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  • Print publication year: 1997
  • Online publication date: December 2009

15 - Between tradition and modernity: the dilemma facing contemporary Central Asian women



By the end of the nineteenth century a huge part of Asia had been brought under Russian rule – in terms of surface area, a territory far larger than that encompassed by modern India. The indigenous population was almost entirely Muslim, of the Sunni sect. In the north (approximately equivalent to the territory of present-day Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) and the south-west (present-day Turkmenistan), the local peoples followed a nomadic or semi-nomadic way of life. Religion here tended to be syncretic, only superficially Islamicised. In the oasis-river belt of Transoxiana (present-day Uzbekistan and western Tadzhikistan), there was an ancient urban culture. The cities in this region had long been famous as centres of Muslim scholarship. There were hundreds of madrassah (religious colleges) and thousands of (male) students of Islamic law. The focal point of the social as well as the religious life of the community was the mosque, at least one of which was to be found in every hamlet or town ward. Folk traditions and customs were inextricably intermingled with Islamic practices. At the popular level these were reinforced by the authority and prestige of representatives of the mystic orders – Sufi adepts, wandering dervishes (kalendar) and local holy men (ishan) – who were frequently credited with possessing supernatural powers of healing and soothsaying.

Under Soviet rule, Central Asia underwent an intensive process of modernisation. In effect, the region was wrenched out of Asia and thrust into Europe.

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Post-Soviet Women
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