Tag Archives: Irene Hilgers

Book review #1 – Why do Uzbeks have to be Muslims? – Irene Hilgers

Today I want to start with a new section on my blog. I had the idea to  review some books, which I really enjoyed reading and which brought me a lot of new knowledge.

My first review will be about Irene Hilger book “Why do Uzbeks have to be Muslims? Exploring religiosity in the Ferghana Valley”. I came across this book when I rummaged through a catalog. The Ferghana Valley is known as a hotspot for islamist movements in Central Asia and it was here that the predecessors of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (e.g. Adolat) have been founded. They started as small groups of young martial art fighters with an islamic background to maintain the social order, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Vitaly V. Naumkin called those members in islamist organizations, who were wrestlers, boxers, special forces officers and so on “specialists in violence” (Naumkin 2003 p. 12). But all those islamist organizations share a common origin in the popular Islam of Central Asia. The Islam in Central Asia is following the Hanafi school of law and is close to sufism. It also absorbed some nomadic traitions.

In her book Irene Hilgers points out that to be a “good” Uzbek one also has to be  muslim. Even though Uzbekistan is a secular state. In Uzbek its named “musulmonchilik” (“Muslimness”). Muslimness refers to the religous heritage and ritual practices transfered by one’s forefathers. The uzbek govermant uses the islamic history for legitimating the Uzbek nation-state. But it should be noted that they use a localized/nationalized Islam.

After the Societ Union invaded and conquered Central Asia, their anti-religion policies weakend the religiouse institutions. But they were not able to erase religiouse practices completley. In a campaign the Soviets launched in 1927 they targeted all traditional symbols deemed to opress women. With the collapse of the Soviet Union the Central Asian republics experienced a shift from communism towards Islam.

Islam Karimov the president of Uzbekistan claims that certain militant groups e.g. the IMU are undermining the synthesis of the Uzbek nation and Islam. In Uzbekistan it became common to call those groups “Wahhabi” although they are not associated with the wahhabi branch of Islam, which is praticed in Saudi Arabia.

“Islam occupies a special position […]. First, it is a ‘social glue’ that binds together the Turkic-speaking people who live who live in this territory […]. Secon, Islam is also a signifcant ‘other’, a force that can threaten the stability an peace of Uzbek society.”

At the end of the 1980th Muslim missionaries came into the Ferghana valley and started to propagate a very strict from of Islam. This was seen by some as incompatible with the Uzbek Islam and so they called those missionaries “ekstremistlar” (extremists). The Wahhabi current was seen as an external threat. It was described as a new, foreign, politicied form of Islam, which competed with the “good local Islam”.

The two uzbek muslim scholars Muhammadjan Hindustani and Hakimjon qori represent this struggle. Hilgers assumes that the term Wahhabi was first used by Hindustani in the 1970th to lable those of his students who advocated a more political Islam. His students were politicized through the writings of Maududi and Qutb. But only because of the goverment propaganda, which started in 1992, the term Wahhabi became known to a wider public.

But most Islamist reformist in Uzbekistan promoted an orthopraxy that differd from the saudi wahhabi Islam. So Wahhabi became a blanket term for the “Islamic other”.

In ther early 1990th especially the teachings of Rahmatullah-alloma and Abduhvali qori became popular. Both combined a puritanical religiosity with a more politicized Islam. That came along with the increasing numbers of new militant Islamic organisations (e.g. Adolat, Islom Lashkarlari, Tavba and so on). Adolat, which is the predecessor of the IMU became popular in the city of Namangan, due to reducing the crime rate. After that it spread through the hole Ferghana Valley. In the second half of the 1990th most radical Islamist movements were forced underground or were driven out of the country. So in 1998 militant groups and former members of Adolat joined around Juma Namangani and Taher Yuldashev to form the IMU. The goverments repressive meassures affected the Ferghana Valley harder than any other area in Uzbekistan.

Currently Uzbekistan is experiencing an revival of “muslimness” and Islam in general. But Hilgers explains that it is not just a re-Islamization”. For her it is an re-evaluation of what it means to be a Muslim and an Uzbek.


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