Reviews

Unlike sensationalist writers, whether journalist or old-fashioned orientalists (the book quotes Ahmed Rashid and Bernard Lewis), the author is a regular visitor of Central Asia, both in the archives and in the field. Such an acquaintance with documents and people immunises Adeeb Khalid against the abstractions of political sciences as well as the “textocentrism” of philology. After a brief overview (Ch. 1) of the history of Islam in Central Asia, Ch. 2 focuses on the nineteenth century and explains how the Russian conquest “brought Central Asia into the modern world via colonialism.” Ch. 3 gets to the core of the topic, that is, the Soviet impact on Islam. For the Young Bukharans, the Russian revolution represented a paradoxical means to reach their goal — a Jadid ideal of social progress, national independence, and modernisation of Islam. The Bolsheviks and their Central Asian representatives, while they shared some views with the Jadids, and supported several reforms, categorically rejected religion and any tradition rooted in religion. This ambivalent period was followed by the terrible clarification of anti-religious campaigns between 1926 and 1941. The result was devastating for Islam which then partly lost its élite, its culture, its past. Ch. 4 is devoted to the second period of the Soviet rule in Central Asia, what was called the time of “mature socialism.” Islam did not disappear of course, but it changed to an identity label — including a civilisation discourse and tradition’s practices — through which “being Muslim was not counterposed to being Soviet.” Apolitical, localist, customary, Islam maintained in both official and unofficial forms. Ch. 5 shows that the visible signs (opening of mosques, neo-Sufism, reconstruction of shrines, etc.) of the revival of Islam in the late 1980s expressed a return not to the past but to national tradition, coexisting with a secularised way of life, under the suspicious eye of the State. Ch. 6 and 7 reconsider the question of political Islam and the state’s responses. The author explains that the three main Islamic groups in Central Asia (Islamic Renaissance Party, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hizb al-Tahrir) represent heterogeneous “forms of homegrown opposition to the [Post-Soviet] political order”, targeting the domestic regimes rather than transnational enemies. The author concludes on the disproportionate reaction of these regimes, a reaction which reminds, in a sense, the Soviet anti-religious violence. A. Khalid’s description of the evolution of Soviet and Post-Soviet Islam is always carefully contextualised. It could have been compared with the history of Islam in twentieth-century Xinjiang, where nationalism, Maoism and Post-Maoism left a deep imprint on religion.

Alexandre Papas, National Centre for Scientific Research
CER: II-4.3.D-406