Three high quality monographs, written by specialists from the former Soviet Union and devoted to the history of Islamic historiography in the Khanates of Crimea and Kokand, have appeared over the last two years. (Besides the book in question here, I mean two other works: T. K. Beisembiev, Kokandskaiia istoriografiia: Issledovanie po istochnikovedeniiu Srednei Azii xviii-xix vekov, Almaty: Print-S, 2009, 1263 p.; I. V. Zaitsev, Krymskaia istoriograficheskaiia traditsiia xv – xix vv.: puti razvitiia (rukopisi, teksty i istochniki), Moscow: Vostochnaia literatura, 2009, 304 p. ― see the review of this book in the present volume.) These books have been written from different methodological perspectives (classical Oriental studies represented by Il’ia V. Zaitsev (Moscow, Russia) and Timur K. Beisembiev (Almaty, Kazakhstan); a provocative interdisciplinary approach by Bakhtiar M. Babadzhanov (Tashkent, Uzbekistan), but each of them represents a major achievement in their respective research areas. B. M. Babadzhanov is widely known as a highly-accomplished Islamologist who has contributed much to the study of Islam in Central Asia, past and present, and to the study of Islamic sources. In his new book, B. M. Babadzhanov shows capable to go beyond traditional positivist methods for the reconstruction of the Kokand Khanate’s socio-political history, as well as beyond the formal description of the numerous manuscript sources. What he proposes here is a more sophisticated research of political, economical, and social history with a special emphasis on religious discourses. This turn to religious history is in many respects a revision of approaches of Soviet Oriental studies which was long forced to neglect the Islamic factor. The classical study of Bukhara’s historiography and legitimization of power written by Anke von Kügelgen (see her: Die Legitimierung der mittelasiatischen Mangitendynastie in den Werken ihrer Historiker (18.-19. Jahrhundert), Istanbul/Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, 2002) had a tremendous influence on his work, and in many respects B. M. Babadzhanov has been adapting her method to suit the particular demands of working with material related to Kokand (pp. 7-8).
It is impossible to elucidate all the theses represented in this book. Instead, I will stress several of its important issues. The book consists of an introduction, two parts with three and five chapters respectively, a conclusion, and a description of Arabic-script documents from holy places of the Fergana Valley (pp. 691-700). In the introduction and in the second paragraph of chapter 1, the author analyses the modern scholarship of Islamic historiography in general, of the Kokand Khanate in particular. B. M. Babadzhanov draws on a wide array of literature, to which one might only wish to add a volume on Moghul historiography by Stephan Conermann (Historiographie als Sinnstiftung: Indo-persische Geschichtsschreibung während der Mogulzeit (932-1118/1516-1707), Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2003) and several works by Tursun I. Sultanov (Zertsalo minuvshikh stoletii: istoricheskaiia kniga v kul’ture Srednei Azii xv-xix vv., St. Petersburg: Filologicheskii fakul’tet SpbGU, 2005; “The Structure of Islamic History Book (The Method of Analysis),” Manuscripta Orientalia 1/3 (1995): 16-21; “Authors and Authorship in Persian and Turkic Historical Writings,” Manuscripta Orientalia 5/1 (1999): 23-6). Each of them displays different but important theoretical ideas which are also relevant to the present study. B. M. Babadzhanov engages in extended criticism of his field, essentially calling all previous scholarship on the Kokand Khanate “preliminary”. He criticizes the Soviet style of writing dissertations on the basis of one or of several works of a certain author (p. 79), or of just cataloguing and describing sources without further in-depth research. Rather, B. M. Babadzhanov calls for conceptual thinking. His integral approach to manuscript sources has great importance: There is no need to divide a given narrative into “compiled” and “original” parts, because the texts were created and then read as something integral. The author is very careful in his interpretations of sources, claiming that we still know very little about the way how the Central Asian population thought the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, not to mention the mediaeval period: “There is no certainty in our adequate reading and perception of such texts which transmit a world view and way of life that were so different from the modern ones, and where perception of myth, reality, and ritual were sometimes inseparable (p. 436).”
The first part of the book is devoted to the reconstruction of Kokand’s political history. The author explains that most previous works had a descriptive character. B. M. Babadzhanov gives us his own conception of the development of the Khanate on the basis of rich numismatic, manuscript, and epigraphic materials from the region. Analysing various representations of social, political, and religious history by the Kokand annalists, the author pays special attention to the ‘international’ relations of the Khanate with Bukhara (the ex-patron of Kokand and its permanent antagonist), with China as well as with the Russian and Ottoman Empires. In their embassies to the Caliph in Istanbul the Kokand rulers tried to appear as the main sovereigns of all of Central Asia. However, the Ottomans were quite reserved towards these diplomatic missions, and did not react to the absorption of the Central Asian khanates by Russia. B. M. Babadzhanov’s book is extremely important due to its analyses of the transfer of power in Central Asian states. After the Mongol conquests in the first half of the thirteenth century an advantage right of Chingizids on the throne and on the title of khan became a long-standing tradition. B. M. Babadzhanov underlines that for the Ming rulers of the Kokand Khanate, whose population was composed of nomadic and settled groups with various traditions, genealogical ties with Chingizids or Timurids remained a substantial tool in legitimisation of power. In the mid-nineteenth century a number of people claimed to belong to the Chingizid house. One sign of just how much the Khanate’s traditions on the continuity of power had deteriorated was that factual rulers began to install puppet khans. Still, the idea that only Chingizids were entitled to the throne continued to prevail until the early twentieth century: the formality of this institution did not mean that it could be ignored (p. 413).
Also of great interest are relations between the ruler and sacred families. Sacred lineages were involved in politics and some of them resided directly at the khan’s court. The rulers of Kokand were very sensitive to the attempts of the ruler of Bukhara Amir Haydar (d. 1825) to construct a sacred genealogy which would legitimise his power from a religious viewpoint. The Kokand ruler ‘Umar Khan (d. 1821) tried to build genealogical ties with the family of the Prophet Muhammad by marrying the daughter of a sayyid, but his attempts were refused by members of the sacred clan (p. 344). It seems however that a religious legitimacy was not as important as the tribal, Chingizid traditions (p. 419). At the same time the sayyid families were always very influential and sometimes even seized power. While court historiography draws the picture of permanent respect of the Prophet’s family, the khans in fact maintained a cold attitude toward religious authorities. Political, economical and social privileges of the sayyid families (the most respectable in the Khanate were descendants of Khwaja Ahrar and Makhdum-i A‘zam) led to the writing fictive of genealogies for powerful clans. In this situation B. M. Babadzhanov rightfully regards sayyid genealogies as mostly fictive (p. 486) and closely related to economic interests. The fiscal immunities for brides from holy clans were under special attention of ‘Alim Khan (d. 1810) who needed significant financial support for his military campaigns and forced the sayyids to verify their charters (p. 492).
Just like in Islamic societies of our days, Kokand was the theatre of debates about the classification of the world into Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb. B. M. Babadzhanov compares the opinions of Central Asian scholars with those of Volga-Ural theologians. The latter agreed that political subordination to ‘infidels’ did not mean the loss of the quality of Muslim (p. 533-4). However, the works of their Middle-Volga colleagues were ignored by the Central Asians, who were confronted on their turn with Russian conquest and occupation. Some of the Kokand historiographers compared Russians with Mongols, and regarded the war against them as a religious duty. Others were more pragmatic and called to giving up resistance to the stronger enemy as the latter does not threaten the Islamic order. They evaluated the Russian invasion as God’s punishment for the violation of religious rules. In the fourth chapter of second part, B. M. Babadzhanov examines the discrepancy between written Sharia rules and everyday life in the Kokand society. In case of sexual perversions the author shows that this difference was quite substantial: not only aristocratic circles, but also ordinary believers ignored and violated the strict religious prescriptions (578-9). Especially Sufi practices, which presupposed close relations (‘friendship’) between the master and his student, were a constant matter of debate. Along with sexual profligacy of the élite, B. M. Babadzhanov detects the spread of alcohol consumption even in a centre of religious learning like Bukhara the Venerable. In the Kokand Khanate, feasts with abundant drinking were almost an obligatory part of the court life (600). Some religious authorities even took part in such actions and probably issued fatwas justifying drinking alcohol. One would be hard pressed to find the ‘the time of pure Islamic order’ in the Kokand Khanate, where social life was in many respects far from piety. In the paragraph on perception of the “other” (in this case of Russians), B. M. Babadzhanov follows Hakim Khan, one of the Kokand historiographers, and distinguishes between two types of cultural estrangement: The aristocracy can communicate with “another” of the same social rank in spite of religious antipathies, whereas the “plebs” cannot overcome confessional borders (622-3). After the Russian conquest, Russians became disliked.
The final chapter of the second part is devoted to the study of sacred places (mazars) and based on unpublished sources as well as on the author’s rich experience of studying this phenomenon in situ. B. M. Babadzhanov defines the countless mazars in the region as multifunctional objects of worship (tombs of “saints” and matters of an Islamic landscape). He shows that each famous tomb of a sacred family (real or virtual descendants of the “saint”) was used for political ends. Thus, the mazars of Khwaja Ahmad Yasawi in Turkistan and of Khwaja Baha’ ad-Din Naqshband in Bukhara were used by the Kazakh and Uzbek dynasties respectively as family necropolises and served as a “spiritual source for the legitimisation of power for many dynasties (p. 629).” The Kokand rulers did not follow this tradition and established their own burying place, the Dakhma-yi Shahan. When popular tombs were objects of military attacks in war-time this was regarded as a blow to the prestige of the khan. There were also cases when, conversely, the secular power shaped religious cults, for instance when the state officially supported the emergence of a cult around a hair of the Prophet (644-53). B. M. Babadzhanov does not indeed reduce the cult of saints to a relic of pre-Islamic beliefs, a position rather common in (post-) Soviet ethnography. (For critiques of Soviet ethnographical approaches, see pp. 656-7 of the reviewed book, and Yu. Bregel, Notes on the Study of Central Asia, Bloomington: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 1996; D. DeWeese, “Islam and the Legacy of Sovietology: A Review Essay on Yaacov Ro’i’s Islam in the Soviet Union,” Journal of Islamic Studies 13/3 (2002): 316-7.) Rightfully rejecting an artificial concept of ‘pure Islam’ and ‘everyday Islam’, the author proposes to study the so-called ‘doubtful’ practices in a broader Islamic context in order to understand how they functioned, who appeared for and against them, and why they survived (in various forms) or disappeared. B. M. Babadzhanov appeals to the ‘inner view’ of Islamic theologians who evaluated these practices variously, and who were more careful in their statements than many modern researchers. The author states that “it is better to look at Islam as a combination (even if not always harmonious) of literary traditions with beliefs of [a certain] society (p. 655).”
One might imagine that Islam in Central Asia was a great fiction: The rulers paid less attention to Islamic principles of power, drinking and harlotry were accepted in society, the sacred families had fake genealogies related to false holy places and were interest mainly in the financial aspect of the veneration of mazars. However, the author has endeavoured to demonstrate that, on the contrary, religious life in the Kokand Khanate was complex, and religious rules played a significant role in a society that emphasised the latter’s Islamic character. On the basis of a multiplicity of sources of different origins B. M. Babadzhanov casts light on the most diverse aspects of the life of a Muslim society through the case of the Kokand Khanate in the nineteenth century ― a polity the piety of which had been overestimated by previous researchers.