Reviews

Through a comparative study of three narratives of faction struggles among the body of Bukhara’s ‘ulama under the Russian protectorate, the author reconstructs the role of the personal protection system in the transmission of a memory of pre-Soviet past in the early 1920s.  The strength of the didactical genres of Persian literature, characterised after 1917 by an unprecedented expansion of normative biography and autobiography, instils into these narratives a peculiar logic, borrowed from the classical genres of maqamat and tadhkira.  At the same time, these sources reveal the political content of the systems of personal protection (himaya) and male affinities (‘asabiyya) which fulfil classical historiography in the territories of Islam. However, the texts analysed in the present article also show the decisive role played by the Manghit Emirs of Bukhara in the very shaping of the faction struggles inside the body of the ‘ulama in the context of the Russian Protectorate—from 1873 onwards, the latter fixed the frontiers of the Emirate, and facilitated a centralisation of power in the hands of the ruler.  Far from the requirements of a metatext penetrated with the reference to the gest of the Prophet Muhammad and his struggle against the pagans of Mecca, the urban factions that developed in the world of the madrasas of Bukhara between the 1860s and the 1920s appear as fluctuant entities, with close and complex mutual relations, deeply conditioned by the pressure exerted by successive Emirs.  These characteristic bring us far from the stereotypes of colonial literature—and of a number of modern studies inspired by it—on trans-historical “clan struggles” with immutable outlines:  They put the political fact back in the centre of learned sociability in Transoxiana, during the decisive period which preceded the seizure of power by the Soviets.

The Redaction
CER: I-3.4.C-289