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Islamic Studies Islam in Central Asia
by
Devin DeWeese

Introduction

In modern terms, Central Asia comprises the five post-Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, as well as most of Xinjiang province in the People’s Republic of China and adjacent parts of the Russian Federation, Iran, and Afghanistan. The region is marked by a distinctive set of Islamic civilizations that began to emerge in the 8th century CE. It was shaped by the political, economic, and social interaction of nomadic groups from the broad Eurasian steppes and the sedentary inhabitants of agricultural oases—a distinction that roughly corresponds, in much of the Islamic era, to the linguistic division of Turkic- and Persian-speaking peoples. It was also shaped by the encounter of broader cultural traditions rooted in Inner Asia with those rooted in Iran and the Middle East. The study of Islam in Central Asia presents problems not typically encountered in the study of other parts of the Muslim world. One such problem is the isolation of much of the region during most of the 20th century. Another is the lamentably strong division between those who work on contemporary affairs and those who study Islamic Central Asia prior to the impact of the Russian (or Chinese) conquest and the Soviet era. Yet another problem is the impact of the Soviet state (and of the PRC) on the development of indigenous Central Asian attitudes toward the region’s Islamic heritage. A host of 20th-century policies have left most Central Asians handicapped in terms of their ability to engage directly with important aspects of their own local Muslim heritage, leaving them vulnerable to the continuing legacy of Soviet-era interpretations of their past and to external arguments that Central Asia’s religious heritage must be restored from outside. Perhaps the most striking of these special problems, however, is the distinctive chronological pattern evident for the region: the amount of scholarly attention devoted to Central Asia’s political, social, cultural, and religious history decreases the closer one comes to the present. One result of these problems is the scarcity of good studies in general; another is the scarcity of useful works in English. The following survey assumes that it is neither possible, nor desirable, to extract scholarship on “religion” in Islamic Central Asia from studies of political, social, economic, or cultural history.

General Overviews and Reference Resources

There is no good, reliable, general introduction to the history of Central Asia, to the history of Islam in Central Asia, or to the distinctive features of religious practice in contemporary Central Asia, in any language. Surveys of Central Asian history, and of the history of Islam in Central Asia, produced as “background” for studies of contemporary Central Asia (including some written by former contributors to Soviet antireligious efforts), are typically unreliable and are best avoided. Two indispensable resources for the study of Islamic Central Asia are Bregel 1995 and Bregel 2003.

  • Barthold, V. V. Four Studies on the History of Central Asia. Translated by V. Minorsky and T. Minorsky. 3 vols. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 1962.

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    English translations of works by the eminent Russian scholar that come close to spanning the entire Islamic period, albeit each for limited parts of Central Asia.

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  • Bregel, Yuri, ed. Bibliography of Islamic Central Asia. 3 vols. Bloomington: Indiana University, Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 1995.

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    Thorough, classified coverage of works published through 1988 on virtually all aspects of Central Asian history and civilization (except linguistics and literature).

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  • Bregel, Yuri. An Historical Atlas of Central Asia. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2003.

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    Good maps, matched by remarkably concise but densely packed facing-page historical summaries of the periods covered by each map.

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  • Golden, Peter B. An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples: Ethnogenesis and State-Formation in Medieval and Early Modern Eurasia and the Middle East. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1992.

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    The most solid, rigorous introduction to the ethnic and political history of Central Asia’s Turkic peoples (in the context of a broader study).

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  • McChesney, R. D. Central Asia: Foundations of Change. Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press, 1996.

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    The best, most readable guide for introducing those familiar with contemporary Central Asia to the region’s Islamic past, with a focus on settled regions. Includes excellent discussions of the economics of shrine traditions and of patterns of hereditary power and prestige.

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  • Light, Nathan. “Annotated Bibliography of the History and Culture of Eastern Turkistan, Jungharia/Zungaria/Dzungaria, Chinese Central Asia, and Sinkiang/Xinjiang.” Silk Road Foundation Newsletter 3, no 1 (2003).

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    Excellent, up-to-date bibliographical coverage of works on Eastern Turkistan “for the 16th–20th centuries CE, excluding most travel narratives”. Available online.

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Guides to Primary Sources

The written products of Islamic civilization in Central Asia down to the 20th century remain poorly known and mostly unpublished; even an idea of the shape and content of “Islam in Central Asia” is impossible without an acquaintance with the material that remains in manuscript form. Central Asian manuscripts are found in libraries throughout the world, with special concentrations in India, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey. However, institutions in Central Asia itself, and in St. Petersburg (where substantial materials brought to the imperial capital during Tsarist times remain), preserve the largest and most representative collections of the region’s heritage of Islamic literature. (Collections in Xinjiang remain poorly known, chiefly through handlists of titles.) Important collections are found in Dushanbe (Tajikistan), and others of significance are in Ashgabat (Turkmenistan) and Almaty (Kazakhstan), but the richest collection by far is that of the Institute of Oriental Studies in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), for which an 11-volume catalogue begun in the 1950s (Semenov 1953–1987) is the best introduction. For access to religious literature from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries not well covered in the Soviet-era catalogues, see Babadzhanov, et al. 2002 and Babadzhanov, et al. 2000. Indigenous historical sources on Central Asia were written overwhelmingly in Persian; the best introduction to the historical sources for the region is found in the Russian translation of the initial parts of C. A. Storey’s survey of Persian literature (Stori 1972).

  • Babadzhanov, B., A. Kremer, and Iu. Paul′, eds. Kratkii katalog sufiiskikh proizvedenii XVIII–XX vv. iz sobraniia Instituta Vostokovedeniia Akademiia Nauk Respubliki Uzbekistan im. al Biruni. Berlin: Das Arabische Buch, 2000.

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    A much larger handlist of titles, usually without descriptions, of a wider range of “Sufi” works.

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  • Babadzhanov, Bakhtiiar, Ul′rike Berndt, Ashirbek Muminov, and Iurgen Paul′, eds. Katalog sufiiskikh proizvedenii XVIII XX vv. iz sobranii Instituta Vostokovedeniia im. Abu Raikhana al Biruni Akademii Nauk Respubliki Uzbekistan. Verzeichnis der orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland, Supplementband 37. Stuttgart, Germany: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2002.

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    Descriptive catalogue of selected manuscripts containing “Sufi” literature produced in Central Asia from the 18th to 20th centuries.

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  • Hofman, H. F. Turkish Literature: A Bio-Bibliographical Survey. Section III (“Chaghatai”), Part I (“Authors”). 6 vols. in 2. Utrecht, the Netherlands: University of Utrecht, 1969.

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    Attempts to do for Chaghatay Turkic works what Brockelmann and Storey had done for Arabic and Persian literature. Though a usable guide, the work was rendered immediately out of date by the publication of the seventh volume of Semenov 1953–1987, devoted entirely to Turkic material in the richest collection of Central Asia, in 1967.

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  • Semenov, A. A., et al., eds Sobranie vostochnykh rukopisei Akademii nauk Uzbekskoi SSR. 11 vols. Tashkent, Uzbekistan: Fan, 1953–1987.

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    Catalogue of Islamic manuscripts (Arabic, Persian, and Turkic) preserved at the most extensive collection in Central Asia. The volumes are of uneven quality, but the set is indispensable for understanding the region’s Islamic heritage.

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  • Stori, Ch. A. Persidskaia literatura: Bio-bibliograficheskii obzor. Translated by Iu. È. Bregel′ (with additions). 3 vols. Moscow: Glavnaia Redaktsiia Vostochnoi Literatury, 1972.

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    Russian translation of the classic survey of Persian literature by Charles Ambrose Storey; still the best introduction to historical sources on Central Asia.

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From the Arab Conquest to the Mongol Invasion (8th–13th Centuries)

This period has been the best-studied part of Central Asia’s Islamic history, both in terms of basic works on political history and in terms of studies of certain aspects of religious history. The historical framework is marked by the Arab conquest during the Umayyad era, the consolidation of Muslim rule under the Abbasids, and a succession of regionally-based dynasties that dominated Central Asia as Caliphal power declined (the Tahirids, the Samanids, the Qarakhanids, the Ghaznavids, the Saljuqs, and the Khwarazmshahs). Religious history may be framed in terms of the process of Islamization, especially among the Turkic peoples on the frontiers, Central Asia’s role in the development of the religious sciences, the social and political roles of the learned class, particular sectarian movements, and the rise of Sufi currents.

Historical Framework

Barthold 1977 remains the most important historical study of Central Asia for the pre-Mongol era; first published in Russian in 1900, it has not been superseded.

  • Barthold, V. V. Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion. Translated by V. Minorsky and T. Minorsky; edited by C. E. Bosworth. 4th ed. E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Series, n.s., 5. London: E.J.W. Gibb Memorial Trust, 1977.

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    Still the essential work on the pre-Mongol era (the English translation includes a supplementary chapter on Mongol rule into the second half of the 13th century).

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  • Frye, Richard N. Bukhara: The Medieval Achievement. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda, 1997.

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    A more readable narrative introducing Central Asian history from the Arab conquest down to the 12th century, with a particular focus on the Samanids. Originally published in 1965 by the University of Oklahoma Press.

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  • Narshakhī. The History of Bukhara: Translated from a Persian Abridgment of the Arabic Original by Narshakhī. Translated by Richard N. Frye. Cambridge, MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1954.

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    Excellent translation, with notes and commentary, of the major historical source focused on Bukhara in the early Islamic era.

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  • Paul, Jürgen. Herrscher, Gemeinwesen, Vermittler: Ostiran und Transoxanien in vormongolischer Zeit. Stuttgart, Germany: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1996.

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    Addresses important issues of political, social, and economic history, with a focus on the role of intermediaries, including religious figures, between the state and local communities.

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From the Arab Conquest to the Fall of the Samanids

Gibb 1970 remains useful for the period of the Arab conquest; Frye 1975 provides a reliable narrative from the conquest down to the early Abbasid era; while Daniel 1979 and Daniel 1996 focus on the late Umayyad and early Abbasid periods. There is no thorough study dealing with Samanid history; Frye 1997 remains the best survey.

From the 11th Century to the Mongol Conquest

Two of the regional dynasties that held power in Central Asia between the fall of the Samanids and the Mongol conquest have been the subject of standard historical studies in English (Bosworth 1963 for the Ghaznavids, and Biran 2005 for the Qarakhitay), but there is still no major study in English of the Qarakhanids, the Saljuqs, or the Khwarazmshahs; for the latter two, see Agadzhanov 1991, Horst 1964, Kafesoğlu 1956, and Buniiatov 1986. Much of Lambton 1988 is invaluable for Central Asia.

Islam and the Turks

The Islamization of Turkic peoples in Central Asia began in the late 9th century, with important “dynastic” conversions in the mid-10th century, among the Qarakhanids and Saljuqs. There is no thorough study of the process, or of particular instances of conversion, beyond accounts in studies of political histories of the respective groups. Davidovich 1998, Golden 1990, and Pritsak 1953–1954 should be consulted for an overview of the Qarakhanids. Erdal 1984, Gronke 1986, and Tekin 1979–1980 are studies of Qarakhanid documents.

Juridical and Theological Developments

Central Asia produced several figures important in the codification of the corpus of Prophetic hadiths (they have not been closely studied), and in the development of other religious sciences, but it was above all in the formulation of juridical schools, especially the Hanafi madhhab, that the region produced scholars renowned throughout the Muslim world. Halm 1974 is useful for the Shafiʿi tradition’s scattered centers in Central Asia (such as Tashkent, Taraz, and parts of Khwarazm); the dominant Hanafi tradition is outlined in Kavakcı 1976 and Madelung 1982.

  • Halm, Heinz. Die Ausbreitung der šāfiʾitischen Rechtsschule von den Anfängen bis zum 8./14. Jahrhundert. Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des vorderen Orients, Reihe B (Geisteswissenschaften), Nr. 4. Wiesbaden, Germany: Dr. Ludwig Reichert, 1974.

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    The standard work on the spread of the Shafiʿi juridical school; includes important coverage of Shafiʿi regions in Central Asia (e.g., Tashkent, parts of Khwarazm, Taraz).

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  • Kavakcı, Yusuf Ziya. XI ve XII: Asırlarda Karahanlılar Devrinde Māvāra’ al-Nahr [sic] İslâm Hukukçuları. Ataturk Universitesi Yayinlari, no. 430. Ankara, Turkey: Sevinc Matbaasi, 1976.

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    Still the most thorough survey of the Hanafi tradition’s early development in Central Asia.

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  • Lewinstein, Keith. “Notes on Eastern Ḥanafite Heresiography.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 114, no. 4 (1994): 583–598.

    DOI: 10.2307/606164Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A brief discussion of Hanafi sources and figures relevant to Central Asia.

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  • Madelung, Wilferd. “The Early Murjiʾa in Khurāsān and Transoxania and the Spread of Ḥanafism.” Der Islam 59 (1982), 32–39.

    DOI: 10.1515/islm.1982.59.1.32Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brief but good survey of the early phase of the Hanafi tradition in Central Asia. Reprinted in Religious Schools and Sects in Medieval Islam by Wilferd Madelung (pp. 32–39, London: Variorum, 1985).

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  • Radtke, Bernd. “Theologen und Mystiker in Ḫurāsān und Transoxanien.” Zeitschrift der Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft 136 (1986): 536–569.

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    A prosopographical study of jurists and Sufis in pre-Mongol Central Asia.

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  • Rudolph, Ulrich. Al Māturīdī und die sunnitische Theologie in Samarkand. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

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    Examines a theological school, established in Samarqand, that became closely linked with Central Asian Hanafism.

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The ʿUlama in Social Context

The leaders of the juridical schools were actively engaged in political and social affairs, and juridical affiliation became a prominent feature of factional rivalries in the cities of the eastern Islamic world. Bulliet 1972 is an excellent case study of the broader social roles of the ʿulama; McChesney 1998 traces several major juridical families, chiefly in Bukhara; and Madelung 1971 should be read by anyone interested in Islam in pre-Mongol Central Asia.

  • Bulliet, Richard W. The Patricians of Nishapur: A Study in Medieval Islamic Social History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972.

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    Classic study of Hanafi-Shafiʿi rivalries in a major city of Khurasan.

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  • Lev, Yaacov. “Politics, Education, and Medicine in Eleventh Century Samarkand. A Waqf Study.” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 93 (2003): 119–145.

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    An excellent case study of a rare surviving waqf document from pre-Mongol Samarqand.

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  • Madelung, Wilferd. “The Spread of Māturidism and the Turks.” In Actas do IV Congresso des Estudos Arabes et Islâmicos, Coimbra-Lisboa. By Wilferd Madelung, 109–168. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 1971.

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    Focuses on the impact of Central Asian Hanafis in the wider Muslim world. Essential reading for nearly any aspect of religious life in pre-Mongol Central Asia. (It includes in a footnote, for example, important correctives, in substance and approach, to our understanding of the Islamization of the Turks.) Reprinted in Religious Schools and Sects in Medieval Islam, by Wilferd Madelung (London: Variorum, 1985).

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  • McChesney, Robert D. “Central Asia’s Place in the Middle East: Some Historical Considerations.” In Central Asia Meets the Middle East. Edited by David Menashri, 25–51. London: Frank Cass, 1998.

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    Outlines prominent juridical families active in Central Asia and their contributions.

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  • Pritsak, Omeljan. “Āl-i Burhān.” Der Islam 30 (1952): 81–96.

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    Still the most thorough study of the Al i Burhan, a lineage of powerful Hanafi jurists who dominated Bukhara in the 12th century and deserve closer study. In German.

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Sectarian Currents

Further work has been done on the interesting, religiously charged anti-Abbasid movements studied by Sadighi 1938, but this remains the most thorough account. The Karrami movement has likewise attracted considerable discussion (Bosworth 1960, Gilliot 2000, Vadet 1980), but the Ismaʾili presence, despite its impact in Samanid times and afterward, has received less attention (Stern 1960).

Early Sufism

The best account of early mystical traditions in Central Asia, and of the emergence of Sufism there, is now to be found in appropriate sections of Karamustafa 2007, but the seminal articles in Chabbi 1977 and Chabbi 1978 retain their value. For closer studies of an important early figure, see Radtke 1980 and Sviri 1993. The crucial figure of Abū Saʿīd b. Abīʾl Khayr (buried in modern Turkmenistan) is the subject of the exhaustive study of Meier 1976, and the major hagiography focused on him is translated in Ebn e Monavvar 1992. A figure of equal significance, whose impact has still not received sufficient study, is the focus of Moayyad and Lewis 2004. Important organizational developments are outlined in Malamud 1994.

  • Chabbi, Jacqueline. “Remarques sur le développement historique des mouvements ascétiques et mystiques au Khurasan, IIIe/IXe siècle–IVe/Xe siècle.” Studia Islamica 46 (1977): 5–72.

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    Important study outlining the multiple mystical currents that competed with, and were in some cases absorbed by, what emerged as Sufism in Central Asia.

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  • Chabbi, Jacqueline. “Réflexions sur le soufisme iranien primitif.” Journal Asiatique 266 (1978): 37–55.

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    An early survey of early mystical currents in Iran and Central Asia.

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  • Ebn e Monavvar, Mohammed. The Secrets of God’s Mystical Oneness, or The Spiritual Stations of Shaikh Abu Saʿid [Asrār al-Towḥid] [fi Maqāmāt al-Šeyk Abi Saʿid]. Translated by John O’Kane. Persian Heritage Series, no. 38. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda and Bibliotheca Persica, 1992.

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    Good English translation of the major hagiographical account on this important 11th-century Sufi of Central Asia.

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  • Karamustafa, Ahmet T. Sufism: The Formative Period. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

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    Now the best overview of the emergence of Sufism in Central Asia and its relationship with earlier mystical currents; see especially pp. 43–51 and 60–71 for Central Asia.

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  • Malamud, Margaret. “Sufi Organizations and Structures of Authority in Medieval Nishapur.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 26, no. 3 (1994): 427–442.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0020743800060724Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Valuable study of the emergence of khanqah-based hierarchical Sufi communities in the context of new formulations of the master-disciple relationship.

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  • Meier, Fritz. Abū Saʿīd-i Abū l-Ḫayr (357–440/967–1049): Wirklichkeit und Legende. Acta Iranica troisième série, Textes et Mémoires, Vol. IV. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 1976.

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    Classic, exhaustive study of the life and legacy of the major figure of Central Asian Sufism in the 11th century.

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  • Moayyad, Heshmat, and Franklin Lewis, trans. The Colossal Elephant and His Spiritual Feats: Shaykh Ahmad e Jâm: The Life and Legend of a Popular Sufi Saint of 12th Century Iran. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda, 2004.

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    Translations of hagiographical accounts of the major Central Asian Sufi of the 12th century.

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  • Radtke, Bernd. Al-Ḥakīm at-Tirmidhī: Ein islamischer Theosoph des 3./9. Jahrhunderts. Islamkundliche Untersuchungen, Bd. 58. Freiburg, Germany: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1980.

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    Thorough study of a Central Asian mystic closely associated with the development of the notion of sainthood (walaya).

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  • Sviri, Sara. “Ḥakīm Tirmidhī and the Malāmatī Movement in Early Sufism.” In Classical Persian Sufism: From Its Origins to Rumi. Edited by Leonard Lewisohn, 583–613. London: Khaniqahi Nimatullahi, 1993.

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    Another good study of this figure linked with the notion of sainthood.

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The Mongol and Timurid Periods (13th–15th Centuries)

The Mongol conquest of the early 13th century utterly changed the political order of Central Asia, setting up the principle of rule by direct descendants of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan, which would remain influential down to the 20th century. It thus set the stage for a distinctive new phase in the long and complex interactions of inner Asian social and political principles with the institutions and socioreligious principles of the Muslim world. It also brought a new ethnic and political context for the ongoing process of Islamization, which coincided with the rise in the social profile of Sufi communities. The resulting pattern of relationships between Sufi leaders and the Turko-Mongol elite reached its full development under the Timurids, though it continued into the subsequent era as well.

Historical Framework: The Mongol Era

A thorough and careful study of Central Asia under Mongol rule remains to be undertaken. In the meantime, the supplement to Barthold’s Turkestan, the articles in Jackson 1978, and Biran 1997 provide the best available surveys in English.

Historical Framework: The Timurid Era

For the Timurids, considerably more work is available. Most important are Manz 1989, Manz 2007, Roemer 1986, Subtelny 2007, Woods 1987, and Woods 1990. The recent works of Manz and Subtelny will also serve as guides to the present state of the publication and translation of primary sources. Aspects of the cultural legacy that has brought the Timurids significantly more attention than other Central Asian dynasties are accessible in O’Kane 1987 and Golombek and Wilber 1988.

The Development of Sufi Traditions

The Mongol and Timurid periods saw the emergence of Sufi communities as a major social, political, and religious force in Central Asia. These communities included the forerunners of the major “Sufi orders,” some of international significance, such as the Naqshbandiya, Yasaviya, and Kubraviya, as well as smaller groups of primarily local significance, marked by a wide range of devotional and organizational profiles. The study of the early phases of these communities is just beginning, and understanding the religious, political, and social history of Central Asia from the 13th century to the present is impossible without further work on the history of these communities. For Naqshbandi origins, the seminal article of Algar 1990 is still important, to be supplemented by Paul 1998 and Tosun 2002. The Kubravi tradition in Central Asia is outlined in DeWeese 1994; for the Yasaviya, see Köprülü 2006. Other groups are examined in the excellent studies of Aubin 1967 (a local Khalvati group in Khurasan), Babadzhanov 2006 (the ʿIshqiya, near Samarqand), and Bashir 2003 (the Nurbakhshi “offshoot” of the Kubraviya).

  • Algar, Hamid. “A Brief History of the Naqshbandî Order.” In Naqshbandîs: cheminements et situation actuelle d’un ordre mystique musulman (Actes de la Table Ronde de Sèvres, 2–4 mai 1985). Edited by Marc Gaborieau, Alexandre Popović, and Thierry Zarcone, 3–44. Varia Turcica, vol. 18. Istanbul/Paris: Éditions Isis, 1990.

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    An updated version of an article, originally published in 1976, that marks the real beginning of scholarly study of the Naqshbandi tradition.

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  • Aubin, Jean. “Un santon quhistānī de l’époque timouride.” Revue des études islamiques 35 (1967): 185–216.

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    A model of the judicious use of a hagiographical source, in conjunction with documentary and other historical materials, to illuminate the social profile of a locally prominent Sufi community of Khurasan.

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  • Babadzhanov, Bakhtiyar. “′Ishkiia.” In Islam na territorii byvshei Rossiiskoi imperii: Èntsiklopedicheskii slovar′, vyp. 3. Edited by S. M. Prozorov, 46–47. Moscow: Vostochnaia literatura, 2006.

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    The best available account of this poorly studied Sufi community, active near Samarqand, which was a precursor of the Indian Sufi order of the Shattariya. In Russian.

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  • Bashir, Shahzad. Messianic Hopes and Mystical Visions: The Nūrbakhshīya Between Medieval and Modern Islam. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.

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    Excellent study of the life and long legacy of Sayyid Muhammad Nurbakhsh, a 15th-century Sufi who claimed to be the Mahdi.

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  • DeWeese, Devin. “Bābā Kamāl Jandī and the Kubravī Tradition among the Turks of Central Asia.” Der Islam 71 (1994): 58–94.

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    Explores the Central Asian Sufi lineages linked with Najm al-Din Kubra.

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  • Köprülü, Mehmed Fuad. Early Mystics in Turkish Literature. Translated and edited by Gary Leiser and Robert Dankoff. Routledge Sufi Studies. London: Routledge, 2006.

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    Annotated translation of Türk edebiyatında ilk mutasavvıflar, an influential work on the Yasavi tradition, first published in 1918.

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  • Paul, Jürgen. Doctrine and Organization: The Khwājagān-Naqshbandīya in the First Generation after Bahāʾuddīn. ANOR, no. 1. Berlin: Das Arabische Buch, 1998.

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    Important study of the early phases of the Naqshbandi community in Central Asia.

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  • Tosun, Necdet. Bahâeddîn Nakşbend: Hayatı, Görüşleri, Tarîkatı (XII XVII. Asırlar). Istanbul: Insan Yayinlari, 2002.

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    A study of the eponym of the Naqshbandiya and a survey of the later history of the Sufi tradition named for him.

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Religious Life in Social and Political Context

The social and political impact of Islamic religious figures and institutions during the Mongol and Timurid eras encompasses the process of Islamization and the growing social profile of Sufi communities and their leaders. Relatively little work has yet been done on the continuities in juridical traditions spanning these periods. The process of Islamization in the Mongol era is explored in Biran 2002 and in DeWeese 1994. The pivotal figure of Khwaja Ahrar, a Sufi sheikh of the Naqshbandiya who exemplified active social involvement and came to wield substantial political and economic influence, is the focus of Paul 1991a and Paul 1991b; vital documentary material regarding his career is made accessible in Chekhovich 1974 and Gross and Urunbaev 2002 (the latter includes the most up-to-date survey of this figure’s career). The social and political roles of other Sufi sheikhs are considered in DeWeese 1996 and in Paul 1990.

  • Biran, Michal. “The Chaghadaids and Islam: The Conversion of Tarmashirin Khan (1331–34).” Journal of the American Oriental Society 122, no. 4 (2002): 742–752.

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    Studies the evidence on the adoption of Islam by a Chaghatayid khan of the early 14th century.

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  • Chekhovich, O. D. Samarkandskie dokumenty XV–XVI vv. (O vladeniiakh Khodzhi Ahrare v Srednei Azii i Afganistane). Moscow: Nauka, 1974.

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    Excellent editions and Russian translations of documents relating to the properties of Khwaja Ahrar.

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  • DeWeese, Devin. Islamization and Native Religion in the Golden Horde: Baba Tükles and Conversion to Islam in Historical and Epic Tradition. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.

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    Examines narrative traditions about the conversion to Islam of the Jochid ruler Özbek Khan, and about the saint credited with converting him.

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  • DeWeese, Devin. “Yasavī Šayḫs in the Timurid Era: Notes on the Social and Political Role of Communal Sufi Affiliations in the 14th and 15th Centuries.” In “La civiltà timuride come fenomeno internazionale,” special issue, edited by Michele Bernardini, Oriente Moderno, Nuevo Serie 76, no. 2 (1996): 173–188.

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    Surveys the social profiles of Sufis affiliated with the Yasavi tradition.

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  • Gross, Jo-Ann, and Asom Urunbaev, eds. and trans. The Letters of Khwāja ʿUbayd Allāh Aḥrār and His Associates. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2002.

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    Text editions and translations of letters to the Timurid court from the circle of Khwaja Ahrar; includes the best short introduction to the career of this important figure.

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  • Paul, Jürgen. “Scheiche und Herrscher im Khanat Čaġatay.” Der Islam 67, no. 2 (1990): 278–321.

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    Important study of relations between Sufi sheikhs and rulers in 13th- and 14th-century Central Asia.

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  • Paul, Jürgen. “Forming a Faction: The Ḥimāyat System of Khwaja Ahrar.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 23 (1991a): 533–548.

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    Good study of the social and economic role of Khwaja Ahrar, based on Paul 1991b.

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  • Paul, Jürgen. Die politische und soziale Bedeutung der Naqšbandiyya in Mittelasien im 15. Jahrhundert. Studien zur Sprache, Geschichte und Kultur des islamischen Orients, Bd. 13. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1991b.

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    A more in-depth look at the social and economic roles of Khwaja Ahrar, with a broader discussion of early Naqshbandi history and the Timurid political environment.

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  • Subtelny, Maria Eva, and Anas B. Khalidov. “The Curriculum of Islamic Higher Learning in Timurid Iran in the Light of the Sunni Revival under Shāh Rukh.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 115, no. 2 (1995): 210–236.

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    An excellent case study illuminating the institutional and intellectual frameworks of the ʿulama in the Timurid period.

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From the Uzbek Conquest to the Establishment of Chinese and Russian Rule (16th–19th Centuries)

Despite the obvious importance of the political, social, and economic history of the region during this period, as well as its religious and cultural history, for an understanding of developments in the age of Russian and Soviet or Chinese rule, this remains the most poorly studied period of Central Asian history. Reliable surveys are few, and in their coverage of Central Asian history, many popular works jump from the Timurids directly to the Russian conquest.

Historical Framework

It is in this period that we begin to see patterns of religious life that can be followed through the Russian and Soviet periods down to the present. Among these patterns are the inextricable links between “religious” developments and the broader processes of political and social history. Religious issues are thus inevitably addressed in the historical works listed here dealing with a wide range of issues, from the khwaja lineages of Eastern Turkistan to the infusion of religious figures into Turkmen tribal histories, and to the legitimation of the “tribal” dynasties that emerged in Bukhara, Khiva, and Khoqand during the 18th century.

General Surveys

There is still no reliable, thorough survey in English of the history of Central Asia from the 16th century to the 19th century. Ivanov 1958 comes close to what is needed, in Russian; good surveys in English are mostly to be found in encyclopedia venues (see Bregel 1992, McChesney 1992a, and McChesney 1992b).

  • Bregel, Yuri. “Central Asia vii: In the 12th–13th/18th–19th Centuries.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. 5. Edited by by Ehsan Yarshater, 193–205. Winona Lake, IN: Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation, 1992.

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    A thorough survey covering Central Asia from the emergence of the “tribal” dynasties to the Russian conquest.

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  • Ivanov, P. P. Ocherki po istorii Srednei Azii (XVI-seredina XIX v.). Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Vostochnoi literatury, 1958.

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    A standard survey, marred by Soviet-style interpretations and now out-of-date, but still worth consulting.

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  • McChesney, R. D. “Central Asia vi: In the 10th–12th/16th–18th Centuries.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. 5. Edited by by Ehsan Yarshater, 176–193. Winona Lake, IN: Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation, 1992a.

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    A good survey covering Central Asia from the Uzbek conquest down to the 18th century.

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  • McChesney, R. D. “Central Asia xi: Economy from the Timurids until the 12th/18th Century.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. 5. Edited by by Ehsan Yarshater, 216–221. Winona Lake, IN: Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation, 1992b.

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    The same coverage, with a focus on economic issues.

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The 16th–18th Centuries

In addition to the studies and source collections listed here, McChesney 1991 is also indispensable for its presentation of the political history of the Chinggisid state of the Uzbeks that came to be centered in Bukhara during this period. The three Materialy volumes (Ibragimov, et al. 1969; Institut vostokovedenii︠a︡ and Tarykh institutu 1973; and Struve, et al. 1938) present primary sources from this period in Russian translation. For closer studies of the Qazaqs and the Turkmens, see Abuseitova 1998 and Wood 1990, respectively.

  • Abuseitova, Meruert Khuatovna. Kazakhstan i Tsentral’naia Aziia v XV–XVII vv.: Istoriia, politika, diplomatiia. Almaty, Kazakhstan: Daik-Press, 1998.

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    A study of Qazaq history from the 15th through 17th centuries.

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  • Burton, Audrey. The Bukharans: A Dynastic, Diplomatic, and Commercial History, 1550–1702. New York: St. Martin’s, 1997.

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    An excellent guide to the indigenous sources on Bukhara from the rise of ʿAbdullah Khan to the late Ashtarkhanid period.

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  • Dickson, Martin. “Uzbek Dynastic Theory in the Sixteenth Century.” In Trudy XXV Mezhdunarodnogo kongressa vostokovedov, Moskva 9–16 avgusta 1960, Vol. III. Edited by Bobodzhan Gafurovich Gafurov, 208–217. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Vostochnoi literatury, 1963.

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    A seminal article, presented at the 25th International Congress of Orientalists, that explains the structure and historical development of the Chinggisid dynasties in Central Asia during this period, using the example of the “dynastic clan” that took power in Khwarazm in the early 16th century.

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  • Ibragimov, S. K., N. N. Mingulov, K. A. Pishchulina, V. P. Iudin, and Tarikh, arkheologii︠a︡ zhăne ėtnografii︠a︡ instituty (Qazaq SSR ghylym akademii︠a︡sy), eds.Materialy po istorii kazakhskikh khanstv XV-XVIII vekov (Izvlecheniia iz persidskikh i tiurkskikh sochinenii). Almaty, Kazakhstan: Nauka, 1969.

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    Russian translations of Islamic sources on the history of the Qazaqs from the 15th to the 18th century.

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  • Institut vostokovedenii︠a︡ (Akademii︠a︡ nauk SSSR), and Tarykh institutu (Kyrgyz SSR ilimder akademii︠a︡sy). Materialy po istorii kirgizov i Kirgizii, vyp. 1. Moscow: Nauka, 1973.

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    Russian translations of Islamic sources on the history of the Qirghiz.

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  • McChesney, R. D. Waqf in Central Asia: Four Hundred Years in the History of a Muslim Shrine, 1480–1889. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

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    An essential work, focused on the shrine of ʿAli near Balkh (present-day Mazar e Sharif in northern Afghanistan); a model exploration of an important institution, drawing on documentary and narrative sources.

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  • McChesney, R. D. “Shībānī Khān and Shībānids.” In Encylopaedia of Islam, 2d ed., Vol IX. Edited by C. E. Bosworth, et al., 426–431. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

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    Offers a reliable historical survey of the Uzbek conquest of Central Asia and the Abu’l-Khayrid state in the 16th century.

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  • Struve, Vasiliĭ Vasilʹevich, A. K. Borovkov, A. A. Romaskevich, P. P. Ivanov, and Izdatel’stvo Akademii nauk SSSReds. Materialy po istorii turkmen i Turkmenii. Tome 2, XVI–XIX vv.: Iranskie, bukharskie i khivinskie istochniki. Leningrad: Izdatel’stvo Akademii nauk SSSR, 1938.

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    Russian translations of Islamic sources on the history of the Turkmens from the 16th to 19th century.

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  • Wood, William. “Turkmen Ethnohistory.” In Vanishing Jewels: Central Asian Tribal Weavings. Edited by George O’Bannon, 27–44. Rochester, NY: Rochester Museum & Science Center, 1990.

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    A good survey of what is known of the history of the Turkmen tribes from the 16th to the 19th century.

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Eastern Turkistan and the Rise of the Khwaja Lineages

Eastern Turkistan’s political history began to diverge from that of the western part of Central Asia in the 14th century. The chief source on this early period is Dūghlāt 1996, a Persian history available in English translation. The next major primary source on the region, from the latter 17th century, is available in the partial Russian translation in Akimushkin 1976.

  • Akimushkin, O. F., ed. and trans. Shāh Maḥmūd ibn Mīrzā Fāẓil Churās, Khronika. Moscow: Nauka, 1976.

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    Partial edition and Russian translation of a historical source from the latter 17th century, focused on the Chaghatayid state of Eastern Turkistan. Includes valuable annotations.

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  • Dūghlāt, Mirza Muhammad Haydar. Mirza Haydar Dūghlāt’s Tārīkh i Rashīdī: A History of the Khans of Moghulistan. 2 vols. Edited and translated by W. M. Thackston. Sources of Oriental Languages and Literatures, Central Asian Sources, Vol. 38. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, 1996.

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    Now the best English translation (with an edition of the Persian text) of the major source on the history of Eastern Turkistan down to the middle of the 16th century.

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  • Fletcher, Joseph. “The Naqshbandiyya in Northwest China.” In Studies on Chinese and Islamic Inner Asia. Edited by Beatrice Forbes Manz, 1–46. Aldershot, UK: Variorum, 1995.

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    Posthumously published study of the khwaja lineages and other Sufi groups in Eastern Turkistan and northwestern China.

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  • Hartmann, Martin. “Ein Heiligenstaat im Islam: das Ende der Čaghataiden und die Herrschaft der Choǧas in Kašgarien.” In Der islamische Orient: Berichte und Forschungen, Vol. I. Edited by Martin Hartmann, VI–X: 195–374. Berlin: Wolf Peiser, 1905.

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    The classic study of the “theocracy” of the Naqshbandi khwaja lineages, descended from a Sufi saint known as Makhdum i Aʿzam, that dominated political and religious life in Eastern Turkistan during the 17th and 18th centuries (their influence was felt through the 19th century as well).

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  • Papas, Alexandre. Soufisme et politique entre Chine, Tibet et Turkestan: Etude sur les Khwajas Naqshbandis du Turkestan oriental. Paris: Librairie d’Amérique et d’Orient, Jean Maisonneuve successeur, 2005.

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    The most recent study of the khwaja lineages of Eastern Turkistan, with an up-to-date bibliography.

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  • Perdue, Peter C. China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

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    An overview of the region’s incorporation into the Qing empire (it does not reflect the direct use of Islamic sources, however).

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The Uzbek Tribal Dynasties and the 19th Century

Study of the three dynasties of Uzbek tribal origin that ruled the khanates of Bukhara, Khiva, and Khoqand from the second half of the 18th century down to the Russian conquest remains poorly developed, even in Central Asia itself. Most surveys reflect little use of the chronicles and other manuscript sources produced within the Central Asian states themselves. Von Kügelgen 2002, Beisembiev 2003, and Munis and Agahi 1999 are exceptions and may serve as guides to available studies of each khanate.

  • Beisembiev, Timur K., ed. and trans. The Life of Alimqul: A Native Chronicle of Nineteenth Century Central Asia. London: Routledge, 2003.

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    An indigenous account of the fall of Tashkent to the Russians in the context of relations between Tsarist officials and the khanate of Khoqand.

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  • Holdsworth, Mary. Turkestan in the Nineteenth Century: A Brief History of the Khanates of Bukhara, Kokand and Khiva. Oxford, Central Asian Research Centre, 1959.

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    A brief but useful survey of the three khanates’ political, economic, and cultural history, based on Russian sources.

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  • Munis, Shir Muhammad Mirab, and Muhammad Riza Mirab Agahi. Firdaws al iqbāl: History of Khorezm. Translated by Yuri Bregel. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 1999.

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    English translation of a major chronicle on the early history of the Qonghrat dynasty of Khwarazm, with abundant annotation that makes the work essential reading for 19th-century Central Asia in general.

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  • Saguchi, Tôru. “The Eastern Trade of the Khoqand Khanate.” Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko 24 (1965): 47–114.

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    An examination of commercial relations between the Qing empire and the Ming khanate of Khoqand during the 19th century.

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  • Saray, Mehmet. “The Russian Conquest of Central Asia.” Central Asian Survey 1, no. 2–3 (1982): 1–30.

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    A good, brief survey of the course of the Russian conquest of Central Asia.

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  • Von Kügelgen, Anke. Die Legitimierung der mittelasiatischen Mangitendynastie in den Werken ihrer Historiker (18.–19. Jahrhundert). Beiruter Texte und Studien, Band 86. Istanbul: Orient-Institut der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 2002.

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    An excellent study of the Manghït dynasty that ruled the khanate of Bukhara, based on extensive research in largely unstudied primary sources.

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Beyond the Uzbek Khanates

For the history of Central Asian groups largely outside the framework of the three Uzbek khanates, the following works are useful. Bregel′ 1961 and Bregel′ 1967 focus on the Turkmens and the Qaraqalpaqs, both on the basis of documents from the Khivan khanate; Lee 1996 examines the Manghit-Afghan rivalry over Balkh.

Muslim Institutions and Sufi Orders

The study of religious life in Central Asia from the 16th to the 19th centuries is in its infancy, despite abundant sources. The enormous body of juridical material (including works of fiqh and collections of fatwas) remains essentially untapped. McChesney 1991 is essential for this period. The political and economic power of the Juybari sheikhs, a powerful Bukharan family with Naqshbandi Sufi ties, is the focus of Ivanov 1954 and Babajanov and Szuppe 2002. Pivotal changes in the character of Sufi communities in the 18th century have begun to be studied (see Babadžanov 1996 and Von Kügelgen 1998), leaving 17th-century developments as the chief blank page in the history of Sufism in Central Asia.

  • Babadžanov, Baxtiyor M. “On the History of the Naqšbandīya Muǧaddidīya in Central Māwarāʾannahr in the Late 18th and Early 19th Centuries.” In Muslim Culture in Russia and Central Asia from the 18th to the Early 20th Centuries. Edited by Michael Kemper, Anke von Kügelgen, and Dmitriy Yermakov, 385–413. Islamkundliche Untersuchungen, Bd. 200. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1996.

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    Important study of the impact of the coming of the Mujaddidi “branch” of the Naqshbandiya to Central Asia in the 18th century.

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  • Babadzhanov, B. M., and S. A. Mukhammadaminov, eds. Sobranie fetv po obosnovaniiu zikra dzhakhr i samaʿ. Almaty, Kazakhstan: Daik-Press, 2008.

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    This volume (A Collection of Fatwas Legitimizing the Vocal Dhikr and Samaʿ) offers important material on questions of Sufi practice that became important and politically charged religious and social issues in the 19th century, with an introduction tracing their renewed relevance today.

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  • Babajanov, Bakhtyar, and Maria Szuppe. Les inscriptions persanes de Chār Bakr, nécropole familiale des khwāja Jūybārī près de Boukhara. Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum; Part IV: Persian Inscriptions Down to the Early Safavid Period; Vol. XXXI: Uzbekistan. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 2002.

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    A study of the inscriptions at the Char Bakr complex near Bukhara, the familial burial place of the Juybari sheikhs; includes the best introduction to the history of this important lineage.

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  • DeWeese, Devin. “The Mashāʾikh-i Turk and the Khojagān: Rethinking the Links between the Yasavī and Naqshbandī Sufi Traditions.” Journal of Islamic Studies 7, no. 2 (1996): 180–207.

    DOI: 10.1093/jis/7.2.180Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of competition between the Yasavi and Naqshbandi Sufi traditions during several historical stages.

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  • Ivanov, P. P. Khoziaistvo dzhuibarskikh sheikhov. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Akademii nauk SSSR, 1954.

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    Long the essential work on the Juybari sheikhs, with translations of documents from the Juybari “archive.”

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  • McChesney, R. D. Waqf in Central Asia: Four Hundred Years in the History of a Muslim Shrine, 1480–1889. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

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    An essential work, focused on the shrine of ʿAli near Balkh (present-day Mazar e Sharif in northern Afghanistan); a model exploration of an important institution, drawing on documentary and narrative sources.

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  • Schwarz, Florian. “Unser Weg schliesst tausend Wege ein”: Derwische un Gesellschaft im islamischen Mittelasien im 16. Jahrhundert. Islamkundliche Untersuchungen, Bd. 226. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 2000.

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    Important study of Sufi communities active in Central Asia during the early 16th century, including their political activities.

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  • Von Kügelgen, Anke. “Die Entfaltung der Naqšbandīya Muǧaddidīya im mittleren Transoxanien vom 18. bis zum Beginn des 19. Jahrhunderts: Ein Stück Detektivarbeit.” In Muslim Culture in Russia and Central Asia from the 18th to the Early 20th Centuries. Vol. 2: Inter-Regional and Inter-Ethnic Relations. Edited by Anke von Kügelgen, Michael Kemper, and Allen J. Frank, 101–151. Islamkundliche Untersuchungen, Bd. 216. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1998.

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    Valuable study of the Mujaddidiya in Central Asia in the 18th and early 19th centuries, highlighting its attractiveness as a means of legitimation for the non-Chinggisid “tribal” dynasties.

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Islamic Central Asia under Chinese, Russian, and Soviet Rule

Islamic civilization in Central Asia was profoundly affected by the region’s division between the Qing (Manchu) empire of China and the Russian empire, beginning in the mid-18th century. The impact of this division, which brought new borders (both internally and externally), new patterns of social organization, and new challenges to traditional cultural and religious patterns, remains strong today, with Xinjiang still a part of the PRC, with five independent Central Asian states still shaped politically, economically, and culturally by the Soviet impact, and with the experience of outside rule in both regions shaping the contemporary interaction between nationalisms that were forged within the respective imperial structures, and efforts to reconnect with, or reformulate, religious attachments. The division is also felt in scholarship on the two regions, reflecting in part the impact of the “imperial” languages—Chinese or Russian—which students must master in order to study recent history or contemporary affairs. The result inevitably hinders recognition of the historical ties between the eastern and western portions of Central Asia, but it also obscures important cultural and religious continuities today, with scholarship on the western, post-Soviet part of Central Asia subject to still further fragmentation through the impact of independence and the cultivation of five “national” permutations of Central Asia’s cultural heritage.

Eastern Turkistan from the Qing Conquest to the PRC

There are several useful studies on Eastern Turkistan under Manchu and Chinese rule; most scholarship on the history of the region continues to be based on Chinese sources, with minimal use of Islamic manuscript sources. The exception is Kim 2004, now the standard work on the Muslim rebellion against the Qing dynasty and the short-lived state of Yaʿqub Beg. Coverage of the region’s history continues with Forbes 1986 and Benson 1990. Also included here are ethnographic studies of religious life in Xinjiang, especially shrine-centered practices (Dawut 2001, Jarring 1935, Zarcone 2001).

Islam and Tsarist Rule in Central Asia: The Russian Impact

Most studies of Central Asia under Tsarist rule continue to privilege Russian sources (or sources produced by reformist circles largely shaped by Russian rule). What follows is a selection of important works. Administrative aspects of Tsarist rule are the focus of Becker 1968, Morrison 2008, and Pierce 1960; cultural issues are addressed in Crews 2006, Geiss 2003, and Khalid 1998.

  • Becker, Seymour. Russia’s Protectorates in Central Asia: Bukhara and Khiva, 1865–1924. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968.

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    A study of the two khanates left as Russian protectorates under Tsarist rule, based exclusively on Russian sources. Reprinted by Routledge in 2004.

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  • Crews, Robert D. For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

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    Good study of the complexities and mutual dependencies of “colonial” rule in Central Asia, with attention to the Muslims of the Russian empire more broadly.

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  • Geiss, Paul Georg. Pre-Tsarist and Tsarist Central Asia: Communal Commitment and Political Order in Change. London: Routledge, 2003.

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    Attempts to reassess the impact of the political changes entailed by Russian rule at the communal level. Coverage of the Tsarist era is better than of the “pre-Tsarist” era.

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  • Khalid, Adeeb. The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

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    Now the best survey of the “reformist” Muslim groups active in Central Asia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Continues the Western tendency to privilege the jadidists at the expense of the broader currents of religious and cultural life in Central Asia at the time.

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  • Morrison, A. S. Russian Rule in Samarkand, 1868–1910: A Comparison with British India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Compares structures and policies of Tsarist rule in Samarqand with those of the Raj.

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  • Pierce, Richard A. Russian Central Asia, 1867–1917: A Study in Colonial Rule. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960.

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    Long the sole Western study of the Tsarist era in Central Asia; still useful for administrative history. Based on Russian sources.

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  • Sahadeo, Jeff. Russian Colonial Society in Tashkent, 1865–1923. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

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    A useful study of Russian society in Tsarist Tashkent, though it makes no use of indigenous perspectives on Russian society or Russian rule.

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  • Sokol, Edward Dennis. The Revolt of 1916 in Russian Central Asia. Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Series LXXI, no. 1. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1954.

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    Still the best study of an important event in Tsarist Central Asia that has failed to attract the attention it deserves.

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Islam and Tsarist Rule in Central Asia: Indigenous Sources

Studies exploring indigenous manuscript sources reflecting Muslim life under Russian rule are far fewer, but they are of special importance for a balanced perspective on religious issues of concern to Central Asian Muslims. The pivotal Andijan uprising is the focus of Babadžanov 1998 and Babadzhanov 2004; religious figures and issues are front and center in Frank 2001, Frank and Usmanov 2005, and Karlybaev 2002.

  • Babadžanov, Baxtiyar M. “Dūkčī Īšān und der Aufstand von Andižan 1898.” In Muslim Culture in Russia and Central Asia from the 18th to the Early 20th Centuries. Vol. 2: Inter-Regional and Inter-Ethnic Relations. Edited by Anke von Kügelgen, Michael Kemper, and Allen J. Frank, 167–191. Islamkundliche Untersuchungen, Bd. 216. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1998.

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    A new evaluation of the life and career of the leader of the Andijan uprising of 1898.

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  • Babadzhanov, B. M., ed. and trans. Manāqib i Dūkchī Īshān (Anonim zhitiia Dūkchī Īshāna-predvoditelia Andizhanskogo vosstaniia 1898 goda). Almaty, Kazakhstan: Daik-Press, 2004.

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    An edition and translation of an anonymous biography of the same Sufi leader.

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  • Frank, Allen J. Muslim Religious Institutions in Imperial Russia: The Islamic World of Novouzensk District and the Kazakh Inner Horde, 1780–1910. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2001.

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    Excellent examination of Muslim life in late imperial Russia, based on a previously unknown manuscript source. This work is an important corrective to studies that emphasize the thin layer of “reformist” Muslims or that stress the “ethnic” hostility supposedly engendered by colonial rule among the Muslims of Russia.

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  • Frank, Allen J., and Mirkasyim A. Usmanov, eds. An Islamic Biographical Dictionary of the Eastern Kazakh Steppe, 1770–1912: Qurbān-ʿAlī Khālidī. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2005.

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    Translation of a manuscript of a biographical work by a prominent, but often overlooked, Central Asian intellectual from the period of Tsarist rule.

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  • Karlybaev, M. “L’instruction musulmane et les îshân chez les Karakalpaks du XIXe siècle.” In “Karakalpaks et autres gens de l’Aral: Entre rivages et déserts,” special issue, Cahiers d’Asie centrale 10 (2002): 177–191. Tashkent, Uzbekistan/Aix-en-Provence, France: Édisud.

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    Explores manuscript sources on Muslim education among the nomadic Qaraqalpaqs in the 19th century.

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  • Sami, Mirza ʿAbd al ʿAzim. Ta’rīkh i salāṭīn i manghītīya (Istoriia mangytskikh gosudarei). Published in facsimile and translated by L. M. Epifanova. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Vostochnoi literatury, 1962.

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    Facsimile and Russian translation of a harsh retrospective on the Manghit dynasty written after the Russian conquest.

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  • Zerrspiegel

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    Online collection of documents, photographs, excerpts from travel accounts, and so on, from Tsarist Central Asia, with superb balance and presentation. Offers a more nuanced appreciation of the impact of colonial rule in Central Asia.

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Islam in Soviet and Post-Soviet Central Asia

Studies of Islam in Soviet Central Asia produced in the West attempted to make sense of a world that remained largely inaccessible until the late 1980s, as exemplified in the work of Alexandre Bennigsen. Despite vastly improved opportunities for travel and communication, the flurry of literature attempting to make sense of independent Central Asia’s contemporary rediscovery, or renegotiation, of its Islamic heritage remains mostly the product of Sovietology rather than of Islamic studies.

The Legacy of Soviet and Sovietological Approaches

What follows is a small selection of works that reflect the Sovietological (or, in the case of Poliakov, Soviet) approach to Islam in Central Asia, which stresses nationalism and modernity as organizing concepts and only rarely grapples with broader religious issues in their social and political contexts. Ro’i 2000 is based on prodigious archival research but continues the interpretative framework of Bennigsen and Quelquejay 1967 (see the critique of DeWeese 2002).

  • Bennigsen, Alexandre, and Chantal Lemercier Quelquejay. Islam in the Soviet Union. New York: Praeger, 1967.

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    The classic presentation of the most widespread approach to Islam in Central Asia and elsewhere in the Soviet world. Flawed for the Soviet period, but of some value for the history of Tsarist times and the revolutionary era.

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  • DeWeese, Devin. “Islam and the Legacy of Sovietology: A Review Essay on Yaacov Ro’i’s Islam in the Soviet Union.” Journal of Islamic Studies 13, no. 3 (2002): 298–330.

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    A critique of the Sovietological approach to Islam in Central Asia in Soviet times.

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  • Khalid, Adeeb. Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

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    An eminently readable account of Islam in Central Asia (especially Uzbekistan) during Soviet and post-Soviet times. Parts with the Sovietological approach in many respects but retains it in others, above all in assumptions of the primacy of national identities.

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  • Poliakov, Sergei P. Everyday Islam: Religion and Tradition in Rural Central Asia. Translated by Anthony Olcott, edited by Martha Brill Olcott. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1992.

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    This work, by a Soviet ethnographer, is a useful example, in English, of the combination of prescriptive approach and cultural condescension that often shocks readers unfamiliar with Soviet-era discourse about Islam and about Central Asians.

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  • Ro’i, Yaacov. Islam in the Soviet Union: From the Second World War to Gorbachev. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

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    A substantial study reflecting extensive archival research, but flawed by the Sovietological interpretative framework that yields at best a partial understanding of Islam in the Soviet context.

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  • Roy, Olivier. The New Central Asia: The Creation of Nations. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

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    Explores the Soviet and post-Soviet developments in the national formations of Central Asia; largely Sovietological with regard to religious matters.

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The Socioreligious Impact of the Soviet Era

The following works are among the best studies of the impact of the Soviet state on the social life of Muslim Central Asia. Edgar 2004, Kamp 2006, and Northrop 2004 reflect the enhanced access to archives and expanded fieldwork opportunities following the collapse of the Soviet Union. These works are still shaped, however, by the issues and approaches of Soviet historiography in the West, and for the most part they do not explore materials or perspectives generated outside the Soviet framework.

  • Bacon, Elizabeth. Central Asians under Russian Rule: A Study in Culture Change. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1966.

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    An old but still useful study reflecting changes in Central Asian life.

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  • Edgar, Adrienne Lynn. Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

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    A good survey of Soviet-era policies and practices regarding national formations, marred by neglect of indigenous traditions, of pre-Soviet history, and of the complexities of the relationships between “national” attachments and other modes of identity.

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  • Kamp, Marianne. The New Woman in Uzbekistan: Islam, Modernity, and Unveiling under Communism. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006.

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    Explores women’s lives in the context of the “Hujum” campaign and beyond, utilizing archival materials and, especially, extensive oral histories.

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  • Massell, Gregory J. The Surrogate Proletariat: Moslem Women and Revolutionary Strategies in Soviet Central Asia, 1919–1929. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.

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    The classic early study of the “Hujum” campaign in Central Asia and the development of Soviet policies regarding the status of women.

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  • Northrop, Douglas. Veiled Empire: Gender and Power in Stalinist Central Asia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004.

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    A new examination of the “Hujum” campaign and its aftermath, chiefly in Uzbekistan, based on extensive archival materials.

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Soviet and Post-Soviet Islam: Beneath the Surface

There is an enormous, and growing, body of literature, most of it easy to find, speculating on the geopolitical implications of “Islam in Central Asia” or purporting to detail the internal development of various extremist groups. This literature is of uneven quality and is marked more often by polemics, hidden agendas, and fear-mongering than by direct, on-the-ground acquaintance with the full range of voices shaping Islam in Central Asia today. Works such as those listed here, or the ethnographic works listed in the following section, offer essential balance to the depictions of Central Asian Islam found in this more prolific, but less informative, genre. The conflict between traditional Central Asian Muslim traditions and 20th-century Salafist approaches to Islam that were strengthened in post-Soviet times is the subject of Babadzhanov, et al. 2007, Babadjanov and Kamilov 2001, Frank and Mamatov 2006, Muminov 1999, and Muminov 2007; the traditional patterns themselves are reflected in Frank 2007 and Muminov, et al. 2008.

  • Babadzhanov, B. M., A. K. Muminov, and A. fon Kiugel′gen, Disputy musul’manskikh religioznykh avtoritetov v Tsentral’noi Azii v XX veke. Almaty, Kazakhstan: Daik-Press, 2007.

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    Texts in Russian translation, plus valuable introductory essay in Russian and in English translation by Allen J. Frank (“Religious Texts of the Soviet Era,” pp. 32–54).

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  • Babadjanov, Bakhtiyar, and Muzaffar Kamilov. “Muhammadjan Hindustani (1892–1989) and the Beginning of the ‘Great Schism’ among the Muslims of Uzbekistan.” In Islam in Politics in Russia and Central Asia: Early Eighteenth to Late Twentieth Centuries. Edited by Stéphane A. Dudoignon and Komatsu Hisao, 195–219. London: Kegan Paul, 2001.

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    Seminal study of an important figure of “underground” Islamic learning in the Soviet period, whose pupils included the earliest local Central Asian religious figures attracted to Salafist currents of the 20th century.

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  • Frank, Allen J. Popular Islamic Literature in Kazakhstan: An Annotated Bibliography. Hyattsville, MD: Dunwoody, 2007.

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    Describes religious literature produced in contemporary Kazakhstan, suggesting the range of interests and concerns beyond those that typically attract Western attention.

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  • Frank, Allen J., and Jahangir Mamatov. Uzbek Islamic Debates: Texts, Translations, and Commentary. Hyattsville, MD: Dunwoody, 2006.

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    Texts and translations of printed and orally recorded discussions of religious issues in contemporary Uzbekistan, mostly reflecting a Salafist orientation.

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  • Muminov, Ashirbek. “Traditional and Modern Religious-Theological Schools in Central Asia.” In Political Islam and Conflicts in Russia and Central Asia. Edited by Lena Jonson and Murad Esenov, 101–111. Stockholm, Sweden: Utrikespolitiska Institutet, 1999.

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    Outlines the emerging conflict between upholders of local Central Asian Islamic traditions and adherents of modern Salafist views. Available online from CA&CC Press.

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  • Muminov, Ashirbek. “Fundamentalist Challenges to Local Islamic Traditions in Soviet and Post-Soviet Central Asia.” In Empire, Islam, and Politics in Central Eurasia. Edited by Uyama Tomohiko, 249–261. Sapporo, Japan: Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University, 2007.

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    Discusses the assault on traditional Muslim practices in Central Asia by adherents of Salafist “fundamentalist” visions of Islam. Available online.

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  • Muminov, Ashirbek, Anke von Kügelgen, Devin DeWeese, Michael Kemper, eds. Islamizatsiia i sakral’nye rodoslovnye v Tsentral’noi Azii: Nasledie Iskhak Baba v narrativnoi i genealogicheskoi traditsiiakh. Vol. 2: Genealogicheskie gramoty i sakral’nye semeistva XIX–XXI vekov: nasab-nama i gruppy khodzhei, sviazannykh s sakral’nym skazaniem ob Iskhak Babe. Almaty, Kazakhstan: Daik-Press, 2008.

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    Texts and translations of genealogical texts reflecting sacred lineages and their renewed prestige in post-Soviet Central Asia; includes several introductions.

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Islam in Practice: Ethnographic Studies of Religious Life (19th–21st Centuries)

Religious practices of Central Asian Muslims beyond the framework of the minimal core of prescribed obligations, as observed by ethnographers from the late 19th century to the present, have often been divided into narrowly defined “Islamic” rites and a broader body of “popular” practices identified as “survivals” of pre-Islamic religious traditions. This approach was evident already in Tsarist-era studies, reflecting trends widespread in the anthropological scholarship of that time, and it became firmly entrenched in Soviet-era works, whether overtly antireligious or primarily descriptive in focus. It remains influential in post-Soviet studies (in part because of its appeal to groups intent on “purifying” Islam in the region) and is often reflected in popular accounts of Islam in Central Asia. Even some Western ethnographic works continue this approach.

Tsarist-Era Materials

A fuller picture of Tsarist-era ethnographic accounts may be found in Bregel 1995. The works of Castagné (in Russian, Kastan′e) are focused primarily on Qazaq religious practices (including Castagné 1930b, based primarily on the work of Divaev). The exception is Castagné 1951, based on material collected in pre-Soviet times. It remains one of the best surveys of Muslim shrines across Central Asia.

  • Bregel, Yuri, ed. Bibliography of Islamic Central Asia. 3 vols. Bloomington: Indiana University, Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 1995.

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    Extensive references to ethnographic literature, especially in Vol. II, pp. 1081–1381.

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  • Castagné, Joseph. “Etude sur la Démonologie des Kazak-Kirghizes.” L’Ethnographie, n.s. 21–22 (1930a): 1–22.

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    A study of religious practices among the Qazaqs in pre-Soviet times.

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  • Castagné, Joseph. “Magie et exorcisme chez les Kazak-Kirghizes et autres peuples turks orientaux.” Revue des études islamiques 4 (1930b): 53–151.

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    Another study of religious practices among the Qazaqs in pre-Soviet times.

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  • Castagné, Joseph. “Le culte des lieux saints de l’Islam au Turkestan.” L’Ethnographie 46 (1951): 46–124.

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    An excellent, if now dated, survey of Muslim shrines in Central Asia, reflecting pre-Soviet times.

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  • Divaev, A. A. “Iz oblasti kirgizskikh verovanii: Baksy, kak lekar′ i koldun (Ètnograficheskii ocherk).” Izvestiia Obschestva archeologii, istorii, i ètnografii pri Kazanskom universitete 15, no. 3 (1899): 307–344.

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    An ethnographic study of Qazaq healers and “soothsayers,” often identified as “shamans.” Also published as a single volume from Tipografia Imperatorskago Universiteta (Kazan) in 1899.

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  • Kastan′e, I. A. “Drevnosti Kirgizskoi stepi i Orenburgskago kraia.” Trudy Orenburgskoi Uchenoi Arkhivnoi Komissii XXII (1910).

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    Provides raw material for the study of shrine traditions among the Qazaqs in Tsarist times; difficult to find.

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  • Kastan′e, I. A. “Nadgrobnyia sooruzheniia kirgizskikh stepei: Les monuments funéraires de la steppe des Kirghizes.” Trudy Orenburgskoi Uchenoi Arkhivnoi Komissii XXVI (1911): 1–102.

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    Provides raw material for the study of shrine traditions among the Qazaqs in Tsarist times; difficult to find. Parallel French and Russian texts.

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Soviet Ethnography

The prominence of the notion of religious “survivals” is evident in the titles of Snesarev 1983 and Snesarev 1969, but it pervades the other studies listed here as well (with the exception of Troitskaia 1928).

  • Basilov, V. N. “O proiskhozhdenii Turkmen-Ata (prostonarodnye formy sredneaziatskogo sufizma).” In Domusul’manskie verovaniia i obriady v Srednei Azii. Edited by G. P. Snesarev and V. N. Basilov, 138–168. Moscow: Nauka, 1975.

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    Fuller examination of one of the “holy tribes” of the Turkmens.

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  • Basilov, V. N., and K. K. Kubakov. “Survival of Pre-Muslim Beliefs in Islam.” In Secularization in Multi-Religious Societies, Indo-Soviet Perspectives: Papers Presented at the Indo-Soviet Symposium on Problems of Secularization in Multi-Religious Societies, Tashkent 1978. Edited by S. C. Dube and V. N. Basilov, 227–240. New Delhi: Indian Council of Social Science Research/Concept Publishing Company, 1983.

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    A brief work articulating, in English, the gist of the Soviet approach to religious “survivals.”

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  • Basilov, V. N. “Honour Groups in Traditional Turkmenian Society.” In Islam in Tribal Societies: From the Atlas to the Indus. Edited by Akbar S. Ahmed and David M. Hart, 220–243. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984.

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    Useful study, in English, on the so-called holy tribes of the Turkmens.

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  • Basilov, V. N. Shamanstvo u narodov Srednei Azii i Kazakhstana. Moscow: Nauka, 1992.

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    A summary, of sorts, of the years of study of “shamanism” by a leading Soviet ethnographer, this work (Shamanism among the Peoples of Central Asia and Kazakhstan) provides invaluable data in a questionable interpretative framework.

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  • Demidov, S. M. Turkmenskie ovliady. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan: Ylym, 1976.

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    The most complete study of the Turkmen “holy tribes.”

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  • Mustafina, Raushan. Predstavleniia, kul’ty, obriady u kazakhov (v kontekste bytovogo Islama v Iuzhnom Kazakhstane ve kontse XIX–XX vv.). Almaty, Kazakhstan: Qazaq Universiteti, 1992.

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    A study of religious life in southern Kazakhstan in Tsarist and Soviet times, already reflecting some steps away from Soviet approaches.

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  • Snesarev, G. P. Relikty domusul’manskikh verovanii i obriadov u uzbekov Khorezma. Moscow: Nauka, 1969.

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    An ethnographic study of religious beliefs and practice framed in the context of the notion of religious “survivals.” An English translation, “Remnants of the Pre-Islamic Beliefs and Rituals among the Khorezm Uzbeks,” was serialized in the journal Soviet Anthropology and Archeology from 1970 through 1977.

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  • Snesarev, G. P. Khorezmskie legendy kak istochnik po istorii religioznykh kul’tov Srednei Azii. Moscow: Nauka, 1983.

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    An exploration of legends recorded in contemporary Central Asia, analyzed as evidence on pre-Islamic religious history—typifying the Soviet “survivals” approach. (Title translates as Khorezmian Legends as a Source for the History of the Religious Cults of Central Asia.)

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  • Troitskaia, A. L. “Zhenskii zikr v starom Tashkente.” Sbornik Muzeia antropologii i ètnografii 7 (1928): 173–199.

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    Excellent description of a dhikr performance by a group of women in Tashkent, observed in the 1920s (before intense antireligious pressures began).

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Post-Soviet Studies

Despite continued restrictions and the lingering presence of Soviet-style suspicion of religious activity, increased opportunities for Western scholars to conduct fieldwork exploring religious life in Central Asia have begun to yield valuable studies produced outside of Soviet interpretative frameworks. Some Western ethnographers, however, continue to employ the notion of survivals or other relics of Soviet scholarship, and that tradition has by no means disappeared from post-Soviet ethnography, whether in Russia or in Central Asia itself (as evidenced, for example, in Abashin and Bobrovnikov 2003). Female religious specialists, a subject addressed in Tsarist-era literature but rarely mentioned in Soviet times, are the subject of Fathi 1997, Fathi 2004, Kleinmichel 2000, and Krämer 2002. In-depth studies of Muslim religious life in particular regions are offered in Louw 2007, Kehl-Bodrogi 2008, and Privratsky 2001.

LAST MODIFIED: 12/14/2009

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195390155-0015

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