Islam in Central Asia

Devin DeWeese

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online December 2009 | | DOI:
Islam in Central Asia


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.

Article.  12521 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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