Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Newly Expanded Book Details Babakhan Muslim Dynasty in Soviet Times

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 15 – Representatives of three generations of the Babakhan family, Ishan Babakhan (1858-1957), Ziyauddinkhan Babakhan (1908-1982), and Shamsuddinkhan Babakhan (1937-2003) who led the Central Asian Muslim community from the 1940s through the 1980s are the subjects of a newly expanded Uzbek book.

            Ten years ago, Amirsaidkhan Usmanhodzhayev published a book entitled Selfless Fighters for the Faith (in Uzbek; Tashkent: 2011) about them. Now, drawing on newly opened archives and interviews, he has produced a radically expanded second edition, Devotees of Our Religion (in Uzbek; Tashkent, 2021) (

            The first edition quickly became “a bibliographic rarity,” publishers say; but the second likely will not. It enjoys the backing of the Uzbek government which views it as a major contribution to the development of Uzbek identity and plans to publish it in Arabic, English and other languages.

            The Babakhans were significant in many ways. First, they were a rare case in which religious leaders from one generation transferred their powers and authorities to another. Second, they represented a link between pre-Soviet Central Asian Islam and its Sufi trends and Soviet-era traditional Islam which Moscow sought to use to spread its influence abroad.

            And third, and perhaps most important, while they were criticized for the often-slavish deference to Moscow and the third of them was pushed out because of that at the end of Soviet times, they helped keep the Islamic establishment alive and, within Soviet limits, achieved some remarkable successes.

            The most notable of these likely was the creation and maintenance of the quarterly publication, Muslims of the Soviet East. Moscow supported it because the Soviets could point to this as an example of religious freedom in the USSR. But the Babakhans used it to promote Muslim ideas at a time when there were few other avenues to do so.

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