Reviews

This comparative study is devoted to nations supposedly “relative newcomers to Islam” (451).  Commenting on works by local or international researchers (Shokhrat Kadyrov on Turkmenistan, Eugene Huskey on Kyrgyzstan), the author first recalls how the elevation of Islam to a political level by the USSR and by post-Soviet states (e.g., the respective Turkmen and Kyrgyz qaziyyats and Committee for Religious Affairs), in the goal of extracting political legitimacy, has contributed to the emergence of centralised Islamic authorities with competence in political affairs.

The reader is then explained how social fractions along “tribal” and regional lines, both mutually intermingled (viz., the ties between the political elite and the Akhal-Tekke unit in Turkmenistan; the lasting north-south rivalry for central power in Kyrgyzstan) have been a constant concern in these two countries as well as everywhere else in Central Asia.  The author analyses how both states have tried to struggle against the “ethnically heterogeneous nature of these societies” through an emphasising of common denominators that bring their respective nations together.  In this context, the logic of ‘scripturalism’ and politicisation facilitates the emergence of Islam as an independent political actor with the potential of criticising temporal leaders.  So far, according to this study, two factors have hampered this phenomenon in Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan:  The first is the very limited public knowledge of the tenets of Islam; the second is made by authoritarian practices against the appearance of an independent clerisy.

In short, if this paper correctly takes into account the institutional evolutions of the Soviet period and their impact on present-day policy-making in Central Asia, it neglects a lot of specificities of Islam as it was thought and practiced during the long twentieth century (with no reference, for instance, to contrasted attitudes among the Central Asian ‘ulama—in Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere—towards the open Shafi‘i tendencies of the Middle Asian muftiyyat in Tashkent, throughout and after the Soviet period).  As to the author’s overall viewpoint on Central Asian societies, it remains essentialist and characteristic of a remote observer—a position that remains that of a majority of political commentators on Islam in contemporary Central Asia, more than fifteen years after the end of the Soviet period.  Last, for lack of comparative material on other Central Asian states (to say nothing of Xinjiang), the specificity of Turkmen and Kyrgyz Islam does not appear very clearly in this study.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-8.4.F-745