We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Turkmenistan - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."
:
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result

Turkmenistan

By:
David Nissman, William A. Wood
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Turkmenistan

The Turkmen tribes that converted to Islam during the period of the Seljuks have remained Sunnī Muslims, though many of their religious practices are strongly influenced by tribal and regional elements, which in turn reflect remnants of pre-Islamic beliefs. These elements—cults associated with holy places (mukaddes yerleri) and Ṣūfī saints (pirs), are characteristic of Turkmen Islam and inseparable from it. The Muslim reform movement that surfaced in Bukhara and other parts of the Ferghana Valley at the end of the nineteenth century wrought no changes in Turkmen Islam; nor, apparently, did the determined anti-Muslim efforts of more than seventy years of Soviet rule.

In the nineteenth century the eastern region of present-day Turkmenistan was nominally subject to the Emirate of Bukhara; thus Turkmen Islamic institutions, especially the sharīʿah courts, were also under the administration of the qazi-kalon, who controlled all such courts in the emirate. In Bukhara's western vilayets (provincial administrations), including those regions of Turkmenistan under Bukhara's control, the highest religious authority was the qazi, who was subordinate to the shaykh al-Islām; the latter was second only to the qazi-kalon. On the local level, prayers and other functions were under the supervision of the mullah. In actuality, the lines of authority were not that clear: the Turkmens had, and have retained, a strong tribal–regional tradition, and the tribal structure and the Muslim structure on the local level had often coalesced. It is very common to find religious functionaries, such as the mujavurs (grave guardians), who are responsible for the maintenance of shrines specific to one or another tribe.

In addition to Bukhara's formalistic Islamic administration, Muslim Ṣūfī movements also carried authority. It was not uncommon for actual decision-making to be in the hands of Muslim religious orders such as the Yasawīyah and its offshoot the Khojagon, the Naqshbandīyah, or, further to the north, the Kubrawīyah. The Ṣūfī communities were under the control of an ishan, and their members are called murids. At present, the Naqshbandīyah is reportedly the most widespread in Turkmenistan; its practitioners are referred to colloquially as kalenders.

The Russian conquest of the Turkmens at Göktepe in 1880–1881 had no impact on Muslim practices in Turkmenistan. It was not until the imposition of Soviet authority in the mid-1920s that Turkmen Islam began to be affected. Soviet policy was then directed at separating church and state, nationalizing waqf holdings, and breaking Islam's financial power. The increasing effectiveness of Soviet atheistic and anti-Islamic propaganda also took a heavy toll; a seeming coup de grâce was administered during the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s, when almost the entire Muslim clergy was liquidated.

Until 1943–1944, Soviet Islam was nominally under the administrative and financial control of the Central Muslim Spiritual Administration in Ufa. In 1944, however, its functions were divided among four newly created spiritual administrations. Official Islam in Turkmenistan then became subject to the Spiritual Administration for Muslims of Central Asia, based in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Subordinate to the Spiritual Administration was a council responsible for all administrative matters concerning official Islam. In addition, Religious Affairs Councils were established in each republic; these oversaw the adherence of all religious organs to party and state policy. In 1965 a Council of Religious Affairs was formed under the aegis of the USSR Council of Ministers. It had the same functions as the councils in the republics. One consequence of Soviet control over Islam was that by 1985 there were only four official mosques in all of Turkmenistan.

Muslim life in Turkmenistan, however, had little contact with official Soviet Islam; it was centered on the tombs of Ṣūfī saints, Muslim graveyards, and holy places. An unofficial Muslim clergyman was referred to as a mollasumak, a derogatory term meaning “pseudomullah.” Many of them were itinerant, traveling from village to village and from shrine to shrine. Muslim pirs, or saints, often had a number of shrines devoted to them. Among the active shrines are those dedicated to Agishan (sometimes called Zengi Baba), reputedly an ancestor of a clan of the Tekke federation; one is marked by a grave in Archman village in Krasnovodsk oblast and in Goymat village, near Göktepe, where Zengi Baba is identified with the Bekdash clan of the Yomut tribal federation. Other shrines to Zengi Baba include a fortress near Sarygamysh and a number of medieval mausoleums in Bakherden Rayon, as well as shrines in Kopetdag and Bekdash. As a remnant of pre-Islamic tradition, Zengi Baba is also known as the patron saint of cattle. Other examples of the eclectic nature of the Turkmen shrines are those dedicated to Babagammar (sometimes Gammarbaba), including one near Kopetdag and another near Yolöten. According to folk tradition, Babagammar is also considered to be the pir of the saz and dutar (traditional musical instruments), probably because of the presence at the shrines, in the present or past, of a sacred tree, the wood of which was used in making the instruments. Other notable shrines and pilgrimage points at the present time include shrines surrounding the graves of Chopanata, Garababa, Gözlibaba, and Saragtbaba. As in the case of Zengibaba and Gammarbaba, these pirs often have multiple places said to be their burial sties.

After the Iranian Revolution the anti-Muslim campaign conducted by the Soviet authorities became more rigorous (though no more effective) than in the past. Since the Soviet Constitution guaranteed freedom of conscience, sanctions were generally applied, primarily to alleged members of the Ṣūfī hierarchies: murids, dervishes, kalenders, walis, pirs, and ishans. Soviet authorities, to avoid giving the impression that they were acting against Islam itself, punished these individuals for crimes unrelated to Islam, such as parasitism, drunkenness, and wife-beating. After 1981mollasumaks and Ṣūfīs were sentenced to corrective labor in a camp established for that purpose near Neftezavodsk.

In the late 1980s the official attitude regarding all forms of religious belief in the U.S.S.R. changed. Greater freedom of religious expression was permitted, and mosque construction or rehabilitation resumed. By June 1991 more than seventy mosques had opened in Turkmenistan. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and thus the collapse of Soviet institutions such as the Spiritual Administrations, Hajji Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, who had originally been appointed kazi-imam of Turkmenistan by the Spiritual Administration for Muslims of Central Asia in Tashkent, registered the Kaziate Administration of the Muslims of Turkmenistan with the Turkmen Ministry of Justice on on June 1, 1992, and became the country's Chief Muftī.

The years since independence for Turkmenistan have been dominated by the eccentric personality of the country's first president and tyrannical ruler, Saparmurat Niyazov “Turkmenbashy” (d. 2006). On the one hand, Niyazov from the outset embraced the Muslim heritage of the Turkmens, granting legal recognition and status to Sunnī Islam, providing state funding for mosques (allowing approximately 400 to operate by 2007), and personally taking part in the ʿumrah (lesser pilgrimage) to Mecca in 1992. On the other hand, he maintained strict, Soviet-style, state control over all religious activity through the government-appointed Council on Religious Affairs. Matters became more complicated after 2000 when Niyazov published the first of two volumes of his quasireligious text known as the Ruhnama (Book of the Spirit), and especially when he implied that this book had divine origin and should be featured prominently in mosques. When Hajji Nasrullah resisted this dictate, he was removed and, after a secret trial in March 2004, sentenced to 22 years in prison for treason (he was granted amnesty in August 2007). Since Niyazov's death in December 2006, his successor, Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov, has hinted at more tolerance of Islam (and other faiths), but it is still too early to tell if there will be any substantive changes in the country in the near future.

Bibliography

  • Edgar, Adrienne Lynn. Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan. Princeton, n.j., 2004.
  • Khalid, Adeeb. Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia. Berkeley, Calif., 2007.
  • Nissman, David. “Iran and Soviet Islam.”Central Asian Survey2, no. 4 (1983): 45–60.
  • Ro’i, Yaacov. Islam in the Soviet Union: From the Second World War to Gorbachev. New York, 2000.
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2021. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice