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How “Muslim” are Central Asian Muslims? A Historical and Comparative Enquiry Open Access

The article analyzes the social, political, and symbolic functions of Islam in contemporary Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. Over many centuries, Central Asians developed a particular form of Islam based on a productive and fluid synergy among Islam per se, their tribal legal and customary norms, and Tengrian and Zoroastrian beliefs and practices. It is characterized by a high level of doctrinal and functional adaptability to shifting political and cultural environments, the prevalence of mystical Islam (Sufism) and oral, rather than book-based, Islamic tradition. These qualities have defined distinctive Islamic trajectories in post-Soviet Central Asia, which differ significantly from those in other Muslim-majority countries and in Muslim communities in the West. At the same time, the common Eurasian space and lengthy shared political history of Central Asians and other peoples of Muslim Eurasia are also reflected in the considerable similarities in their Islamic trajectories.

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