Reviews

Many elements of the current renewal of the studies on modern and contemporary Islam in Central Asia can be found in this very innovative paper by a leading Kazakhstani historian of Islam, about the life of Shami Damulla (“The Syrian Master”, a honorific nickname [laqab] of the theologian of Damascene origin Sa‘id al-Tarabulusi [1867/70-1932]), and his role in the diffusion of the Shafi‘i rite in Central Asia during the first two decades of the Soviet period.  Built up on a large and relatively varied corpus of written sources (among which manuscript works by Shami Damulla himself) and on a number of oral testimonies, the paper sheds light on the stays made by the Syrian scholar in eastern Turkistan, before dealing with his itinerary in Soviet Middle Asia from 1919 onwards.  After an evocation of the conflicts between Shami Damulla and the local Hanafi ‘ulama from the Fergana Valley, the author deals with his social and political activity as a preacher (wa‘iz) extremely popular in Tashkent until the closure of madrasas in 1924, and the withdrawal of his teaching into the more retrained space of a private house, till Shami Damulla’s tentative escape to Kashghar, his arrest and his death in jail in 1932.  The paper goes on with the mention of the master’s disciples in the 1920s, and on Shami Damulla’s posthumous intellectual posterity in the Uzbek SSR—in particular inside the society of the “People of the Hadith” (Ahl-i Hadith, of clear Salafi tendency and openly hostile to the Naqshbandiyya) and inside the Spiritual Direction of the Muslims of Middle Asia, until the sharp theological conflicts of the 1980s.  This masterly study must be credited for sketching a still necessarily incomplete, but extremely well-documented and productive picture of Central Asian Islam in the twentieth century—a picture fundamentally different from that still proposed by Russian ethnography and Western political science, both neglectful of primary textual sources and without interest in the even shortest historical duration.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-5.3.D-484