Reviews

This article is an edition of the report sent on June 4, 1927 by L. N. Bel’skii, the Plenipotentiary Representative of the OGPU to the direction of the Middle Asian Bureau (Sredazbiuro) of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Communist Party (now preserved in the State Archive of Russia for social and Political History [RGASPI, fund 62: Middle Asian Bureau]).  The document sheds light on the will of the central political authorities in Moscow to prevent a union of the religious circles of varied Central Asian republics, and their contacts with religious institutions abroad.  The authors, essentially interested in the economic aspects of the Central Asian Islamic religious personnel, show preoccupied by the lasting prosperity of the waqfs (statistics provided on p. 318 on the Uzbek SSR—including the territory of the Tajik ASSR) and by the autonomy of the qazis.  They criticise the lack of authority, especially in rural areas, of the ‘Spiritual Boards [Dukhovnye Upravleniia]’ functioning in Tashkent, Samarqand, Kokand, Andijan, Namangan, Marghilan, Bukhara, and Khiva.  They also report about the ongoing debates on the functions of these directions among vernacular religious leaders—some of whom (like the ‘alim of Kokand Tura Khan Maqsum) were proposing to transform these boards into intermediaries between Soviet power and local populations.  Alarmed by the influence of religious leaders upon the party’s local executives, the authors of the report also denounce the local and international prestige of the Mufti of the Central Spiritual Board in Ufa, the reform-minded scholar of Islam Riza al-Din b. Fakhr al-Din (not explicitly mentioned in the text).  They depict the mutual rivalries of the ishans for authority upon local populations, before devoting a separate chapter to the Stang der Dinge among the Kyrgyz and the Turkmens—focusing on the diffusion of reformed Islam, and on the necessity for the Party to struggle there against the influence of ‘Tatar’ mullahs and of the Central Spiritual Direction of Ufa, in the northern part of Kyrgyz-peopled territories and in the Tashauz okrug as far as Turkmens are concerned.  The last chapters deal with Islamic confessional minorities: Ja‘fari Shiites in Bukhara and among the Turkmens (the authors warn Moscow against the authority and wealth of the Shiite clergy in both places); the Bahais in Ashgabat (the report sheds light on the ‘propaganda’ activity of the city’s ‘Behsovet’); the Isma‘iliyya in Badakhshan (the ongoing reorganisation of the collection of the zakat by Agha Khan iii has particularly interested the authors); the Ahmadiyya (strongly opposed by the local Sunni religious personnel, it had succeeded to recruit only a very limited number of individuals).  The report is concluded by a series of recommendations, all contributing to the limitation of Islamic religious practice and, especially, communication in Central Asia.  Unfortunately, as D. Arapov admits in his short introduction, it remains difficult to establish the identity of the real authors of this important document, well-informed on theoretical as well as practical aspects of religious practice in Central Asia, on the eve of the brutal change that characterised the second decade of the Soviet period.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-5.3.D-460