Foreign Policy Blogs

Book Review: Adeeb Khalid – Islam after Communism

kahAdeeb Khalid, a professor of history at Carleton College and Central Asian expert, wrote ‘Islam after Communism‘ in an attempt to educate those who view Central Asian Muslims through the prism of Muslims in the Middle East, in effect, ignoring their own history and societal changes and make up. Khalid effectively hammers down the point that history, society, culture, domestic governments, and geography matter in the make-up of a people and region. Here is Khalid stating the integral aspect of history for CA:

“History, we find, is not irrelevant to explaining the political behavior of Muslims. Indeed, it is the very explanation. And if history matters, then we need to pay attention to the concrete historical experiences of real Muslim societies. The Muslim societies of Central Asia experienced the twentieth century in a radically different way than Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan did, and any attempt to understand Islam has to take into account the experience.”

Found in this passage and an obviously crucial part of this book, is that a central factor in the current state of the citizens of Central Asia and of Islam in the region was the decades-long occupation of the region by the Soviet Union. In a smooth, consistent manner, Khalid provides the reader with some pre-Soviet CA history, moves through several Soviet periods of CA domination (Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev), and ends detailing the current appalling authoritative state of the CA states, which he argues are a direct legacy of the Soviet domination. The book focuses strongly on Uzbekistan, with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan coming second tier, and Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan receiving the least attention.

Khalid goes into great detail how the Soviet Union influenced Islam in the region and how this still, of course!, impacts the region today. He argues that the authority of Islam, along with those who carry its message, in Central Asia are weaker than in
the Middle East. After all, to Khalid, Islam is like all other religions and cultural elements in that it is effected by historical circumstances. In this regard, we should not look at post-Soviet Central Asia as just another place where Muslims are dominate.

Khalid’s greatest example of this valid argument is the nature of the Uzbekistan and other CA state’s repressive governments. In the concluding chapters, Khalid effectively (though with one serious flaw) demonstrates how former Soviet Party members changed over night to ‘national leaders’ as these CA states gained independence from the Soviet Union in the early 90s. Khalid details how these new found ‘Presidents’ (Karimov, Naziyov, Akayev, Nazarbayev, Rahmon) in many ways were even harsher on the practicing and promoting of Islam in the lives of its citizens. He pretty much totally refutes the claim that uprisings against the CA states are just ‘Islamists’ on the prowl, and instead details social, economic, and political reasons for such protests. He instead puts emphasis on the CA state leaders, especially Uzbek’s Islam Karimov’s, use of the Islamist threat as an excuse to further clamp down on dissent and provide the state with greater control over all aspects of its citizen’s life.


Islamic Jihad members

This last point and the dictatorial rule and suppression of religious rights cannot be argued, but I’m afraid in his rejection of nearly any type of Islamist influence, Khalid is underplaying a small, yet important aspect of Islam in Central Asia. In his analysis of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir, he comes off as a near apologist for their racist and fascists beliefs and actions. His main point was that these groups are not the main problem, that their oppressive governments are, but is their anti-semitic and anti-American verbal and written pronouncements and propaganda, and in the case of the IMU, terrorist actions, not worth outright condemnation? You will not find that in this book. Though the CA state leaders may indeed inflate these groups’ ability to cause instability for their own evil purposes, a scholar like Khalid should not allow them to go without major criticism as though they may be small, they represent CA Islam in a poor fashion.

Beyond that one important criticism, Khalid’s ‘Islam after Communism’ is a deeply useful and informative work and deserves all serious student’s of Central Asia and Islam’s attention. Here is another review from CA expert David Reeves. If you have read the book, please tell us your thoughts in the Comments.



Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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