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Date: Sat, 2 Mar 1996 20:16:25 EST
Sender: Former Soviet Republic - Central Asia Political Discussion List <CENASIA@VM1.MCGILL.CA>
From: Nadira Artyk <100571.214@COMPUSERVE.COM>
To: Multiple recipients of list CENASIA <CENASIA@VM1.MCGILL.CA>


A dialog from CenAsia list on Wahhabism, March 1996

Sat, 2 Mar 1996 20:16:25 EST
From: Nadira Artyk <100571.214@COMPUSERVE.COM>

Last month Abidkhan, the imam of the mosque Tokhtaboy in Tashkent, was dismissed. When the religious authorities came to the mosque a week ago to announce the appointment of a new imam, Abidkhan's supporters expressed their protest. Hence, the deputy imam, Tahir Ibrahimov, was deported to Tajikistan and the mosque has been surrounded by the police. The authorities say they had to take the actions in order to halt the mosque's teaching the purist type of islam. Most likely that was "waqhabism" (I am not sure if I've spelled it correctly). For the recent months, I have come across quite a few reports from Uzbekistan about the waqhabism's rise. It seems to be gaining ground there again (I mean the rise of this direction of islam in Namangan in 1991-93), especially in Andizhan and (!) Tashkent.

Why this is happening again? Is this type of Islamic theory popular anywhere else, apart from Saudi Arabia? Does the Tashkent government have serious reasons to be afraid of this trend? Experts on Central Asian islam, any comments?

Nadira Artyk
Central Asian Service,
BBC, World Service

Date: Sun, 3 Mar 1996 17:47:38 -0500
From: William Dirks <wdirks@INDIANA.EDU>

The correct spelling of the word you want is "Wahhabi". This is a term currently applied to any fundamentalist/purist leanings in Central Asia, whether they are truly trying to copy the Saudi Wahhabis or not. Your news is a real shocker, since Abid Qari was quite a popular "oppositionist" imam; I attended several of his Jum'a prayers when in Tashkent last year, and his mosque (Tokhtabay Bachcha a.k.a. Chaqichman) was always packed, with many people coming even from the Ferghana Valley to listen to his lively and inciteful sermons. While Abid Qari's sermons focused on personal involvement in combatting unislamic practices and influences in contemporary Ozbekistan, sermons at other mosques I visited tended to be much drier and doctrinally-based. I suppose it was only a matter of time before he was silenced, given how much of a following he had gathered.

Will Dirks

Date: Sun, 3 Mar 1996 21:00:18 -0500
From: Barnett Richard Rubin <brr3@COLUMBIA.EDU>

The term "Wahhabi" should rightly apply to those following the teachings of Abdul Wahhab, the 18th century preacher whose puritanical interpretation of Islam (anti-Sufi, anti-tomb veneration, anti-Shia, Hanbali) provided legitimation for the original Saudi kingdom and does so today. "Wahhabis" themselves reject the term and call themselves Salafis (those who seek to return to original Islam). There are other sects close to Wahhabis, such as the Ahl al-Hadith.

However for over a century the term "Wahhabi" has been a general term of abuse in South and Central Asia (at least) directed against any Sunni Islamic movement that challenged the rulers of the day. It is a way of portraying such movements as foreign-inspired and contrary to the local traditions of Islam (especially Sufism). Note that Karimov has been supporting veneration of naqshbandi traditions (speaking at the shrine of al-Bukhari, appointing a shrine guardian as mufti, if I recall correctly), while calling Islamic critics "Wahhabi." This is quite typical.

Barnett Rubin

P.S. Some of the above may require correction, which I would welcome.

Date: Tue, 5 Mar 1996 04:14:48 +0100
From: tommyboy <tommyboy@XS4ALL.NL>

NB: some might find this rather long.

On March 2, Nadira Artyk wrote:

>For the recent months, I have come across quite a few reports from
>Uzbekistan about the waqhabism's rise. It seems to be gaining ground
>there again (I mean the rise of this direction of islam in Namangan
>in 1991-93), especially in Andizhan and (!) Tashkent.

>Why this is happening again? Is this type of Islamic theory popular
>anywhere else, apart from Saudi Arabia? Does the Tashkent government
>have serious reasons to be afraid of this trend?

The events in Namangan, mentioned above, followed by the oppresion of the socio-religious organisation 'Adalat' (Justice) by the Uzbekistan government, are indeed intruiging, intricated and deserves careful analysis, because it can question the very identities of people.

The Wahhabi reform movement is commonly associated with religious fundamentalism: intolerance, terrorism and scary theocratic regimes. This picture, I believe, is firmly rooted in western thought about 'the East' and is overtly articulated in massmedia, state politics and the social sciences. For now, I want to consider the following (somehow interrelated) issues:

  • The fear of Islamic fundamentalism in official state discourse is not new. In the 19th century, the European imperial powers encountered serious resistance of 'religious fanatics' throughout South and Central Asia, which was attributed to an international 'Wahhabi conspiracy' (Barnett Rubin already pointed this out). Speaking in terms like 'the rise of Wahhabism' - how unintentional it might be posed - leads directly back to this 19th century colonial discourse (conspiracy theory), of which much is adopted by modern nation-states and Western science.
  • In social science a popular theory explains the shift from local religious practices (like Sufism, saint-cults) towards a 'religion for the masses' in concepts of increased urbanisation, education and the emergence of an influential middle class. Supposedly, this last group condemns the 'superstitious' and un-Islamic rituals of the peasantry and urban illiterate. Sometimes it has lead to the destruction of Sufi tombs by the adherents of the Wahhabi school of thought. The social theory wants that the flux from an oral tradition - like Sufism is for a great deal - towards the strict obeyance of the written word (Koran) is caused by the Weberian forces of 'modernization' and 'rationalization'.

    The point here is, that this explanation is again a Western one, which marginalizes the role of local (peripheral) religious and political figures and institutions, and - even more important - it leaves out the internal debates about orthodoxy and reform. Throughout the 19th and 20th century there have been reform movements in the Islamic world, discussing issues of tradition and modernisation. It is clear from history that these movements were not necessarily all influenced by Arabic Wahhabism and strongly anti-Sufi. Some took more ideas from the Wahhabi School than others, some stayed true to the praxis of Sufism, while condemning the veneration of saints. No strict demarcation lines between these groups can be drawn; much depended on local circumstances and influences.

So called 'parallel Islam', associated with Sufism, has played an important role for the continuation of the religion during the soviet decades. It is, therefore, not unlikely that contemporary reformationist ideas about society and religion stem directly from internal debates within the central asian orders and not merely from some foreign intrusion. I simply cannot imagine that the influence of the Sufi brotherhoods declined in such a rapid pass since the break-up of the Soviet-Union. Unless nothing more is known about the leaders and followers of 'Adalat', about their motives and ideas, the old colonial theory of "Wahhabi conspiracy" still seems to give an appealing explanation for the events in the Fargana Valley.

I've also read about the influence of Saudi Muslim functionaries in Central Asia and the destruction of Sufi shrines. This information, however, has a speculative character and lacks any detail about the people involved and their motives. Therefore, I want to ask if anybody on the CENASIA list knows about the role of these Saudi-Arabian officials in the region, and if destruction of Sufi tombs really occurred. If yes: why, where and when? Is there indeed a trend within central asian religious pratices towards scripturalism and\or islamism?

Please correct me if you think that my statements above need serious adjustments. Further, let me say quickly that I certainly didn't intend to insult the intellect of anybody with my remarks about 19th century colonialism; I merely wanted to touch slightly upon some persistent ideas in national and international politics, media and science about socio-religious reform movements and the Muslim world in general. I hope more people will comment on the role of Islam in Central Asia today, and the intricated relations of religious and national identities.

Thomas Voorter