī Muslim missionaries were active from the first years of independence. Turkish Muslims have played the most prominent role. Proportionately, they are more numerous than any other ethnic group.
The great majority of the Turkish missionaries are Nurcus, followers of Bediüzzaman Said Nursī (1876–1960), and of his disciple Fethulla Gülen (b. 1938). The Nurcus opened hundreds of schools and commercial enterprises in all the Central Asian states. They appeared to be propagating a moderate, modernized version of Islam, and their teaching programs concentrated on scientific subjects and technical skills. However, on a more informal level, through extracurricular contacts and through the distribution of translations into the local languages of the Risale-i Nur (The Epistle of Light), the corpus of teachings of Said Nursī, they seem to have been disseminating a more radical message. There are increasing concerns that their ultimate political project is the creation of an Islamic state. They are also accused by some of having a pan-Turkic agenda. Because of such suspicions, their newspaper Zaman (Time) was banned in Uzbekistan in 1994; several teachers were expelled at about the same time. In other Central Asian states a similar sense of unease is emerging regarding the activities of this group, and consequently their work is now being more closely monitored.
Turkish influence has also played a part in the revival of Sufism. Great Ṣūfī orders such as the Naqshbandīyah and Qādirīyah had been influential in Central Asia in the past, but even before the Soviet era they had lost much of their power. Under Soviet rule, insofar as anything of this tradition of mysticism survived, it was in the form of popular syncretic practices. In the early 1990s, adepts from Turkey began to reintroduce Sufism to the region, focusing their efforts mainly on Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan. Initially, this was welcomed by the secular authorities in Uzbekistan, who professed admiration for Ṣūfī philosophy. An indication of official approval occurred when President Karimov made his first post-independence visit to Turkey, and Mukhtarkhan Abdullayev, a self-avowed Ṣūfī, was included in his entourage; Abdullayev, who was subsequently appointed muftī (1993–1997), was formally inducted into the Naqshbandī order on this occasion. Later, however, the Uzbek government's attitude towards Sufism changed. It continued to be revered as a historical and cultural phenomenon, but attempts to revive Ṣūfī brotherhoods were firmly repressed; the movement was eventually driven underground.
Fears that foreign Muslims were fomenting religious extremism and militancy in Central Asia continued to grow. The enthusiasm for sending students to Islamic institutions in Turkey, Egypt, and other Muslim countries was tempered with concerns that, once abroad, they would be exposed to radical ideas. The Uzbek authorities were the first to react to this perceived threat, going so far as to accuse Turkish Islamists of using these students as a fifth column. It was alleged that while in Turkey several of these students underwent terrorist training. On their return home, so it was claimed, they set up cells of activists in villages and towns. Thereafter, other governments in the region also became suspicious of the education offered by foreign Muslims and cut back on the number of religious students who were allowed to go abroad to study.
In Central Asia there has not as yet emerged a homegrown Muslim intellectual tradition expounding a coherent vision of Islam in the modern world. Equally, awareness of the existence of contemporary thought in other parts of the Islamic world is not well developed. Almost the only literature that is available (though how widely is a moot point) is that which is produced clandestinely by Ḥizb ut-Taḥrīr. The state authorities in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan report that large consignments of the party's journal al-Waʿī (Consciousness), as well as leaflets and books, have been circulated. Titles of confiscated material include Islom nizomi (The Islamic Order), Hizbut-Tahrir tushunchalari (Concepts of Ḥizb ut-Taḥrīr), and Siyosat va khalqaro siyosat (Politics and International Politics); these texts are sometimes in Arabic, sometimes in competent Kyrgyz or Uzbek translations. Several underground printing presses have been discovered. Local editions of such works are said to have been produced in print runs of one thousand or so. Distribution of these tracts is mostly covert: typically, copies are scattered in public places under cover of night, or handed out by casual hired labor. The Central Asian governments, especially the Uzbek, are deeply concerned about the effect that this literature might have. Anyone who is found in possession of such material runs the risk of arrest, and consequently most people are afraid to handle it. Thus, it is very difficult to judge how much of it is actually read by the population at large. Elsewhere there are examples of efforts to produce materials in local languages, such as Tajik, for example, to provide a wider readership with the benefits of the Muslim scholarship that originated in their own region.
Following the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001, a U.S.-led coalition commenced military operations against the Taliban and al-Qāʿidah bases in Afghanistan. In the following months, coalition bases were established in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. In the course of this campaign, many of the Central Asian guerrillas who were fighting alongside the Taliban and al-Qāʿidah were killed. It was claimed (though not conclusively confirmed) that Juma Namangani, leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, had also been killed. Certainly the movement was badly damaged, and despite rumors that it was regrouping, it had not undertaken any significant actions as of early 2004. Meanwhile, in the Central Asian states the authorities began pursuing their own "war on terror" by arresting hundreds of so-called religious extremists. The main targets are members of Ḥizb ut-Taḥrīr, although little credible evidence of criminal activity has been produced against them. Human rights organizations are particularly concerned about the situation in Uzbekistan, where prisoners are reportedly subjected to physical and psychological torture.
The persecution of radical Islam is accompanied by ongoing attempts to promote government-sponsored Islam. Official Islamic institutions continue to function, and in Uzbekistan have even been enhanced (e.g., by the opening of the Islamic University in Tashkent). The aim is to inculcate a "positive" interpretation of Islam in society. Ultimately, however, better knowledge of the faith might make it more difficult to control the responses of believers. The struggle between radical Islam and "official" Islam seems likely to continue.
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Shirin Akiner (2005)