Islamic Communities in Central Asia

Richard C. Foltz

in The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions

Published in print October 2006 | ISBN: 9780195137989
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology

Islamic Communities in Central Asia


For at least three millennia until modern times, the socioeconomic dynamics of Central Asia were shaped by relations between oasis settlers and pastoral nomads. The region's settled populations are today found in the Muslim majority states of the former Soviet Union and Afghanistan. Islam spread across Central Asia along the trade routes, beginning with the Arab conquests in the early eighth century. In Central Asia, Muslim elites had strong cultural and economic ties with India, Iran, and Asia Minor which were all often ruled by Turkic groups of Central Asian origin. The diminished influence of Iran allowed for an accelerating Turkicization of Central Asia from the sixteenth century onward. The overwhelming majority of Central Asian Muslims are Sunnis who historically followed the Hanafi school of law. The Kazakhs and Kyrgyz retain many traditional pre-Islamic beliefs and practices and are often considered by other groups to be “superficial Muslims.” There are small numbers of Sevener, or Isma'ili Shi'ites, in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan, and the Hazaras of central Afghanistan are Twelver Shi'ites.

Keywords: Central Asia; Islam; Muslims; Sunnis; former Soviet Union; Afghanistan; Tajikistan; Hazaras; Iran

Article.  2482 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Interfaith Relations ; Islam

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