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From revival to mutation: the religious personnel of Islam in Tajikistan, from de-Stalinization to independence (1955-91)

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'Thou hast done well: This is God Who hath brought thee here!' Isan Tīmur Hwaja (born 1948) to the author, summer village of Sang-i Milla-yi Bala, district of Sahr-i Naw, Tajikistan, 10 August 2009 On the basis of a reconstruction of the careers of a variety of religious personnel of Islam in the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic, from de-Stalinization to independence, this article aims to shed light on some neglected features of Islam in Soviet Central Asia. Questioning the present-day hagiographic process, and confronting the data of oral history with those of pre-modern Muslim hagiography and biographies of religious scholars, this article assesses the specific Islamic revival that has been taking place in Central Asia in the aftermath of the reopening of the Gulag in 1955-56. It also deals with the lasting Kulturkampf, engineered by the Soviet authorities, between the Fergana-born Uzbek-speaking accredited staff of the Muslim Spiritual Board on the one hand, and the Persian-speaking leaders of prominent Sufi lineages with Bukhara and Samarqand pedigrees on the other. The role of mass population transfers in this phenomenon is evoked through their impact on the disruption of the Sufi masters' sacred 'territories' (Persian: qalamraw), and the increasing role of the latter as community builders. Acting as alternative figures to pre-modern khans, the Soviet saints of Islam, who have become the objects of a rich hagiographic process, are also introduced as the bearers and transmitters of pre-modern court culture that vanished from Central Asia in the early 1920s. Special consideration is given to the mutual relationship and competition between the scholars ('ulama) of the Spiritual Board and the gnostics ('urafa) of the Sufi paths, as well as to the former's contribution to a revival of Turkic Islamic culture - notably through the comment of Chaghatay didactical literature within active, though underground, literary circles.
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Keywords: Central Asia; Islam; Sufism; Tajikistan; biography; hagiography; religious personnel; religious sociology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Paris, France

Publication date: 01 March 2011

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