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Conclusion: Amir Timur.

Statues of and stories about Amir Timur, known better in the West as Tamerlane or Timur the Lame, are unavoidable in Uzbekistan, where he is regarded as a national hero (he was born in modern-day Uzbekistan and made Samarkand his capital). But given how he was responsible for death and destruction on an almost inconceivable scale, it has to be asked whether a national hero similar to more recent tyrants such as Stalin, Hitler and Mao is an altogether healthy thing. Here, however, is a standard summary of his life recently downloaded from the internet:

Throughout history, few names have inspired such terror as Tamerlane. That was not the Central Asian conqueror’s actual name, though. More properly, he is known as Timur, from the Turkic word for “iron”.

Amir Timur is remembered as a vicious conqueror who razed ancient cities to the ground and put entire populations to the sword. On the other hand, he is also known as a great patron of the arts, literature and architecture. One of his signal achievements is his capital at the beautiful city of Samarkand in modern-day Uzbekistan.

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Gur-E-Amir Mausoleum, Samarkand

Timur was born in 1336 near the city of Kesh (now called Shahrisabz), about 80 kms south of Samarkand in Transoxiana. The child’s father, Taragay, was the chief of the Barlas tribe. The Barlas were of mixed Mongolian and Turkic ancestry descended from the hordes of Genghis Khan and the earlier inhabitants of Transoxiana.

Unlike their nomadic ancestors, the Barlas were settled agriculturalists and traders. Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Arabshah’s 14th century biography, “Tamerlane or Timur: The Great Amir”, states that Timur was descended from Genghis Khan on his mother’s side; it is not entirely clear whether this is true.

During Timur’s youth, Transoxiana was riven by conflict between the local nomadic clans and the sedentary Chagatay Mongol khans who ruled them. The Chagatay had abandoned the mobile ways of Genghis Khan and their other ancestors and taxed the people heavily in order to support their urban lifestyle. Naturally, such taxation angered their citizens.

In 1347, a local amir named Kazgan seized power from the Chagatay ruler Borolday. Kazgan would rule until his assassination in 1358. After Kazgan’s death, various warlords and religious leaders vied for power. Tughluk Timur, a Mongol warlord, emerged victorious in 1360.

Timur’s uncle Haji Beg led the Barlas at this time, but refused to submit to Tughluk Timur. Haji Beg fled and the new Mongol ruler decided to instal the seemingly more pliable young Timur to rule in his stead.

In fact, Timur was already plotting against the Mongols. He formed an alliance with the grandson of Kazgan, Amir Hussein, and married Hussein’s sister Aljai Turkanaga. The Mongols soon caught on; Timur and Hussein were dethroned and forced to turn to banditry in order to survive.

In 1362, the legend says, Timur’s following was reduced to two: Aljai, and one other. They were even imprisoned in Persia for two months.

Timur’s bravery and tactical skill made him a successful mercenary soldier in Persia and he soon collected a large following. In 1364, Timur and Hussein banded together again and defeated Ilyas Khoja, the son of Tughluk Timur. By 1366, the two warlords controlled Transoxiana.

Timur’s wife died in 1370, thereby freeing him to attack his erstwhile ally Hussein. Hussein was besieged and killed at Balkh and Timur declared himself the sovereign of the whole region. Timur was not directly descended from Genghis Khan on his father’s side, so he ruled as an amir (from the Arabic word for “prince”) rather than as a khan. Over the next decade, Timur seized the rest of Central Asia.

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Shahrisabz

With Central Asia now under his control, Timur invaded Russia in 1380. He helped the Mongol khan Toktamysh retake control and also defeated the Lithuanians in battle.  Timur captured Herat (now in Afghanistan) in 1383, the opening salvo against Persia. By 1385, all of Persia was his.  

With invasions in 1391 and 1395, Timur fought against his former protege in Russia, Toktamysh. The Timurid army captured Moscow in 1395. While Timur was busy in the north, Persia revolted. He responded by destroying entire cities and using the citizens’ skulls to build grisly towers and pyramids.

By 1396, Timur had also conquered Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Mesopotamia and Georgia.

Timur’s army of 90,000 crossed the Indus River in September 1398 and set upon India. The country had fallen to pieces after the death of Sultan Firuz Shah Tughluq (who reigned from 1351 to 1388) of the Delhi Sultanate, and by this time Bengal, Kashmir and the Deccan  each had separate rulers.

The Turkic and Mongol invaders left carnage along their path; Delhi’s army was destroyed in December and the city ruined. Timur seized tons of treasure and 90 war elephants and took them back to Samarkand.

Timur looked west in 1399, retaking Azerbaijan and conquering Syria. Baghdad was destroyed in 1401 and 20,000 of its people slaughtered. In July 1402, Timur captured early Ottoman Turkey and received submission from Egypt.

The rulers of Europe were glad that the Ottoman sultan Bayazid had been defeated, but they trembled at the idea that Tamerlane was at their doorstep. The rulers of Spain, France and other powers sent congratulatory embassies to Timur hoping to stave off an attack.

Timur had bigger goals, however. He decided in 1404 that he would conquer Ming China  (the Ming Dynasty had overthrown his cousins, the Yuan, in 1368). Unfortunately for him, however, the Timurid army set out in December during an unusually cold winter. Men and horses died of exposure and the 68 year-old Timur fell ill. He died in February 1405 at Otrar in Kazakhstan. 

Timur started life as the son of a minor chieftain, much like his putative ancestor Genghis Khan. Through sheer intelligence, military skill and force of personality, Timur was able to conquer an empire stretching from Russia to India and from the Mediterranean Sea to Mongolia. 

Unlike Genghis Khan, however, Timur conquered not to open trade routes and protect his flanks, but to loot and pillage. The Timurid Empire did not long survive its founder because he rarely bothered to put any governmental structure in place after he destroyed the existing order.

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Shahrisabz

While Timur professed to be a good Muslim, he obviously felt no compunction about destroying the foremost cities of the Islamic world and slaughtering their inhabitants. Damascus, Khiva, Baghdad – these ancient capitals of Islamic learning never really recovered from Timur’s attentions. His intent seems to have been to make his capital at Samarkand the first city of the Islamic world.

Contemporary sources say that Timur’s forces killed about 19 million people during their conquests. That number is probably exaggerated, but Timur does seem to have enjoyed massacre for its own sake.

Despite a deathbed warning from the conqueror, his sons and grandsons immediately began to fight over the throne when he passed away. The most successful Timurid ruler, Timur’s grandson Ulug Bek, gained fame as an astronomer and scholar. Ulug Bek was not a good administrator, however, and was murdered by his own son in 1449.

Timur’s line had better luck in India where his great-great-grandson Babur founded the Mughal Dynasty in 1526. The Mughuls ruled until 1857, when the British expelled them (Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal, is thus also a descendent of Timur).

Timur was lionised in the West for his defeat of the Ottoman Turks. Christopher Marlowe’s “Tamburlaine the Great” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “Tamerlane” are good examples of how the West perceived him. Not surprisingly, the people of Turkey, Iran and the Middle East remember him rather less favourably.

In post-Soviet Uzbekistan, Timur has been made into a national folk hero. However, the people of Uzbek cities such as Khiva are sceptical about showering him with affection; they remember that he destroyed their city and killed nearly every inhabitant.

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Ichan-Qala, Khiva
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The Tashkent Metro.

Here is some information about the Tashkent metro, a facility you cannot photograph because it is regarded as a military installation vulnerable to attack by terrorists:

The Tashkent Metro (Uzbek: Toshkent Metropoliteni) is the rapid transit system serving the city of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. It is one of only two subway systems currently operating in Central Asia, the other being the Almaty Metro in Kazakhstan. It was the seventh metro to be built in the former USSR and opened in 1977. Its stations are among the most ornate in the world. Unlike most of the ex-Soviet metros, the system is shallow (in this respect, it is similar to the one in Minsk).

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Tashkent

The Tashkent Metro consists of three lines operating on 36.2 kms of route and serving 29 stations. In 2013, the metro carried 59.2 million passengers, which corresponds to a daily average of approximately 162,200.

Planning for the Tashkent Metro started in 1968, two years after a major earthquake struck the city. Construction on the first line began in 1972 and it opened on 6th November 1977 with nine stations. This line was extended in 1980 and the second line was added in 1984. The most recent line is the Yunusobod line, the first section of which opened in 2001. A northern extension of this line is currently under construction, and a fourth line was to start construction in 2010, but has been delayed.

The depth of the metro’s underground tunnels varies between 8 and 25 metres. The three lines are said to have been constructed to resist earthquakes of a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter scale. The tracks have a 1,524 mm gauge and a third rail power supply (825 V DC). The average station distance is 1.4 kms.

The details of each line are as follows:

Chilonzor Line (red). Planning for this line started in 1968. It opened in 1977 between Sabir Rakhimov and Oktyabrinkilobi (Russian: Oktyabr’skoy Revolyutsii, now Amir Timur Khiyoboni) and includes Novza (Khamza) depot and one metro bridge over the Oqtepa Channel between Novza and Komsomolskaya stations. It was extended to Maksim Gorkiy (now Buyuk Ipak Yoli) in 1980 (including another metro bridge over the Salar River between Hamid Alimdzhan and Pushkin stations). It is 15.5 kms long with 12 stations – the planned eastward extension to Traktornyi Zavod (3 stations) was under way, but now has disappeared from maps.

Uzbekiston Line (blue). The route of this line crosses the city diagonally from northwest to southeast via the Toshkent Railway station. It opened in 1984 and expanded between 1984 and 1991. It is 14.3 kms long with 11 stations.

Yunusobod Line (green). Work is under way on this line to connect the northern districts to the airport in the south. The first 6.4 kms section with six stations opened for regular service on 24th October 2001 (test runs began on 28th August 2001, the 10th anniversary of independence, but opening was delayed due to the 9/11 attacks in the USA) between Ming Urik (initially planned to be named Lokhutiy) and Habib Abdullayev (initially planned to be named Shahriston).

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Tashkent

Today, the Tashkent Metro has 29 stations that are all different from each other in appearance. The architecture and decoration of each station reflects its name. The peculiarity of the Tashkent Metro is its rather shallow station positioning. Some stations have escalators. 7 stations belong to the tower type, 4 stations to the arch type and one station (Mustakillik) to the tower-individual type. Prominent architects and artists of Uzbekistan took part in designing the stations. Interior decoration features solid and stable materials such as metal (which has been engraved), glass, plastic, granite, marble, smalt, ceramic tiles and alabaster (which has been carved). Every station is in effect an original work of art exploring a particular theme. Because the decoration reflects the time each station was conceived, some are very dated in their appearance (in some respects, the dated appearance of the stations enhances their eccentric appeal).

In 2013, there were 168 train cars operational on the metro and they served passengers in the form of 4-car train sets. The system’s station platforms are all 100 metres in length. Trains have an average speed of 46 kmph.

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Tashkent

Judaism in Uzbekistan.

Jewish people may have lived in modern-day Uzbekistan from not long after the 5th century CE, when some scholars think that they settled after migrating (because of persecution?) from what was then Persia (this said, evidence for a very old synagogue exists in neighbouring Turkmenistan. The synagogue was probably built 2,200 years ago). There is good reason to suppose that Bukhara was the first important city in Uzbekistan where Jewish people put down their roots, but over time settlement took place in other cities in the region. The Jewish communities in Uzbekistan eventually embraced the identity and the practices of the Sephardis, and in Bukhara today it is as Sephardi Jews that all or most of the remaining families describe themselves (during a visit to the synagogue furthest from the city centre, our female host said that only 50 Jewish families remained in the city). Persecution of the Jewish communities by Muslim rulers and neighbours was frequent prior to the Russian conquest of Central Asia in the 1860s and the 1870s, and persecution, albeit generally more subtle, resumed when Uzbekistan secured its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 (it was during the tsarist era that Askenazi Jews from other parts of the Russian Empire settled in Uzbekistan, thereby increasing the overall size of the Jewish presence, but the Sephardi and the Ashkenazi communities sustained their separate identities). Not long after independence, Islamist fundamentalism became a force to contend with, although the oppressive regime that currently prevails in Uzbekistan has done much to reduce the threat (however, because Uzbekistan shares a border with Afghanistan, the threat posed by Islamist extremists can never be completely ignored. This is even more so given that Uzbekistan has its own Islamist extremists, as the two preceding posts confirm). Fears about personal security help explain why Uzbekistan’s Jewish community is now extremely small. Migration to Israel and the USA persists.

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Jewish cemetery, Samarkand

EAJC.org has the following information about the Bukhara Jews in particular and the Jewish communities of Uzbekistan more generally:

The special sub-ethnic group of Bukhara Jews formed on the territory of Uzbekistan. The first authentic evidence of a Jewish presence in the region belongs to the 4th century CE. A large Jewish community in Samarkand is first documented in the 12th century. By the time Central Asia was annexed by Russia (1865-73), the Bukhara Jews were a minority with diminished rights, and a small part of them, living in the Bukhara Emirate, were forcibly converted to Islam (the so-called “Chala”). Jews were living densely in Bukhara, Kattakurgan, Samarkand, Tashkent, Karshi, Shakhrisabz, Kokand, Margelan and other cities.

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Jewish cemetery, Samarkand

The discriminatory edicts, existing in the Bukhara Emirate with regard to the Bukhara Jews (referred to as “indigenous Jews”), were cancelled in the areas annexed by the Russian Empire. After the region came under Russian rule, Ashkenazi Jews arrived (up to this point, all Uzbekistan’s Jews were Sephardi). At the same time the term “Bukhara Jews” emerged. The term was used to define Jews arriving in Russian-ruled areas from the Bukhara Emirate.

At the end of the 19th century there were approximately 16,000 Bukhara Jews; by the end of the 1930s there were about 20,000. According to the 1926 Soviet census, there were 38,200 Jews living in Uzbekistan. During world war two, Ashkenazi Jews from Nazi-occupied Soviet republics were evacuated to Uzbekistan. As a result, in 1959 the Jewish population of Uzbekistan was 93,000. By 1970, the population had grown to 103,000.

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Jewish cemetery, Samarkand

In the 1970s, about 10,000 Bukhara Jews emigrated to Israel. The 1979 census showed 95,000 Jews still living in the republic, with the same number in the 1989 census (26,000 of these were Bukhara Jews).

The state’s first legal Jewish secular organisations emerged in the years 1988 to 1999. May 1990 saw nationalist riots which damaged the Jewish quarter in Andijan (damage was also done in Jewish quarters in other cities). During the period of mass emigration (the late 1980s to the early 1990s), no less than 80,000 Jews left the republic. The emigration continues to this day. Beside Israel and the USA, small groups of Jewish emigrants settled in Russia; there are also small communities in Austria and Germany.

Today’s Jewish population in Uzbekistan is estimated at 13,000, of whom no more than 3,000 are Bukhara Jews. Tashkent has a relatively large community (about 8,000). There are smaller communities in Samarkand and Bukhara, and even smaller ones in Fergana, Andijan, Namangan, Margelan, Kokand and Navoiy. The communities contain both Bukhara and Ashkenazi Jews. Most of the Jews in Tashkent are Ashkenazi. Bukhara has more Bukhara Jews, and the community of Samarkand is more or less equally divided.

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Jewish cemetery, Samarkand

I believe the figures in the last paragraph exaggerate the size of Uzbekistan’s Jewish community today, the following from “Al Jazeera” (6.5.2015) perhaps confirming that this is so:

The body was wrapped in a worn-out carpet instead of a prayer shawl. Not a single relative entered the cemetery through its gate under an azure cupola topped with the Star of David.

But the 75 year-old woman who died in early April, two days before Passover, was buried and mourned in accordance with Jewish rites in Bukhara, an ancient city in central Uzbekistan that lies some 2,800 kms north-east of Jerusalem.

Bukhara was once a focal point on the Great Silk Road, a powerhouse of Islamic learning. It was also the capital of one of the world’s oldest and most isolated Jewish communities that barely survived centuries of persecution and is now facing extinction because of an exodus to Israel and the United States.

A dozen men carried the body and put it to rest among the graves, which now outnumber the entire Jewish population of Bukhara.

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Second synagogue, Bukhara

“There’s so few of us we should be listed as an endangered species,” said Jura Khoshayev, the grey-bearded, 44 year-old community leader. “We can’t always get enough people for a minyan,” a synagogue service that requires the presence of at least ten men, Khoshayev added, pointing at seven Jewish men who had gathered at one of the city’s two remaining synagogues, an adobe house built in 1882, just hours after the funeral. His remark seemed especially poignant because two of the men were Israelis, bearded and clad in black suits and hats, who had come to inspect the conformity of prayers and had brought kosher wine and matzo bread for the Passover celebrations.

The youngest man in the synagogue was Sion Matatov, a 21 year-old who wants to become a rabbi. To do this, he will have to leave for Israel or Russia because there is no yeshiva, or religious study institution, in Bukhara.

His younger sister, Angela Matatova, also expressed her plans to leave. “All our relatives are in America,” said the 16 year-old with her dark curly hair in a waist-long braid.

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Second synagogue, Bukhara

Less than 500 Bukhara Jews now live in the ex-Soviet nation of 31 million – a hundred times fewer than their population in New York’s Queens alone. Another 100,000 live in Israel. Some 150 live in the city of Bukhara, where the community sees more deaths and funerals than births and weddings.

“It’s time to get my son married, but there is no girl,” Matatov’s father, Daniel, complained, sitting over a dismantled watch in his tiny workshop with a black, oblong eyeglass on his forehead. “That’s the biggest problem.”

At the time of his birth, the problem did not exist. By the early 1970s, the Bukhara Jewish population reached its all-time high. Nearly 40,000 lived in Soviet Uzbekistan, neighbouring Tajikistan and other Central Asian republics.

In 1972, however, Soviet authorities began allowing repatriation to Israel. For the first time in centuries, Bukhara Jews were able to travel to the “Promised Land” without the risk of being enslaved, forcibly converted or killed along the way.

Historically, the Bukhara Jews were traders and craftsmen who specialised in fabric dying. They claim to have arrived in Central Asia around 500 BCE after being taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Soviet archaeologists found evidence for these claims in the remnants of a 2,200 year-old synagogue in what is now Turkmenistan.

The Bukhara Jews became part of a multi-confessional population where Buddhists, Zoroastrians and, later, Nestorian Christians and Manicheans lived side by side. But by the time tsarist Russia conquered Central Asia, they were the only surviving religious minority.

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First synagogue, Bukhara

Prior to and after the Arab conquests, the vast oasis that includes Bukhara and Samarkand was part of various Iranian and Turkic states that thrived on trade with China, India and the Middle East, and produced such renowned scholars as mathematician Ibn-Sina and hadith collector Al-Bukhari.

Over time, the Jews of Bukhara adopted a dialect of Persian and used the Hebrew alphabet to write poems that blended traditional Persian poetry with biblical themes or praised Jewish martyrs killed after refusing to convert to Islam. 

From the 16th century, a Shia dynasty in Iran isolated the Bukhara Jews from other Jewish communities. In the Bukhara Emirate they were further isolated because the Sunni emirs were known for their cruelty – one had live coals placed under scaffolds so that the heads of executed men would grimace from the burning heat right after decapitation. They enjoyed absolute power over their Sunni Muslim subjects – and more so over the minority Shia Muslims, Hindus and Jews.

The 10,000-strong Jewish community of Bukhara “lives in utmost oppression, being despised by everyone”, wrote Arminius Vambery, a Jewish traveller of Hungarian origin who visited the emirate disguised as a Sufi dervish in the early 1860s, a few years before the tsarist invasion.

A tax collector had to ritually slap the kalontar – a Jewish community leader – after collecting dues and an extra “life sparing” tax. Jews were prohibited from wearing silk and riding horses and were permitted to live only in three specific neighbourhoods. Muslims used coercion and verbal tricks to convert them to Islam, but the converts, dubbed “Chala” (neither this nor that), were mistrusted by both the old and the new communities and lived as impoverished outcasts.

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First synagogue, Bukhara

In 1793, the Sephardi rabbi Yosef Maimon arrived in Bukhara to find that many religious practices were neglected and remaining copies of the Torah had only three parts. He opened a yeshiva and convinced the community to commit to the Sephardi liturgy.

Tsarist Russia turned Central Asia’s rulers into vassals or annexed their lands. The Jews of Bukhara welcomed the new rule and benefited from it greatly. They were listed as a native ethnic group. They could live where they wanted, their tax burden was reduced, they were allowed to build synagogues and some prospered by trading Russian goods and cotton. Moreover, Chala Jews were permitted to return to their faith without fear of execution.

Some young, westernised and secular Bukhara Jews embraced the communist doctrine and after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution helped Moscow uproot what it called the “medieval obscurantism” of Muslim ways of life. But the Communist Party was an ungrateful partner. In the 1920s, thousands of wealthy Jews were purged. Many crossed illegally into Afghanistan or Iran to reach British-administered Palestine.

Bukhara’s 13 synagogues were closed, Torah scrolls were confiscated and rabbis were persecuted, which forced the community to hold Shabbat services and perform circumcisions in secret. “For teaching me, my teacher was sentenced to four years in jail,” said Aaron Siyanov, a full-bearded, 80 year-old rabbi.

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Jewish cemetery, Bukhara

After Uzbekistan’s independence in 1991, emigration to Israel and the USA intensified, while Jewish organisations rushed in to educate the remaining Jews. Israeli visitors scrutinised and sometimes rejected their practices. “When I slaughtered a cow, they would not eat my meat,” Rabbi Siyanov recalled. “They said my rabbi’s certificate was from Russia, not Israel.”

Now, their waning days in Uzbekistan are filled with cautious optimism and relative comfort. Relatives in the US and Israel support them financially, and for the first time in their history they can practice their faith without fear and have their children educated at a Jewish school.

“I think we will stay on,” Siyanov said, sitting in the sunlit back yard of his house next to a huge cage filled with the pigeons he breeds. “To preserve the term ‘Bukhara Jew’, we will do whatever it takes.”

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Main gate, Jewish cemetery, Bukhara

An instructive anecdote.

A freelance journalist joined our group when we arrived in Bukhara. He had been asked to write an article for “The Mail on Sunday” about our Saga holiday to Uzbekistan, but, to secure entry to Uzbekistan, had to pretend he was a teacher, not a journalist. Representatives of the Republic of Uzbekistan are highly suspicious of journalists, even those whose yet-to-be-published work might encourage more tourists to visit the country and spend much-needed foreign currency.

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Registan, Samarkand
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Tashkent
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Museum of Applied Arts, Tashkent

Islam in Uzbekistan: part two.

Here, deriving from a paper delivered at a conference in 2011, is a brief update on the previous post:

The goal of the conference was to debate the complex relationship between Islam and the modern state, an equation in which Central Asia is a key component, given that throughout its particular history, the region has developed a hybrid, moderate form of Islam, marked by the still recent experience of communism, an autochthonous religious sub-stratum and the nomadic culture that spread along the Silk Route and exchanged multiple influences.

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Ichan-Qala, Khiva

One of the starting points for the debate was the affirmation that the Islamic Hanafite school was predominant in Central Asia. This is a school that is characterised by being moderate and deliberately separated from political power. It was also stated that, after the period of Soviet rule, this traditional Islam re-emerged in the region, though this time it had an official nature and was sometimes used as an instrument of social control. In some regions, such as the Fergana Valley (where, in the past, violent confrontations took place between different communities), a radical sector has sprung up with links to the Salafite school (which was also the origin of the Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia). This radical sector seeks the introduction of a caliphate, the supranational body ruled by Islamic law. The radicals, who include members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), engaged in armed insurgency, but members of the subversive Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) are also present in the region. Their existence – albeit in a minority form at present – has been used by the region’s states to justify to their citizens the authoritarian nature of their control and their fight against so-called external influences. Within this network of religion and politics, Uzbekistan is of vital importance to our understanding of the past, present and future of Islam in Central Asia. Tajikistan is the other country analysed more deeply in this book.

One of the conclusions resulting from the debate was that Central Asian societies possess unique factors which, as we will see, create an ideal laboratory for reflecting on the relationship between the corners of the triangle comprised of Islam, democracy and authoritarianism. This produces questions such as the following. Rather than a clash of civilisations, would it not be more accurate to speak of a clash of institutions? Who are the sides in this clash, theocracies and secular states, or democratic and authoritarian systems?

If this is the case, the most suitable approach would be one that observes the dichotomy, not between democracy and Islam, but between an incipient democratic Islam and an authoritarian Islam, a dichotomy which, perhaps, more than in any other place in the world, serves to explain the events taking place in today’s Central Asia…

Currently, all Central Asian countries are experiencing a strong Islamisation. This process takes place at three main levels: a) the national level, characterised by integration into the Islamic world; b) the social level, characterised by connections between religious and secular institutions in societies; and c) the personal level, characterised by the transformation of homo soveticus into homo islamicus…

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Khiva, north of Ichan-Qala

Against this background, in 
the process of transition, some 
people have been radicalised.
 The “radical strata”, albeit very 
thin, are composed of different
 types of religiously motivated 
groups. Some people from 
these strata found themselves 
to be deprived of necessary living standards, some people became religiously obsessed, others are involved in organised crime. The explosive mixture of deprived, fanaticised and criminalised people created the social, moral and financial space for the radicalised version of Islam.

Thus, independence and restoration of Islam not only brought about controversies in public consciousness; they also revealed Central Asia’s vulnerability to religious extremism. It should be noted, however, that extremist and fundamentalist waves penetrated Central Asia from outside the region rather than awoke as an immanent feature of the local branch of Islam. Islamism as a destructive political movement pursues the ultimate goal of establishing a theocratic state, the caliphate. Islamists totally deny democracy and any form of the secular state. They use all their means to achieve their goal, from propaganda to terrorism.

Particularly, discontent within a large portion of society over hardship and declining living standards, and the unfair way that national wealth is distributed, can be exploited by radical Islamists in their zealous attempts to discredit the current secular political regimes and replace them with theocratic ones.

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Ichan-Qala, Khiva

As is well known, Islamic extremism in Central Asia has already revealed and manifested itself as a serious destabilising factor in a number of cases, such as:

the appearance of the first extremist groups in Namangan, Andijan and other towns in the Fergana province of Uzbekistan (late 1990s);

the civil war in Tajikistan (1992-1997);

terrorist attacks on the Cabinet of Ministers and other buildings in Uzbekistan (February 1999);


the Batken events in Kyrgyzstan (July 1999);


the IMU fighters’ incursion of Uzbekistan (2000);


the Taliban threat to Central Asia (from 1998 to 2001);


the Andijan events (May 2005);


small-scale incidents on the border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan (May 2009).

Initially, religious radicalism manifested itself in the early 1990s. In 1991, the first Islamist groups began to act openly: they attacked the hated police, established “fair order” in some provincial towns like Andijan and Namangan, and called for the creation of a caliphate. Many mosques turned into places of Wahhabi teaching and ideology.

Currently, the defenders of political Islam or Islamism in the region are mostly two organisations, the HT and the IMU. The former officially declares its adherence to a non-military, peaceful means of activity, claiming that the caliphate will evolve in the wake of their propaganda. The latter resorts to military means which take the form of terrorist acts. While the former tries to spread leaflets and hire followers, the latter tries to spread violence and hire fighters. The HT claims a membership of 15,000 and 100,000 sympathisers. The IMU, according to some estimates, can claim a membership of about 1,000.

The IMU maintains close contacts with a number of international terrorist organisations in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as some secret services such as Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan. The IMU also gets financial support from European-based foundations. Nowadays, Islamists adapt themselves to modern conditions and actively use the Internet as a tool for reaching and influencing the public consciousness.

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Ichan-Qala, Khiva

Islam in Uzbekistan: part one.

In 2000, Jamshid Gaziev published a lengthy paper called “Islamic Revival in Post-Independence Uzbekistan” (“Praxis: The Fletcher Journal of Development Studies”, vol. XVI). Below is some of the paper’s most interesting content:

In September 1991, the Communist Party changed its name to the People’s Democratic Party and elected Islam Karimov as its chairman. In the first direct presidential elections in Uzbekistan, held on 29th December 1991, Karimov, according to Bess Brown, won a fair election receiving 86% of the total votes. The first steps of the new government consisted of conciliatory gestures toward Muslims, including returning mosques and medressas to their original Muslim practitioners, changing the old communist names of the streets and towns to traditional Muslim forms and renaming some administrative positions as they used to be prior to the Russian conquest. In 1994, out of 7,800 mosques in Central Asia, nearly half were officially functioning in Uzbekistan, and 380 medressas have been operating in the country since independence. Moreover, Qur’ans and other instructional material became widely available in Uzbek and the government went further in partially sponsoring the annual pilgrimage to Makkah.

During the first years of independence, the official policy of Karimov’s office was focused on changing the Soviet atheist mentality of the population and propagating the spiritual wealth of the Uzbek nation. Warikoo notes that, relative to the material poverty in rural areas, Karimov felt that “spiritual poverty” was of equal, if not greater, concern.

The history of Uzbekistan was reconsidered, its rich Muslim heritage was glorified and national heroes, purged during the Soviet period, were rehabilitated. New courses, such as “Spiritual Heritage of Uzbekistan” and “Uzbekistan’s Own Way to Independence and Progress”, were included in the curriculum of schools and higher educational establishments. Karimov, explaining this policy, stated “From the first days of our independence, state policy faced the significant task to revive that tremendous, precious spiritual and cultural heritage, which has been built by our ancestors.”

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Near Chorsu Bazaar, Tashkent

It could be argued that, in order to succeed with this policy, the Uzbek president made a loose political alliance with Uzbekistan’s official Muslim religious leader, Muhammad Sadiq Muhammad Yusuf. James Critchlow claims that Uzbek history and traditions were becoming the ideological standards which opened the door as never before to an Islamic resurgence.

Shirin Akiner criticised the official policy of the government on the grounds that “the chief beneficiary was the republican government, which was adroit enough to use Islam to strengthen its own position and to pave the way for an eventual transformation of Communist Party functionaries into nationalist leaders”. Warikoo, providing support for Akiner’s criticism, stressed that Karimov’s attitude reflected the general “tendency among the ruling elite in Central Asia to cover up their own failures by blaming Soviet policy”.

The above criticism, defining Karimov’s attempts to encourage Islam as a self-interested and politically driven undertaking, is perhaps too harsh. Karimov realised that independence could not be achieved if the people were not aware of their true history and of the detrimental Soviet legacy. This educational policy was responsible for 98.2% of the voters endorsing Uzbekistan’s independence in the December 1991 referendum.

Above all, criticism against the policy of the new government toward Islamic revival can be challenged on the following grounds. First, the government relied on state Islam as a device to help channel and control dissident Muslim forces. Second, the new policy reflected an attempt to fill the vacuum in society created by the decline of secular authority. Last, the state policy responded to growing pressures from Uzbek intellectuals to restore Islam to its rightful place in their history. Karimov, explaining his motives, maintains that “History proves that only educated and enlightened society will appreciate all advantages of democratic development [like that taking place in Uzbekistan], and vice versa, uneducated and ignorant people will accept an authoritarian and totalitarian system [like that of the former USSR].”

With regard to the legal aspects of the state’s strategy toward Islam, it can be argued that legislation and constitutional provisions were designed to define parameters of religious activities, the violations of which would give the government legal sanction to level criminal charges against individuals and religious organisations.

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Khast Imom, Tashkent

The overall policy of the Uzbek authorities toward Islam has sought to provide freedom for its growth as a religion by encouraging the building of mosques and the establishment of religious schools and training colleges, but to resist any manifestation of a political voice for Islam. Diloram Ibrahim argues that it was not the state that dictated the spiritual and religious drive, but the unstable social, political and economic situation in Uzbekistan which made it necessary to seek spiritual support in religion to compensate for all the shortages in real life. It also seems to be natural that Islam, a key feature of Central Asian civilisation since the 8th century, should re-emerge vigorously once freed from official repression.

Although Uzbekistan is more uniformly religious than any other republic in Central Asia, Islam in Uzbekistan is commonly divided horizontally and vertically. The horizontal division splits Islam into Shiism and Sunnism, with further sub-divisions into Sufi orders and sects. The vertical division, stemming from the Soviet period, classifies Islam into “official” and “unofficial”.

The majority of the Muslim umma in Uzbekistan are Sunni Muslims. Predominantly, the Sunni Muslims of Uzbekistan are from the Hanafi school, but some adhere to Sufi brotherhoods. The Hanafi school, founded by Abu Hanifah al-Numan in Kufa, was established in Bukhara in the early 9th century. The Hanafi school is noted for its liberal religious orientation, which allowed the pre-Islamic traditions of the native people to be incorporated into Islam. Haghayeghi found that several Hanafi principles provided flexibility and more freedom in practicing Islam for believers in Uzbekistan. The first principle postulates that if a Muslim wholeheartedly believes in Allah and the Prophet Muhammad but is neglectful toward his religious duties, he is still a Muslim, but a sinful one. Due to this flexibility, Diloram Ibrahim claimed that “In Uzbekistan Islam has become a religion of rites performed universally. The five pillars of Islam are, by and large, neglected. Uzbeks are ignorant about elementary Islamic teaching, unable to read even a simple prayer.”

Second, the Hanafi teachings place strong emphasis on the expediency and the usefulness of Islam, thus refraining from an interpretation of Islam based on absolute obedience, a characteristic associated with fundamentalist practice of Islam. Muslims are allowed to conduct the prayer in languages other than Arabic, and to choose the section of the Qur’an they wish to read. Third, the Hanafi school holds a very tolerant position toward the issues of criminal and civil punishment, divorce and almsgiving. The fourth maxim says that socio-economic necessity supersedes the need for Islamic orthodoxy. In other words, realising the inevitability of socio-economic changes, especially if the religion itself is to survive, the Hanafi philosophy advocates the postponement or alteration of the conduct of religious affairs to accommodate the needs of the believer. The final principle asserts that difference of opinion in the Muslim community is a token of divine mercy. The non-binding and liberal character of the Hanafi school facilitated its rapid spread among the majority of the Muslim umma of Uzbekistan. In addition, these features of a liberal form of Islam have affected the political beliefs of the population of Uzbekistan.

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Osman Qur’an, Tashkent

There are small communities of Twelver Shiism in Bukhara and Samarkand, which have their origins during the period of Abbasid rule in Central Asia. The Shias believe that Ali ibn Abu Talib is the legitimate heir of the Prophet Muhammad, whereas Sunnis first submit to Abu Bakr and then Ali as the fourth legitimate ruler of the Muslim community.

Sufism, a mystical doctrine that aims at achieving personal union with God, has played a very important role in the Islamisation of Central Asia. Sufis were the first Muslim missionaries in the region and have influenced political affairs since the 12th century. Under the Soviet regime, Sufism preserved Islamic traditions and became very active after the revolution in Iran. In order to avoid confusion, it should be noted that some scholars classify Sufism in Uzbekistan in terms of the vertical division of unofficial Islam. Although the Sufi ishans represented unofficial Islam under the Soviet regime, they did not oppose the representatives of official Islam who co-operated with the Soviet Uzbek authorities. It is true that the Sufi orders used to function underground during the Soviet period, thus preserving Islamic traditions among the rural population of Uzbekistan; however, the Sufi brotherhoods have been recently incorporated into official Islam and the majority of them function openly today.

At present, there are two active Sufi Sunni brotherhoods in Uzbekistan: the Naqshbandiya and the Qadiriya. The Qadiriya, having a well-defined hierarchical structure, are particularly strong in the Fergana Valley, now a centre of radical Islam. The most popular Sufi fraternity in Uzbekistan, the Naqshbandiya, was founded by Muhammad ibn Muhammad Bahaudin Naqshband (1317-89) in Bukhara. Analysing its historical role in the Islamisation of the native people, Ludmila Polonskaya states that “At first, the Naqshbandiya brotherhood was urban and Iranian, but later it absorbed many traditions of Turki nomads and contributed to their Islamisation, promoting a synthesis of Iranian and Turki, farmers’ and nomads’ cultures.”

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Shahrisabz

At present, the Naqshbandiya exerts significant influence in the Fergana Valley and Bukhara. Its success can be explained by a variety of reasons. First, the Naqshbandiya is extremely adaptable to changing social and political conditions. Second, the brotherhood is linguistically accessible to everyone because it has Turkic and Persian roots. Last, the Sufi order constitutes “doctrinal liberalism” that excludes fanaticism and radicalism. Another important feature of the Naqshbandiya brotherhood is its highly decentralised structure with multiple centres under the independent religious authority.

Since the demise of the USSR, the Sufi orders have enjoyed more freedom in their religious activities. The local authorities are very careful in dealing with the Sufis. On the one hand, they realise that the popularity, influence and widespread structure of the Sufi orders can be of use in gaining popularity and propagating the official policy of the government. On the other hand, the Sufi sects’ code of secrecy and sophisticated organisational framework have the potential to mobilise Muslims and build a “political infrastructure”. Bearing these factors in mind, the government seeks to build friendly relations and place the Sufi orders within the framework of official Islam, which will provide greater control over the Sufis’ activities.

However, due to its liberalism, the Naqshbandiya has enjoyed special attention from the government. The Islamic complex at the shrine of Bahaudin Naqshband in Bukhara was refurbished, and the anniversary of Naqshband’s birthday was grandiosely celebrated in 1992. The new mufti of Uzbekistan, Mukhtarkhan Abdulayev, was the imam of the Naqshbandi mosque near Bukhara. It has been argued that he was elected for his Sufi background, which assisted in boosting Karimov’s popularity since 1992.

The vertical division breaks Islam into official and unofficial. This division, which emerged as a result of Soviet anti-Islamic policy, is more complicated than the horizontal. Official Islam is a state-instituted system, which includes Islam in the framework of society. Presently, official Islam is represented by the Spiritual Board of the Muslims of Maverannahr. In legal terms, religious groups or organisations can be registered and function officially only if they meet the requirements contained in the law On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations in Uzbekistan dating from May 1998.

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Registan, Samarkand

After independence, the ruling elite sought to maintain control over the religious establishments of official Islam by the constant monitoring of, and interference with, the religious affairs of the clergy. In response to this policy, a large number of Muslims gathered in front of the Uzbek Council of Ministers in Tashkent on 3rd February 1989. The demonstrators demanded the resignation of the Soviet-appointed Mufti, Shamsuddin Babakhanov, and the nomination of Muhammad Sadiq Muhammad Yusuf, director of the Tashkent Al-Bukhari Islamic Institute. This demonstration was less an act of fundamentalism than a political act, one through which the people demanded a voice in the decisions affecting the religious life of their communities.

A reflection of Islamic revival and the growing power of the people in the state’s policy toward Islam can be seen not only in the election of the new mufti, but also in the election of seven religious leaders as people’s deputies to the national parliament. Gradually, state policy has shifted from confrontation to co-optation as a pattern in dealing with Islam. The coalition of religious clergy and the government was exemplified in the “peace-making” efforts of the Mufti Muhammad Sadiq Muhammad Yusuf when he helped restore peace and order following ethnic turmoil in the Fergana Valley in 1989. In his public statements he emphasised that “danger to interfaith and interethnic harmony could come not from mainstream Islam, but from the splinter groups”. To prevent the radicalisation of the splinter groups, official Islam has undertaken to co-opt members of the Islamic opposition, even offering them high religious posts. Despite the coalition between state policy and mainstream Islam, the official clergy continues to challenge the ever-increasing involvement of government in religious affairs.

Some observers have claimed that such a close alliance of the official clergy and the state, reminiscent of subservience of the former to the communist government, has accelerated the growth of unofficial Islam’s popularity among the people. Expressing himself on this issue, Graham Fuller suggested that “The institutions of established Islam in Central Asia – long dominated by the communist state – do not enjoy the prestige and respect of the people as a result of their too cosy relationships with the state. Unofficial Islam or Islamic movements then inevitably fill the vacuum, gain adherence and legitimacy among the people, and can often impose powerful demands upon the state itself and threaten its legitimacy.”

It would be sensible for the Uzbek authorities to provide more freedom to the official clerical establishments to enable the latter to compete with a strong and diverse unofficial Islam. Since the number of religious and political parties has mushroomed in the political arena in Uzbekistan, the government’s legitimacy has significantly suffered. The reason for this is that the political opposition parties, being constantly harassed by the government, have tried to find unifying grounds with unofficial Islamic groups against the common enemy. Although an alliance between the national democrats and unofficial religious groups is improbable due to differences in their methods of ousting the current government, the real danger to the state is hidden in the Islamic slogans, which are expressed to achieve political objectives.

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Registan, Samarkand

Some of the active influential unofficial religious organisations in Uzbekistan are Islam and Democracy of Uzbekistan, the People’s Front of Uzbekistan, Adolat (Justice), the Islamic Democratic Party, Islam Lashkari (Army of Islam) and the Islamic Renaissance Party. The objectives of these parties can be classified into two main trends, the moderate and the radical. The moderate parties demand a return to the purity of Islam, the spiritual cleansing of the people from immorality and the preaching of the democratic principles of the Qur’an. The radical movements generally advocate the establishment of an Islamic state, but they disagree on the form of the state and the methods of achieving it. Due to the clandestine nature of unofficial Islam, it is difficult to carry out thorough research on their form, hierarchy and goals.

“People may be initially lured by the fundamentalists because of their vast funds and their message of revolution, but the beauty of Islam in Uzbekistan is that it is rooted in culture and philosophy and, above all, tolerance. This cannot be wiped out in a hurry.” Safarbai Kuchkarov, a prominent Sufi in Djizak, Uzbekistan.

Most scholars agree that Islam has become one of the major characteristics of Central Asia, but their opinions on whether Islam will take the radical or the moderate form differ. Some argue that, due to the long-term Slavic experience in the region, the people have become secular and, even though they consider themselves Muslims, do not want Islam to be involved in politics. Others believe that Islamic fundamentalism is inevitable in Uzbekistan due to a combination of political, economic and social determinants.

In accordance with Haynes’s findings, there are four types of Muslims: nominal, traditionalist, mainstream and radical. The nominal Muslim is defined as such because he is born to Muslim parents. As discussed earlier, this Muslim believes in the convergence of Islamic and national self-identity in Uzbekistan. The traditionalist is concerned with the observance of the five pillars of Islam and is not involved in political activities. The mainstream Muslims, or “Islamic liberals”, as defined by Ayubi, perceive Islam as “broad and flexible enough to be able to accommodate itself effectively to the changing requirements of time and peace”.

The official politicisation of Islam has caused several side effects. It has created strict borders between the ideology of state-sponsored Islam, followed by the majority of the nominal and the mainstream Muslims, and the fundamentalist ideology of Islam, supported by those disappointed in official Islam – Islamic reformers, traditionalist and radical Muslims. The refusal of the government to introduce Islamic education in government schools has, for example, resulted in the spread of unofficial schools. The lack of freedom to achieve their radical objectives through the ballot box has made the Muslim radicals attempt to achieve them by force. In addition, the radical Muslims have proliferated due to the vacuum created by the lack of leadership from the official Islamic hierarchy.

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Registan, Samarkand

The radical Muslims, according to Ayubi, observe the three Ds: Islam as a dunya (way of life), a din (religion) and a dawla (Islamic state). In Uzbekistan, in an attempt to achieve a dawla, the fundamentalists have divided into the moderates and the radicals. The moderates advocate a return to the purity of Islam and want people to live according to Islamic norms. One of the moderate active Islamic organisations is the Islamic Democratic Party led by Dadakhan Hassanov, a famous composer and performer of traditional Uzbek music. Set up by Uzbek intellectuals in August 1990, the Islamic Democratic Party demands the imposition of sharia with eventual transformation to an Islamic state. However, they want to fulfil their aims through a non-violent Islamic revolution in Uzbekistan. The radical parties in Uzbekistan are the Islamic Renaissance Party, Islam Lashkari and Adolat. The political objective of these parties is to establish an Islamic state through any means. These parties are most popular in the Fergana Valley and Samarkand. They were accused of extremism and have been subsequently banned.

Threatened by the civil war in Tajikistan and encouraged by Western states, the Uzbek government increased its authoritarian drive against fundamentalism. The official clergy supported the government’s campaign against Islamic fundamentalism. In one of his speeches, then-Mufti Muhammad Sadiq Muhammad Yusuf said “There were attempts to form a Muslim party. The official clergy object to it. We consider that Islam by itself is a party which has existed for over 1,400 years already.”

This state strategy was often criticised on the grounds that, instead of supporting moderate Islam and legalising Islamic parties, the rulers drove political Islam further to the wall, giving Islamic militants reason to accuse the rulers of being crypto-communists and unbelievers. Graham Fuller suggests that only tolerance of the emergence of other legitimate opposition parties will diminish the Islamic monopoly on opposition politics. Another consequence of banning Islamic parties and movements is that such authoritarian policies almost invariably strengthen the legitimacy of the fundamentalists, while at the same time adversely affecting the legitimacy of the government.

A number of factors could contribute to the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. Economic and financial instability, combined with widespread corruption and strangling bureaucratic regulations, are a source of tension. Additionally, the poverty of the majority, as opposed to the wealth of the minority of “new Uzbeks”, and the absence of a middle class, improves the odds in favour of Islamic fundamentalism. On the other hand, developments in Tajikistan and the Taliban factor have highlighted the risks of militant Islam. For instance, the Fergana Valley, with the highest level of Islamic activism in Central Asia, has the highest population density in Central Asia and one of the lowest economic standards. Recognising the explosive atmosphere in the valley, efforts to industrialise the region and raise the standard of living have been undertaken by the government. Research carried out by Polonskaya showed that Islamic fundamentalism is most popular among students, rural dwellers, young men who have recently come to the towns from the countryside, representatives of the traditionalist intelligentsia and middle or lower sections of the clergy.

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Hazrat-Hizr Mosque, Samarkand

 

There are major impediments to the radical Islamisation of Uzbekistan. The liberal Hanafi tradition of Sunni Muslims, which co-exists with a secular state, has a strong hold. The tolerant Islam of the Sufi sects is also widely adhered to, particularly in rural areas. The unwillingness of numerous ethnic minorities to join radical movements led by the ethnic majority makes it difficult for Islamists to unify the population under the Islamic banner and overcome ethnic clashes. Widespread regionalism in Uzbekistan would pose a similar impediment to mass mobilisation for jihad. High literacy levels, the continuing impact of Slavic and now Western cultural influences, the growth of a free market economy and the chaos that Tajikistan and Afghanistan have descended into under Islamic regimes will remain important factors in dissuading people from joining such movements.

Recent political developments in Uzbekistan have shown that the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, though unorganised, should not be underestimated, particularly that of a radical sect called the Wahhabis. The Wahhabi movement in Uzbekistan has been receiving sizable financial support from the Saudi Arabian movement, Ahl-e Sunnah. Wahhabism is well known for its puritanical views and because it denounces the conceptualisation of the four main schools of Sunni Islam – the Hanafi, the Maliki, the Shafi and the Hanbali. The Wahhabis consider the Qur’an and the Hadith as the only authoritative sources for the conduct of the Muslim umma’s behaviour. The Wahhabi movement is particularly strong in the Fergana Valley. According to the Russian Fpapers, which sought to analyse the Fergana riots in 1989, the Wahhabi movement is rapidly gaining strength in the Fergana Valley and enjoys considerable prestige among different strata of the population, from elite literary circles in Tashkent to teenagers in schools. The latter are especially impressed with the Wahhabis’ contempt for money, their rejection of remuneration for the religious rites they perform and their nationalist fervour.

The Wahhabis, due to their ideological and political beliefs, condemn other fundamental-ist groups like the Islamic Renaissance Party. An important Wahhabi leader said “The IRP wants to be in parliament. We have no desire to be in parliament. We want a revolution.” Moreover, they condemn Shias and other minority Muslim sects. Many scholars argue that the Wahhabi insistence on a narrow and highly sectarian view of Islam will bring them up against not only the government, but also other Islamic groups in the future.

In December 1997, the Wahhabis began using force in an attempt to establish an Islamic state in the country. The government claims that a number of Wahhabis have received military and terrorist training in Pakistan. At the beginning of December 1997, the Wahhabi sect was officially blamed for the murder of four policemen in Namangan in the Fergana Valley. A few days later in the same region, a group of masked men killed a highly placed official of the GAI (the Automotive Inspection Committee) and decapitated him. The government suspected the Wahhabis of all the December 1997 killings and sent troops from elite security units to keep peace in the Fergana Valley. In addition to the militant response to the Wahhabi threat, the Uzbek parliament enacted On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations in Uzbekistan in May 1998. The law creates extremely restrictive regulations for the registration of religious organisations, bans religious activities and education other than within official Islam and prohibits the activities of foreign missionaries in Uzbekistan.

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Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Samarkand

Abdumannob Polat, chairman of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, claimed that, following May 1998, a large number of religious leaders were arrested or fled the country. Furthermore, at least 120 people imprisoned in the Fergana Valley were jailed on what are likely fabricated charges of narcotics and weapons possession. The situation has become worse after a terrorist act on 16th February 1999 in Tashkent, which killed 16 and wounded more than a 100 people. In his speech in the parliament of Uzbekistan, Karimov highlighted two factors which caused this tragic event: “Firstly, some extremist forces beyond the borders of our country, using the sacred values of Islam, attempt to turn Uzbekistan from the path of democratic and secular development, and secondly, there are some forces that feel hostility toward our independent policy and try their best to dominate and dictate their own policies to Uzbekistan.”

Meanwhile, Karimov has introduced a strategy of development in the 14th session of the Oliy Majlis, which includes the liberalisation of political and economic life in the country, further spiritual renovation of society, the creation of a clever human resources policy, a progressive increase in material prosperity for the people, improvement in the social protection of the population and reform of the national army, frontier and internal forces to maintain peace in the country. It can be seen from this strategy that the government seeks to eliminate all possible grounds for the successful development of radical Islam in Uzbekistan.

The Naqshbandi Sufi Order: more information.

The “School of Sufi Teaching” website has the following summary of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order:

The Naqshbandi Sufi Order stems from the Silsilah Khwajagan, which originally developed in Turkestan. The best-known shaykhs of the Khwajagan were Khwajah Ahmed Yasawi (died about 1167 CE), a native of Sayram in Kazakhstan, and Khwajah Abdul al-Khaliq Ghujdawani of Bukhara (died 1179 CE). The latter was responsible for coining certain terms with technical and spiritual meanings which are still in active use within the Naqshbandi tariqah to this day. He also made the teachings of the order accessible and relevant to the people of his era.

The Naqshbandi tariqah takes its name from Khwaja Baha’uddin Naqshband Bukhari (died 1389 CE), a very prominent Sufi shaykh who continued the tradition of making the spiritual teachings and practices of Sufism more applicable to the changing times in which he lived. Khwaja Baha’uddin Naqshband was the student, and later the khalifa (successor) of Emir Kulal. However, he also received instruction from the ruhaniya (spiritual being) of Khwajah Abdul Khaliq Ghujdawani, who gave Baha’uddin Naqshband the practice of silent dhikr.

The Naqshbandi tariqah is notable in being the only Sufi tariqah which traces its lineage to Prophet Muhammad through Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, the first caliph. All other Sufi tariqahs trace their lineage through Ali ibn Abu Talib, who became the fourth caliph of Islam.

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Main entrance, Shrine of Bahaudin Naqshband
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Shrine of Bahaudin Naqshband

The website of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order in the USA has the following information:

The Naqshbandiyya Nazimiyya Sufi Order was established by Shaykh Hisham Kabbani based on the teachings of the 40th imam of the Naqshbandi Golden Chain, Shaykh Nazim Adil al-Haqqani. The mission of the Naqshbandiyya Nazimiyya Sufi Order is to spread the Sufi teachings of the brotherhood of mankind and the unity of belief in God that is present in all religions and spiritual paths. Its efforts are directed at bringing the diverse spectrum of religions and spiritual paths into harmony and concord, in recognition of mankind’s responsibility as caretaker of this fragile planet and of one another.

The most distinguished Naqshbandi Order is the way of the Companions of the Prophet and those who follow them. This way consists of continuous worship in every action, both external and internal, with complete and perfect discipline according to the sunnah of the Prophet. It consists in maintaining the highest level of conduct and leaving absolutely all innovations and all free interpretations in public customs and private behaviour. It consists in keeping awareness of the Presence of God, Almighty and Exalted, on the way to self-effacement and complete experience of the Divine Presence. It is the way of complete reflection of the highest degree of perfection. It is the way of sanctifying the self by means of the most difficult struggle, the struggle against the self. It begins where the other orders end, in the attraction of complete Divine Love, which was granted to the first friend of the Prophet, Abu Bakr as-Siddiq.

The Naqshbandi Sufi Order places itself firmly in accord with iman, the fundamental articles of faith subscribed to by mainstream Sunni Muslims, and everyone who commits without doubt to the shahadah (there is one God called Allah and Muhammad is his messenger) is deemed to be a Muslim.

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Shrine of Bahaudin Naqshband
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Shrine of Bahaudin Naqshband

Another website contains the following information:

The Naqshbandi Sufi Order, which traces its lineage back to Ali, Abu Bakr and other central figures in early Islam, derives its name from that of a 14th century Central Asian mystic named Baha al-Din al-Naqshbandi. Born in 1317 in the village of Qasr al-Arifan near Bukhara, al-Naqshbandi experienced profound visionary revelations in his youth, became a brilliant Islamic scholar before the age of twenty, made the haj to Makkah three times and became a greatly venerated holy man during his life. Visitors from across Central Asia came to Bukhara to see the sage, seek his advice and receive teachings in the school he had established. Following his death in 1389, Sheikh Baha al-Din al-Naqshbandi was buried adjacent to his school, directly upon the site of an ancient pagan temple.

Historical records from the medieval era indicate that al-Naqshbandi was revered as a saint and a protector of craftsmen and artists, and that pilgrimage to his grave was considered an adequate substitution for the haj to Makkah. Successive kings of Bukhara expanded the school and mosques surrounding al-Naqshbandi’s grave and over the centuries the complex became the largest centre of Islamic learning in Central Asia. During the Soviet period, the mosque was turned into a “museum of atheism” and pilgrims were forbidden to visit. In 1989 the shrine was reopened and the entire complex, with two mosques and a 16th century khanaka (a domed hall where the Sufis lived and studied), has been carefully restored. Lovely shaded gardens surround the shrine and the entire site radiates a palpable feeling of religious devotion and peaceful relaxation. Dressed in colourful traditional clothes and speaking a variety of languages, pilgrims from distant parts of Central Asia flock to the saint’s grave throughout the year.

The Naqshbandi Sufi Order is one of the oldest living traditional Sufi orders. The early members of the order rejected outward shows of religious expression and concentrated upon the inner spiritual life while engaged in the affairs of the world. With followers throughout Central Asia, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, the Naqshbandi Sufis, as both merchants and mystics, played a major role in the introduction of Islam across Asia. Believing that piety is better expressed by social activity than retreat from the world, the Naqshbandi masters often became actively involved in politics. By the 15th century they had become the dominant Sufi order in much of Central Asia and actively influenced politics from China and India to the Middle East. Today the Naqshbandi Sufi Order is the foremost Sufi order in the world and is experiencing an unprecedented period of growth, not only in its traditional heartlands of Central Asia, Turkey, the Middle East and South Asia, but in nations of the Western world, particularly the United States and Great Britain.

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Shrine of Bahaudin Naqshband
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Cemetery, Shrine of Bahaudin Naqshband