Post-Soviet Fortunes of the Central Asian Islam

Khalid, Adeeb
July 2004
Ab Imperio;2004, Issue 3, p439
Academic Journal
For decades in the USSR, Islam was envisioned as an archetypal opponent of communism, while the study of Central Asian societies was the prerogative of nationalities studies as a subdiscipline of Sovietology. Despite the emergence of several profound studies of Islamic societies in the former USSR, the view that automatically ascribes political meaning to Islam still predominates, now transforming Islam from a victim of communism into a major threat to regional security. Islam should not be viewed as a rigid system independent of local context, and research into the Islamic societies of Central Asia must take into account Soviet history. During the Soviet period Islam and tradition were attacked, Islam was provincialized, and Soviet Muslims were cut off from the rest of the Muslim world. Soviet authority did not mean the annihilation of local communities, however, and it was through these communities that Islam was often transmitted. Sufism became widespread for it was well suited to an informal existence. As a result, Islam became a marker of local and national identity without requiring a Muslim to subscribe to religious rules and regulations. This situation was actually widespread among premodern societies, yet the Soviet "localization" of Islam was not just a return to older times; during the Soviet period Islam became part of the cultural heritage of the nation. Discussions of post-Soviet Islam in Central Asia are conducted in the context of a "return" to original national culture, of which Islam is a part. The author briefly surveys the role played by Islam in contemporary Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan; describes these regimes' struggle against various Islamic movements; and concludes that ethnonational identities in contemporary Central Asia appropriated Islam as their own.


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