Reviews

This study presents a body of Uzbek-language texts with English translations selected from audio and graphic sources that represent an example of the Islamic debates taking place in Uzbekistan and around—mainly in the Fergana Valley and amongst scholars originating from it—since 1991.   Among the major criteria for selecting the text was the issue of accessibility, some of the material displayed being available (to essentially remote observers) on the Internet.  In addition to illustrating the dynamics of Islamic debate, another goal of this publication is to document written and spoken Uzbek as it is used to articulate Islamic rhetoric.  A further aim of this work is to offer an alternative to much of the current English-language writing on modern Islam in Central Asia, characterised for the most part by an emphasis on ‘Sovietological’ approaches, which generally favour policy prescriptions and generalisations over empirical analysis.

Explicitly based, to a large extent, on reference works by the prominent historians of Central Asian Islam Bakhtyar Babadjanov (Tashkent) and Ashirbek Muminov (Almaty [see the bibliography pp. 441-3]), the introductory chapter tackles the question of the relationship of Muslims to a secular government and society, as it is dealt with in Central Asian learned circles that have never been united in how to deal with rule by non-Muslims (see century-long polemics on jihad vs. “salt duty [tuz haqqi],” which have been recently analysed in pioneering works by Hamada Masami [Kyoto]).  Surveying the colonial and Soviet periods, the introduction then focuses on the ‘Great Schism’ involved in the 1970s by the split between traditionalists and ‘renovators (mujaddidis)’ among the Fergana-based pupils of the quietist (in his later years) Fergana-born scholar of Islam Mawlawi Hindustani (1892-1989) in Dushanbe, over the question of the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Army.  The opposition between the ‘Traditionalists’ led for some time by Hindustani and the Mujadiddiyya (also called locally ‘Wahhabis’) was nourished by the underground circulation of theoretical texts by radical Arab theologians and theorists like Sayyid Qutb and other Ikhwani writings.  This opposition, mediated for some time in the early 1990s by the Tashkent Mufti Muhammad-Sadiq Muhammad-Yusuf, is documented here by the harsh debates of the past two decades on ritual and Islamic dogma, the Mujaddidis rapidly declaring themselves independent from Hanafi jurisprudence.

The set of primary texts edited and translated is divided into five distinct categories:

As in other publications of the same kind by A. J. Frank, violent hurry has led to some approximations and factual errors, even when just quoting secondary sources (e.g., the “Charkh Mosque” in Dushanbe may be replaced by the much more famous, under this denomination, Imam Ya‘qub Charkhi Mosque and mausoleum in a southern suburb—formerly called “Lenin”—of the city [p. 8]).  From the viewpoint of the selection’s framework, perhaps is it regrettable that the texts edited here have been limited to Uzbekistani scholars, since Uzbek-language Tajikistani scholars were and remain closely implicated in the evoked debates.  (It is only from the end of the 1960s onwards that Tajik language began to play a significant practical and symbolic role among Dushanbe’s preachers and theologians of Islam, mostly under the influence of Sufi shaykhs of mountain valleys of central Tajikistan and their numerous disciples in the migrant communities of the country’s young and mushrooming capital.)  From this point of view Uzbekistan does not constitute a discrete entity and it is a pity that the selection of texts edited in the present volume suggests this idea to the wide readership for which is has been intended.  

More significantly perhaps, and curiously enough, the selection of texts focuses on characters and aspects of Central Asian Islam that are exactly the same as those usually dealt with in the political science (or ‘sovietological’) approach.  A first, telling characteristic of the present selection—as well as of ‘sovietological’ studies—is its lack of chronological depth:  no interest has been shown by the Editors to the debates of the last two or three decades of the Soviet period, on which can be found locally numerous precise oral testimonies among the activists of the Islamic underground of that period of time.  Moreover, the authors and texts that figure in this anthology are all representative of the politicisation of Islam.  Common lasting feature of this Orientalist approach and of sovietology remain the lack of interest for both the regular reading of the Islamic press of Central Asia (it has been prospering in Tajikistan during the last ten years 1997, despite periods of harder censorship), and for long and regular fieldwork, which explains the specialists’ harmful lack of personal contacts—sometimes difficult to establish indeed, at least since the still non-elucidated terrorist attacks of February, 1999 in Tashkent—within the religious milieus of Central Asia.  

The position of remote observers adopted by the Editors, their interest in politicised authors and in their literature accessible through the net, with a very weak interest for the wide typology of audio, graphic and, more and more, audio-visual documents (with a spectacular expansion of DVD distribution in Central Asia since the mid-2000s) deprives their selection of a great deal of representativeness.  If the English translation of these texts will no doubt show interesting, primarily for security agencies—the main consumers and sponsors of current research on contemporary Islam in Central Eurasia, and for this very reason the main definers of this research’s very content—, their bilingual publication will also provide a large readership with an interesting, if not fascinating, though extremely partial in both senses of this word introduction to the intellectual world of Islam in Central Asia.  As the Editors suggest in their introduction, it will also offers specialists of Uzbek language an invaluable tool for analysing the evolution of this idiom in the specific context and register of varied, mutually antinomic categories of Islamic discourse—notably from the viewpoint of the presence of colloquial, especially dialectal speech in audio texts (cleverly retained by the Editors in their transcriptions).

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-5.3.D-473