Based on personal research in Kurdistan and Turkey, and on selective readings on Afghanistan and Central Asia, this synthetic though vivid paper further discusses E. Gellner’s still fashionable categories of ‘popular’ and ‘learned’ Islam in the light of recent historical and anthropological publications on religious practice in the Turkic and Iranian world. Dividing the modern practices of Islam into ‘canonical’ and ‘non-canonical’—both being often implemented by the same actors as in the case of normative Islam and Sufism—, M.v.B. stresses the limited influence of modern puritanical (‘Wahhabi’) tendencies in the ‘Turkic-Iranian world’. In this region of the world of Islam, ‘non-canonical’ practices do not seem to be gradually replaced by more normative ones (contrary to an essential postulate of Gellner’s prospective vision).
This is all the more an acute consideration since, contrary to M.v.B.’s own argument (p. 118), the pir/murid relationship and the Sufi congregational practices have not vanished in Central Asia—a region where Sufism itself is far from being reduced, as is suggested by the author, to a mere vector of historical consciousness: Elementary fieldwork inside Central Asian mystical paths, and a better covering of the already abundant bibliography would have permitted the author to express a more qualified glance at the recent history of Islam in this region of the world. At the same time, one should keep in mind that the abrupt generational change in the years to come—locally educated aging mullahs and shaykhs being replaced by youngsters with a more prestigious “foreign” background—may bring other than purely cosmetic change to the pleasant panoramic landscape depicted in the present study.