Traditional and Modern ReligiousTheological Schools in Central Asia

Ashirbek Muminov


Ashirbek MUMINOV is Professor at the Institute of Oriental Studies, Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan.


With its ancient cultural and religious traditions dating from the 8th century, Central Asia gradually turned into a region of one religion Islam. The Sunni branch of Islam became firmly established there, although, to make the picture complete, it should be mentioned that there are communities of Ismaili Shiites in Badakhshan and immigrant Imamites from Iran in Samarkand. By the time of the Mongolian invasion, the Hanafites, one of the four Sunni schools of religious law, became dominant in most regions of Central Asia. The provisions of the Hanafites (Madhhab Hanafiyyah) covered a long road of evolution and played a big role in the shaping of the Central Asian form of Islam. Alongside the traits common to the other regions of the Muslim world, the Hanafite school has its specifics in Central Asia.

The Hanafite School of Religious Law (Madhhab Hanafiyyah)

Factors behind the spread of the Hanafite school in Central Asia. The foundations for the spread of the theologian Imam Abu Hanifas teachings (Abu Hanifa, 699767) and their becoming firmly established in eastern Khurasan and Mawaraunnahr (the historic Ma wara an-nahr, which literally means what lies across the river, that is, the Amu Darya the name used by Muslim geographers and theologians for Central Asia) were laid by the Murjiites. The Murjiah centrist religiouspolitical movement came into being during the first civil war (656661) and advocated reconciliation between the conflicting parties Ali ibn Abi Talib (656661) and the Umayyads (661750). However, the teaching of the Murjiites later became transformed and in the early part of the 7th century, in the eastern part of the Arab Caliphate, came to identify itself with the struggle for equality with the Arab Muslims and for more rights for rulers of the local dynasties. The Murjiah ideas met with support from some of the Arabs and no doubt from the majority of the local population.

Following the defeat and death of the head of the Murjiah movement, al-Harith ibn Surayj (734746), the Murjiah theologian of al-Kufa, Abu Hanifa, became the spiritual leader of this movement in the east of the Caliphate.1 This paved the way for the spread and facilitated the firm establishment in the late 8th and early 9th centuries of Abu Hanifas teachings in the cities of Khurasan and Mawaraunnahr Nishapur, Marw, Balkh, Nasaf, Bukhara, and Samarkand.

A brief history of the Hanafite school in Mawaraunnahr. The Hanafiyyah school that took shape mainly in Mawaraunnahrs cities, especially Bukhara and Samarkand, went through three stages of development:

1.The formative period (9th and 10th centuries), when local Hanafiyyah schools took shape and developed in Nasaf, Samarkand and Bukhara in Mawaraunnahr, the eastern part of the Caliphate including Khurasan.

2.The golden age (early 11th century to the 13th century) when Hanafiyyah faqihs (Muslim jurists) in Qarakhanid Mawaraunnahr separated from the rest of the Muslim world and developed and codified the provisions of Abu Hanifas madhhab using local material.

3.A period of gradual decline (early 13th to 14th century) when, as a result of the destruction of urban centres, the creative activities of jurists discontinued. However, the influence of the school spills over into the internal regions of Central Asia and the neighbouring countries India, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor, the Crimea, the Golden Horde. Mawaraunnahrs cities become major centres of instruction in Hanafiyyah law, where budding theologians flocked from all the regions where this madhhab has currency to compile compendiums, textbooks and manuals on Hanafiyyah law.2

Characteristics of the Hanafites in Central Asia

Fiqh norms. These finally took shape in the late 8th and early 9th century and found their reflection in six books of Abu Hanifas pupil Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani (d. 805) al-Mabsud, al-Jami' as-saghir, al-Jami' al-kabir, az-Ziyadat, as-Sayar al-kabir and as-Sayar as-saghir. According to specialists, they contain between 60000 and 80000 separate subjects. They cover the areas of moral and ritual precepts (prayer, fast, zakat, Mecca pilgrimage), and relationships between people (selling and buying, renting, marriage, divorce, distribution of inheritance, freeing of slaves, etc.). The Hanafiyyah madhhab introduced and postulated things that were totally new for the religious affairs of Central Asia at the same time as it encompassed a considerable part of religious experience of the preceding periods; this body of experience, as understood by the local (mainly urban) population, was and still is sacred.

As a result of the Mawaraunnahr faqifs activities during the second period, many ideas of law, customs and traditions of Central Asian peoples became incorporated in Islam. Mujtahids (jurists entitled to pass decisions on new questions, those not discussed earlier) emerged during this era.3

The secular and spiritual in Hanafite practices. Despite the formal recognition of the authoritys theocratic character, the spheres of

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