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Article

The Appropriation of Islam in the Maldives  

Boris Wille

The Maldives is one of four Muslim majority countries in South Asia. The contemporary Islamic Republic of the Maldives frames itself as a “100 percent Muslim nation.” The state religion is Islam, all 380,000 citizens are Muslims by law, and the practice of other religions is prohibited. Ever since the first Muslim exposure, probably in the 10th century, Islam has gradually evolved into a sociocultural configuration that affects most domains of archipelagic society and culture. It shapes foreign relations, informs legislation, and influences arts and architecture, as well as language and scripture. Scholarship of Islam and Islamization in the Maldives acknowledges the historical trajectories of the appropriation of Islam as well as its contemporary relevance in Maldivian identity and state politics.

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Maritime Archaeology of the Indian Ocean  

Himanshu Prabha Ray

The interface between the sea and the land and the communities that have historically traversed the Indian Ocean form the focus of this article. Maritime communities have been sustained by a variety of occupations associated with the sea, such as fishing and harvesting other marine resources, pearling, salt making, sailing, trade, shipbuilding, piracy, and more. The communities of the sea negotiate land-based issues through a variety of strategies, which are evident in the archaeological record. Fishing as an adaptation dates to the prehistoric period, and fish remains have been found in abundance at several coastal prosites dating from the 5th millennium bce. In eastern Saudi Arabia, for example, they constitute 85 percent of the total faunal inventory at some sites. A significant factor facilitating the integrative potential of these communities was their large cargo-carrying vessels, which not only facilitated transformation of the local settlements into centers of commerce and production, but also linked the local groups into regional and trans-regional networks. Underwater archaeology has contributed to an understanding of the boat-building traditions of the Indian Ocean, further supplemented by ethnographic studies of contemporary boat-building communities. Monumental architecture along the coasts served dual functions. Not only did they provide spaces for the interaction of inland routes with those across the ocean, but the structures themselves were also used as major orientation points by watercraft while approaching land. The larger issue addressed underscores the need to include coastal structures such as wharfs, forts, shrines, and archaeological sites as a part of the maritime heritage and to aid in their preservation for posterity.

Article

Jadidism, Modernity, and Islamic Communities of Imperial Russia  

Edward J. Lazzerini

A central theme in discussions focused on the evolution of intellectual history among Muslims of the Russian Empire has been that of Jadidism and its relationship to modernity. Unfortunately, many decades of historiography have not served the subject well. Even much of the most recent and serious writing has further confused what many think about Jadidism as a form of modernity with (a) its inherent opposition to classical Islamic theology and practice stemming from fundamental epistemological differences, purposes, and goals that thereby render it indifferent to Islamic reform; (b) its rejection of religion’s tethering of humankind to the “straight path” so as to control the former’s natural dark side and make humans reliant socially rather than merely personally on an invented God; (c) its further rejection of religion’s fixed canons, ostensibly the Word of God, that are made infinite through continuing human exegesis and the containment of free will; and (d) its displeasure with the dream of salvation, rather than the exercise of human will, serving as the antidote to the pointlessness and suffering of life. In total, these aspects of Jadidism place it securely within the realm of modernity.

Article

Islam in Southeast Asia to c. 1800  

R. Michael Feener

Southeast Asia has been a historical crossroads of major world civilizations for nearly two millennia. Muslim traders were sojourning along the shores of the Indonesian archipelago from at least the 8th century, and by the turn of the 14th century local Muslim communities had taken root, and the region’s first sultanate was established in northern Sumatra. Since then, Muslim communities had been established across many other parts of Southeast Asia, where in the 21st century they comprise demographic majorities in the nation-states of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei and significant minority populations in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Singapore. The Islamization of these societies, and their inclusion into an expanding constellation of Muslim societies in the medieval and early modern periods, was facilitated by intensifications of activity along the maritime trading routes linking Southeast Asia to ports on the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Swahili Coasts with those of India and China over the medieval and early modern periods. Over the course of this history, the expansion of Islam in the region was not dominantly directed from any single source but rather the result of diverse, interlaced strands of commercial and cultural circulations that connected the region to multiple points in an expanding Muslim world—adopting local traditions to produce diverse and dynamic vernacular forms of Islamic cultural expression.

Article

Religion and Migration in Rakhine  

Michael W. Charney

The historical migration and religious development in Rakhine (Arakan) up to the end of the second decade of the 21st century is complicated. This region was a crossroads for South and Southeast Asian civilizations and existed at the overlap of the frontiers of Islam and Theravada Buddhism. Existing in an ecological niche with a difficult topography and climate and a low population base, Rakhine social and state formation was built around inclusivity and tolerance. Although for much of its history the dominant religions of the population of the region were animism and then Brahmanism, successive waves of immigrants from both Bengal and Myanmar meant that Islamic and Theravada Buddhist influence was very strong. The early modern kingdom that emerged at Mrauk-U, its main political center, was built on maritime connectivity with the Indian Ocean world and developed a court culture that was both Muslim and Buddhist and ruled over a population that was religiously heterogeneous. Toleration was challenged, however, by the conquest of Rakhine by Myanmar in 1785 and efforts to eradicate local religious autonomy. Things did not improve under British rule after the British annexation of 1826. The Myanmar and British rulers of Rakhine politicized the region’s history and tried to retell the history of the region in ways that excluded some populations and included others, leading to efforts to force the Rohingya out of Rakhine from August 2017.

Article

Bengali Literature of Arakan  

Thibaut d'Hubert

Between the 16th and the 18th centuries, Middle Bengali became a major idiom of literary expression in the kingdom of Arakan. It is within the domain of this coastal kingdom, which then comprised the region of Chittagong in today’s Bangladesh, that Muslim subjects of the Buddhist kings started using the courtly vernacular that was previously cultivated by Hindu dignitaries of the Ḥusayn Shāhī sultans of Bengal. By the mid-17th century, which constituted a moment of economic prosperity and maximum territorial expansion, all genres of Middle Bengali poetry were represented in the corpus of texts written by authors living in the urban and rural areas of the kingdom. The many treatises on Muslim beliefs and meditative practices, the hagiographic literature, and the courtly romances testify to the formation of a local Islamic cultural ethos. After the Mughal conquest of Chittagong in 1666, local literacy was still cultivating standards set by authors of the Arakanese period such as Saiẏad Sultān and Ālāol. In Arakan itself, Bengali Muslim literature continued to be produced and transmitted until at least the first half of the twentieth century. A large number of manuscripts was collected in the first decades of the twentieth century and these are preserved in various institutions in Bangladesh. The Bengali literature of Arakan is characterized by its Indic religious idiom and Sanskritized poetics, but also by its complex intertextuality that reflects the region’s connections with north India and the Persianate trading networks of the Bay of Bengal. Up to the 2000s, the Bengali literature of Arakan has mostly been discussed within the framework of the national literary history of Bangladesh, but subsequently scholars have relocated this corpus within the cultural domain of the Bay of Bengal and the Islamicate literary traditions of South and Southeast Asia.

Article

Islam and the Indian Ocean: Legal Culture and Economic Life to c. 1900  

Fahad Ahmad Bishara

For historians of the Indian Ocean, the stakes in thinking about law and economic life are very high. As a key arena of world history, the Indian Ocean world has emerged as a site for reflecting on issues of connectivity and circulation, and for writing histories that cover broad spans of space and time. Many of these histories—and indeed, the pioneering works in the field—have focused on matters of trade and empire, the twin pillars of world history more broadly. Since around 2000, research has taken on different forms of migration as well as matters of ideology, culture, epidemiology, and more, but many of these discussions are still built on foundations of trade and empire: people, books, ideas, and diseases primarily circulate through networks forged via trade or through imperial channels. All of it, however, requires a rigorous engagement with questions of law, which undergirded production and trade in the region. The history of law and economic life in the Indian Ocean might be mapped onto three arenas. First, law played an important role in the politico-economic constitution of empires (Muslim or otherwise) in the Indian Ocean. Beyond that, though, one must consider the legal dynamics of trade networks within this world of empires, examining the intersecting private-order and public mechanisms that merchants drew on to regulate their commercial affairs. And finally, the histories of law, empire, and economic life all intersected in courtrooms around the Indian Ocean world, as economic actors took their disputes to different tribunals, shaping the contours of the legal history of the region.

Article

Central Asia between Empires: New Research on the 18th and 19th Centuries  

James Pickett

Central Asia’s 18th and 19th centuries marked the definitive end of the nomadic empires that characterized the region’s geopolitics for over three millennia before the advent of colonialism. Although it is open to debate which polity was the last “empire of the steppe,” a strong case can be made for the Junghar confederacy, which contested the Qing Empire of China for dominance in Eurasia in the 17th and 18th centuries—ultimately unsuccessfully. The Junghars owed their early success to a combination of new gunpowder technology and nomadic military organization, and the fragmented city-states that emerged from Nadir Shah Afshar’s empire (1736–1747)—such as Bukhara, Khiva, and Khoqand—relied even more on musketeer infantry units composed of individuals without ties to the local Turkic military elite. The emergent fiscal-military states that characterized Central Asia on the eve of colonial conquest were thus quite novel in terms of structural power dynamics, yet thoroughly Turko-Perso-Islamic in terms of symbolism, law, and patrimonialism. This period also witnessed what was in many ways the apex of Persianate high culture, building on traditions with roots stretching back to the Timurid period and earlier. Sufism in all of its forms became mainstream. Intellectual elites were polymathic, simultaneously mastering jurisprudence, poetry, medicine, occult sciences, and more. Vernacularization, particularly in literary Central Asian Turki, deepened these currents and carried them to new audiences. The new city-state dynasties competed with one another to build up educational centers to support all of these cultural forms. Many of these cultural, social, and even political forms persisted under colonialism, even as the pace of change sped up. Some of the precolonial dynasties persevered under indirect colonial rule. Sufi brotherhoods and Islamic learning expanded, only to be snuffed out or transformed in the Soviet period. Only at the very end of the 19th century did colonial modernity—in the form of large-scale cotton cultivation, new understandings of national identity, print culture, and steam-propelled transport—begin to make significant inroads.

Article

Modern Uzbekistan  

Adeeb Khalid

Uzbekistan was created in 1924 as a result of the so-called national-territorial delimitation of Soviet Central Asia. Although created in the context of the implementation of the Soviet policy of granting territorial autonomy to different nationalities in the Soviet multinational state, Uzbekistan was in many ways the embodiment of a national idea of the Central Asian intelligentsia. For the first sixty-seven years of its existence, Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union. It experienced the massive transformations unleashed by the Soviet regime in the realms of politics, society, and culture (the establishment of a command economy, collectivization, an assault on Islam, forced unveiling) that reshaped society in significant ways. Purges in the 1930s removed from the scene all actors with any experience of public life before the consolidation of Soviet power and installed new political and cultural elites in their place. The Second World War was in many ways a watershed. Participation in the war integrated Uzbekistan and its citizens into the Soviet Union. The postwar period saw increased investment in the republic and the achievement of mass education and universal literacy. The postwar era also saw the consolidation of Uzbek political elites at the helm of the republic as well as the crystallization of an Uzbek national identity, the work of the Uzbek Soviet intelligentsia. Yet, Uzbekistan’s primary duty to the Soviet economy remained that of producing as much cotton as possible. Production quotas kept on increasing (by the early 1980s, the hope was to produce 6 million tons of raw cotton annually) and the cotton monoculture meant that the Uzbek population remained primarily rural and socially conservative. A complex gender regime emerged in which women had legal equality, access to education, and high rates of participation in the labor market, but were also the guardians of national tradition. The later Soviet period also witnessed high rates of population growth that doubled the ethnic Uzbek population between 1959 and 1979. By the early 1980s, the high costs of the cotton monoculture were becoming obvious. An anti-corruption campaign directed from Moscow antagonized both the Uzbek party elite and the general population, just as Mikhail Gorbachev began the series of reforms that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. In this turbulent period, the Uzbek party elite refashioned itself as the champion of the Uzbek nation and emerged in control of the state as Uzbekistan became independent. The independent Uzbek state has sought its legitimacy by its claim to serve the interests of the Uzbek nation. It works on the basis of an Uzbek national identity that had predated the Soviet Union but had crystallized during it. Now, after independence, that identity can be articulated without the constraints placed on national expression during the Soviet period. There remain significant continuities with the Soviet period in terms of basic assumptions about politics and society, and they are the most clearly visible in the state’s fraught relationship with Islam.

Article

Russian Orientalism  

Michael Kemper

This entry discusses the manifestations of Orientalism in Russian Orientology (Oriental studies), as the broad umbrella discipline that studies Russia’s own Islamic heritage and Muslim societies. Russia’s geographical and political position between Europe and Asia has made Orientalism (and Westernism) an important issue in any debate on national identity and national interests, for both Russians and ethnic minorities in Russia. Orientalist forms of “othering” are found in the works of scholars who worked in academic institutions, in the writings of administrators, military officers, and Orthodox missionary Orientalists, and even Muslims themselves. But prominent Orientalist scholars from Russia—often with non-Russian backgrounds—have also offered the first comprehensive critiques of traditional Western Orientalism. These critiques peaked in the Soviet era, when the attack on western Oriental scholarship as a handmaiden of colonialism was the core mission of Soviet Oriental studies. Soviet Oriental studies were supposed to support the de-colonizing world abroad against western imperialism and provide scholarly legitimacy to Soviet development policies in the Muslim-populated regions of the USSR, in particular the Volga-Urals, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. In contemporary Russia, Oriental studies is still held in high esteem, and Orientalists function as experts on the politicization of Islam in the Muslim world and on religion policies at home.

Article

The Uyghurs: Making a Nation  

David Brophy

The Uyghurs comprise a Turkic-speaking and predominantly Muslim nationality of China, with communities living in the independent republics of Central Asia that date to the 19th century, and now a global diaspora. As in the case of many national histories, the consolidation of a Uyghur nation was an early 20th-century innovation, which appropriated and revived the legacy of an earlier Uyghur people in Central Asia. This imagined past was grounded in the history of a Uyghur nomadic state and its successor principalities in Gansu and the Hami-Turfan region (known to Islamic geographers as “Uyghuristan”). From the late 19th century onward, the scholarly rediscovery of a Uyghur past in Central Asia presented an attractive civilizational narrative to Muslim intellectuals across Eurasia who were interested in forms of “Turkist” racial thinking. During the First World War, Muslim émigrés from Xinjiang (Chinese Turkistan) living in Russian territory laid claim to the Uyghur legacy as part of their communal genealogy. This group of budding “Uyghurists” then took advantage of conditions created by the Russian Revolution, particularly in the 1920s, to effect a radical redefinition of the community. In the wake of 1917, Uyghurist discourse was first mobilized as a cultural rallying point for all Muslims with links to China; it was then refracted through the lens of Soviet nationalities policy and made to conform with the Stalinist template of the nation. From Soviet territory, the newly refined idea of a Uyghur nation was exported to Xinjiang through official and unofficial conduits, and in the 1930s the Uyghur identity of Xinjiang’s Muslim majority was given state recognition. Since then, Uyghur nationhood has been a pillar of Beijing’s minzu system but has also provided grounds for opposition to Beijing’s policies, which many Uyghurs feel have failed to realize the rights that should accord to them as an Uyghur nation.

Article

Glass Beads and Trade in the Western Indian Ocean  

Marilee Wood

The glass beads found at archaeological sites up and down the eastern coast of Africa between the 7th and 17th centuries ce bear witness to the trade that connected communities from all reaches of the Indian Ocean and beyond. Glass beads are small, relatively inexpensive to produce, and easy to transport as well as being colorful, often beautiful, and very durable. They were thus ideal trade items, especially when glass was a rare commodity that was produced in a limited number of places. Careful study of the glass beads traded into eastern Africa illuminate trade connections and patterns in the Western Indian Ocean that are not seen through a study of ceramics or glass vessels. In the earliest period, from the 7th to the mid-10th century, the East Coast (Kenya and Tanzania) first received beads made from a mineral soda glass from Sri Lanka (or possibly South India). The next to arrive were all made of a type of plant-ash glass that was probably produced in Iraq, but, because raw glass was widely traded, the beads were made in different places: perhaps the Persian Gulf/Iraq/Iran and even Thailand. In southern Africa in this period all beads were made of this same plant-ash glass but the beads—cut from drawn tubes—may have been finished locally. Similar beads of this glass have been found around the Old World including South and Southeast Asia, both East and West Africa, the Mediterranean, and as far north as Scandinavia—all date from the 8th into the mid-10th century. From the mid-10th to mid-13th century mineral soda beads from India were found in both the southern and northern regions of Africa’s east coast, but many of them appear to be from different areas of India and would likely have arrived by different routes. In the mid-13th to mid-15th century period, during which the gold trade out of southern Africa was at its peak, southern Africa turned away from Indian beads and accepted only ones from a region that has yet to be identified, while East Africa continued mainly with ones from South Asia. However, early in the 15th century a small number of Chinese beads appeared on the East Coast that might have arrived on ships from the fleet of the Chinese general Zheng He. The final period, the mid-15th to late 17th century, saw the two ends of the coast receiving the same beads for the first time, reflecting the growing dominance of European traders in the Indian Ocean. Although from their first arrival Europeans had attempted to trade their own beads in eastern Africa, populations there refused to accept them, forcing the outsiders to purchase beads in India, for which they were obliged to pay—often in silver.

Article

The Mughal Empire  

Michael H. Fisher

Founded in 1526, the Mughal Empire expanded during the late 16th and 17th centuries across almost the entire Indian subcontinent (except for the southern peninsular tip). At its peak, the empire contained roughly 1.24 million square miles and about 150 million people (half of western Europe in size but double its population). The imperial dynasty was originally Turco-Mongol. But, especially under Emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605), the dynasty established the Mughal Empire by incorporating Hindu and other Indian cultures and mobilizing India’s human and natural resources more effectively than any previous state there. Nonetheless, emperors almost constantly faced rebellions and revolts by rival members of the dynasty, imperial administrators, army commanders, regional rulers, and popular movements. By the early 18th century, the empire fragmented into successor states, but the dynasty remained on the throne until 1858 when the British Empire finally displaced it. Throughout, the imperial court patronized extensive histories and literature (in Persian and a range of Indian languages) and works of architecture and representational arts. The imperial administration compiled detailed records, including about the court, army, and the lands it ruled. Historians, from the time of the empire onward, have used these diverse source materials in their own analyses.

Article

Sufi Orders in 18th–19th-Century South Asia  

Moin Ahmad Nizami

For Muslims of South Asia the 18th–19th century was a period of consequential developments. With increasing colonial interventions and economic disruptions, it was also marked by movements of tajdīd (revival) in the socio-religious sphere that has influenced modernist understandings of Islam. These attempts to revive and restore a new vigor in Muslim communities were at once local and global—something that religious leaders in South Asia shared with their counterparts in other parts of the Muslim world. Among the overarching religious trends of this period may be included multiple affiliations within different Sufi orders, and a Sufi-ʿālim (Sufi-scholar) rapprochement. This enabled the coalescing of different Sufi orders and provided a religious leadership that could cater to both the educational and spiritual needs of the Muslim communities. Among the different Sufi orders of the period, the Naqshbandīs remained at the forefront of such revival efforts, with the lead provided in north India by Shāh Walīullāh (d. 1762). His attempts at an unprecedented tatbīq (reconciliation) provided the ideological underpinning for many later developments. The Naqshbandīs in Delhi produced some of the key religious thinkers and poets during the two centuries—Mīr Dard (d. 1785), Mirzā Maẓhar (d. 1781), Shāh Ghulām ʿAlī (d. 1825), and Shāh Abū Saʿīd Mujaddidī (d. 1835), among others. Their teachings and influence were not restricted to Delhi but spread quickly and made an impact in the Hijaz and elsewhere. Simultaneously, there was a revival of the two major branches of the Chishtī order—the Chishtī-Niẓāmī and the Chishtī-Ṣābrī—in different parts of the subcontinent. Over the 18th century, the revived Chishti order, with its distinctive approach toward tajdīd, spread across South Asia and contributed to the establishment of Islamic seminaries. The Chishtī-Niẓāmī branch moved from Delhi to Punjab and Deccan, while the Chishtī-Ṣābrī networks spread in the Gangetic basin and the Awadh region. Other Sufi lineages that remained popular, albeit to a lesser degree, were the Qādirī and the Shaṭṭārī, which were particularly active in the Deccan, Gujarat, and Sindh. With the Ṭarīqa-i Muḥammadia of Saiyid Aḥmad Rāe-Barelwī (d. 1830), developments in South Asia also mirrored the larger international picture of emerging activist Sufi movements of anticolonial nature (sometimes termed as “neo-Sufi”).

Article

The Persian Cosmopolis  

Richard Eaton

The Persian cosmopolis refers to the vast territory between the Balkans and Bengal in which, for 1000 years, an integrated sense of moral, social, political, and aesthetic order was informed by the circulation of normative Persian texts. Several centuries after the Arab conquest of the Iranian plateau, a spoken form of a hybridized Middle Persian and Arabic emerged in written form, using a modified Arabic script. What had begun as a regional vernacular swiftly became a transregional, literary medium as regional courts in Khurasan and Central Asia patronized Persian literature and used that language in their bureaucracies, building on a tradition of professional writers that had served Persian empires for centuries. The technology of paper-making, recently introduced from China, facilitated the rapid movement of Persian texts across space, while Firdausi’s epic poem the Shah-nama (1010) celebrated Iranian mythology and pre-Islamic history in ways that connected widely scattered peoples of different ethnicities. Territorial conquests by Persianized Turks, followed by Mongol invasions that drove peoples of Central Asia and Khurasan into new lands, also served to expand the geographical extent of the Persian cosmopolis. By the 14th and 15th centuries, the political, aesthetic, and moral order elaborated in a growing Persian canon—for example, the principle of justice—had become associated with a prestigious, cosmopolitan style that was emulated and absorbed by widely scattered peoples of diverse ethnicities and religions. Persianate architecture, attire, urban design, music, cuisine, and numismatic traditions were also assimilated by such peoples. With the translation of a rich store of romance literature into vernacular tongues, the Persian cosmopolis became as much a subjective phenomenon, inhabiting people’s collective imagination, as it was an objective, mappable zone in which popular, discursive, and normative texts circulated along networks that connected royal courts, provincial notables, Sufi lodges, merchant communities, and schools.

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Buddhist and Muslim Interactions in Asian History  

Johan Elverskog

In the popular imagination, the meeting of Buddhism and Islam is often conceptualized as one of violence; namely, Muslims destroying the Dharma. Of course, in more recent years this narrative has been problematized by the reality of Buddhist ethnic cleansing and the genocide of Muslims in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Yet, what needs to be recognized is that the meeting between Buddhists and Muslims has never simply been one of confrontation. Rather, the interaction of these two religions—which has been going on for more than one thousand years across the length and breadth of Asia (from Iran to China and Indonesia to Siberia)—has also involved much else, including artistic, cultural, economic, and intellectual exchanges.

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Khojas of Kashgar  

Alexandre Papas

The Khojas of Kashgar name a Sufi lineage, which became a ruling dynasty in eastern Turkestan or present-day Xinjiang in western China. Founded by the Samarkandi spiritual master Ahmad Kāsānī (d. 1542), a member of the Naqshbandiyya Sufi order strongly implicated in politics, the lineage divided into two competing branches, one led by Ishāq Khoja (d. 1599) and the other by Āfāq Khoja (d. 1694). Both leaders were influential at the court in Yarkand and engaged in frequent proselytizing missions among Turkic, Mongol, Tibetan, and Chinese populations. Yet, only Āfāq Khoja and his group of followers, the Āfāqiyya, with the support of Zunghar Mongols, created a kind of theocracy whose religious capital was Kashgar, and which was based on Sufi organization, practice, and ideology. Venerated as Sufi saints (īshān), the Khojas embodied a politico-religious form of Islamic sanctity (walāya) while promoting a doctrine of mystical renunciation. Paradoxically, although the regime did not survive internecine conflicts and the Qing conquest in 1759, the Khojas of Kashgar, including the Ishāqiyya sublineage, continued to be very active in the long run. They conducted insurrections throughout the Tarim basin and created short-lived enclaves until their complete neutralization in 1866 with the forced exile of the last great Khoja, Buzurg Khān Töre (d. 1869). In Xinjiang, the Khojas have remained venerated figures of the past until now, although collective memory kept a contradictory picture of them, oscillating between holy heroes and feudal oppressors. Descendants of the exiled Khojas in eastern Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan formed communities that still preserve relics and oral as well as written traditions.

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The Shifting Commercial Economy of Post-Soviet Central Asia  

Regine Spector and Aisalkyn Botoeva

Since 1991, commerce and trade in Central Asia have changed significantly. Prior to 1991, Soviet Central Asia had been incorporated into centralized production, distribution, and retail networks, and regional borders were formally closed to many outside products and exchanges. Upon independence in 1991, these integrated production, distribution, and supply chains collapsed, and the new Central Asian countries—to varying degrees—liberalized their economies and opened their borders to flows of goods and people. Domestic manufacturing and production slowed dramatically. Citizens of these countries initially turned to barter and trade of basic consumer goods as a survival strategy to feed themselves and their families in the midst of evaporating wages and disappearing jobs. While traders forged regional and global trading networks connecting local villages and cities in Central Asia with manufacturing and re-export hubs in China, India, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey, among other places, over time, the new post-Soviet elite gained ownership and control over lucrative bazaar land, cargo companies, airline agencies, and other logistics nodes. Soviet-era roads and railways initially dominated trade networks; later, airline routes and new land-based infrastructure built through intergovernment agreements and international development projects afforded new commercial possibilities. China became one of the central nodes in trade networks for consumer goods and has invested significantly into building regional infrastructure, while Russia has remained an important supplier of hydrocarbon and other commodities. Amid these changes, self-understandings of trade have shifted; for example, as Soviet-era stigmas against trade have receded, religious-based and other moralities condoning trade have ascended. While commercial activity was a significant survival strategy and served as a launch pad for other businesses in the region, trade and commerce patterns have been subject to financial crises, political upheavals, and border closures in the 1990s and 2000s, and in 2020, to a global pandemic, illuminating the precarity of reliance on trade and commerce in contexts that do not otherwise have robust state-based social support mechanisms.

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The Uyghurs in Modern China  

Rian Thum

The Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking ethnic group, most of whom live today within the People’s Republic of China. Virtually all Uyghurs are Muslims, and most are oasis farmers, small-time traders, or craftsmen. They constitute the majority population of the Tarim Basin, a region that eventually fell under Chinese rule after the Qing conquest of 1759. Although Turkic speakers predominated in the Tarim Basin for several centuries, the modern Uyghur identity was only named and formalized in the 20th century. During that period, a succession of Chinese states gradually transformed Uyghur lands from a loosely held dependency under the Qing to a closely monitored, assimilationist, settler colony in the 21st century, ruled by a Han Chinese–dominated bureaucracy. Uyghurs inherit traditions rooted in Turko-Persianate Central Asia, elaborated in the 20th century by strong influences from Soviet Central Asia and continually adapted to a political context of shifting outsider regimes punctuated by briefly successful independence movements.

Article

Pashtuns  

Robert Nichols

With an estimated thirty million or more in Pakistan, twelve million in Afghanistan, and perhaps a million or more in a global diaspora, Pashtuns or Pukhtuns comprise a complex ethno-linguistic population with a rich cultural tradition and literature, varied political and economic contexts, and diverse national and Islamic identities. Historic and literary references to communities that have been thought to identify “Afghans” date to the 10th century and, according to the source and scholar consulted, many centuries earlier. The assumption of any uniquely “Pashtun” identity as equivalent to the diverse “Afghan” cultural, religious, and ethnic identities that evolved over centuries has obfuscated a full understanding of the emergence of distinct regional Pashtun ethno-linguistic communities and the origins of frequently studied cultural idioms. Millions of Pashtuns have lived in close and daily contact with many other ethnic groups (Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Baluch, Punjabis, etc.), and color-coded maps of ethnic homelands in Afghanistan and Pakistan are best seen as guides to often complex social geographies rather than absolute markers of ethnically pure settlement areas. For perhaps a thousand years, Pashtuns and regional forefathers have circulated within imperial and merchant networks connected by Silk Road pathways, Persian and north Indian trade routes, and Indian Ocean sea lanes. Pashtuns sought livelihoods as horse traders, military entrepreneurs, agrarian pioneers, and regional rulers in the northern, eastern, and Deccan regions of India. An Afghan state with variable territorial claims consolidated after 1747. Leading Pashtun clans from around Kandahar and the eastern districts took positions in the dynasties that soon ruled from Kabul and core provinces. Pashtuns between the Oxus and Indus rivers adapted to, avoided, and served 18th- and 19th-century Russian and British imperial economic and political forces. In the high European “new imperialism” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Afghan territories were framed by treaty-negotiated boundaries. Never colonized, Afghanistan became economically dependent on British–India subsidies and linkages. Into the mid-20th century, Afghanistan’s Pashtun political dynasties and Islamic and political activists on both sides of the British-Indian Durand Line offered leadership and alternative visions of the future to anticolonial and Muslim nationalists, including those in British India. In recent decades, core Pashtun homelands and diasporic communities have fully experienced the disruptions and violence that followed the partition of British India in 1947, postcolonial “national” consolidation, conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, Cold War alliances and conflict, the rise and fall of the Taliban, and civil war. Like others, Pashtun lives were shaped by the transnational dynamics of economic globalization, urbanization, migration, and the international crises that traumatized the world after September 11, 2001.