The Dynamics of Islam and Modernity in Tajikistan: Contemporary Ismaili Discourse
Dildorbekova, Zamira Imatovna
Date: 24 April 2014
University of Exeter
PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies
This thesis examines the contemporary religious renewal and discourse on modernity of the Shi‘a Imami Ismaili Muslims of Nizari branch (hereinafter Ismaili) in post-Soviet Tajikistan. These developments are set against their reunion with the worldwide spiritual leader, the Aga Khan IV, and their convergence with the transnational (or ...
This thesis examines the contemporary religious renewal and discourse on modernity of the Shi‘a Imami Ismaili Muslims of Nizari branch (hereinafter Ismaili) in post-Soviet Tajikistan. These developments are set against their reunion with the worldwide spiritual leader, the Aga Khan IV, and their convergence with the transnational (or global) Ismailis, following seven decades of Soviet isolation. The subject of ‘religious renewal’ among Ismailis of Tajikistan remains barely explored both in post-Soviet and Western academia. It is situated against the backdrop of rapidly expanding body of scholarly analysis on Central Asian Islam, which until recently was framed predominantly through securitisation discourses. These discourses provided a distorted picture of the nature of Islam in post-Soviet Central Asia. While not negating the relevancy of the aforementioned securitisation discourses, this thesis challenges their portrayal of both ‘international Islam’ and Islam in Central Asia as monolithic entities. It also questions how the former is being perceived as anti-Western, and therefore anti-modern, and the latter as a passive receiver. Drawing on the notions of ‘multiple modernities’ (Eisenstadt 2000) and ‘discursive tradition’ (Asad 1986), this thesis emphasises the multiplicity, diverse trajectories and distinct patterns of Islamic discourses on modernity not just among, but within each Central Asian state. It provides a better understanding of the complex and constantly evolving nature of Islam in Central Asia and its dynamics with modernity. Moreover, the research findings contribute to the understanding of modernity and secularisation, and indeed westernisation, as not identical in Central Asia. They highlight that dynamics between Islam and modernity are inclusionary, which interact, cross-fertilise and transform one another critically and creatively, rather than through a dichotomous relationship between the traditional and the modern, Islamic and secular (and/or Western). This work builds its analysis on local archives, reports, oral memories and multiple interviews with various stakeholders from within the Ismaili community and outside, in Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan and beyond. It depicts how contemporary readings of modernity within Ismailism in Tajikistan and its discourses derive extensively from the religious and temporal guidance of the Aga Khan that are entrenched in Ismaili doctrines and values of Islam. It also portrays how these discourses are then informed, altered and recreated acutely by various dynamics both within the faith and without, including the historical past and growing globalisation. As a result, this paper came to argue that these dynamics [within and without] are contested widely among the local Ismailis. They instigate systematic and indigenous approaches and answers that go beyond the ‘traditional’ discourses on Islam and modernity, and, nevertheless, accentuate the continuity of the Ismaili tradition.
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