In Muharram ah 617/March 1220 ce Chinggis Khan led his armies to Bukhara as part of a larger campaign against the Khwārazmshāh Empire (616–621/1220–1225). The city quickly surrendered and was rapidly integrated into the growing Mongol Empire. In the subsequent decades, Bukhara enjoyed a speedy recovery under the stewardship of a series of Mongol officials, who patronized religious institutions, repaired the damage caused by the invasion, and mitigated some of the excesses of the Mongol armies stationed in Transoxania. Yet this revival was stunted in the second half of the 13th century when the Mongol Empire was divided by war. During this period different factions contested control of Transoxania, and Bukhara became the target of periodic raids and attacks. A full rehabilitation of the city had to wait until after 716/1317–1318, when alliances between the Mongol military elites and the popular religious leaders of Bukhara facilitated a new period of stability that would last until the fall of the last effective khan, Qazān Sultan, in 746/1346. Bukhara’s status as an intellectual, economic, and political capital of Transoxania was diminished during the period of Mongol rule. Samarqand was designated as the administrative capital of Transoxania for much of this period, and the presence of Mongol forces in Nakhshab saw Bukhara subordinated to the itinerate court of the Chaghadaid-Mongol princes. Nevertheless, the city continued to be seen as an important center of religious scholarship, and its prestige was boosted by the fact that it served as the base for two of the leading Sufi movements of its time, the Kubrawiyya and the Naqshbandiyya.
Bukhara under the Mongols
The Medieval Khwājagān and the Early Naqshbandīyya
Ali Gibran Siddiqui
The Khwājagān (lit. “Masters”) were a constellation of Ṣūfīs in 13th- to 16th-century Mawara an-Nahr and Khurasan. The Naqshbandīyya were Ṣūfīs from among the Khwājagān who followed the teachings of their shaykh, or Ṣūfī master, Khwāja Bahāʾ ad-Dīn Naqshband (1318–1389). Given the eventual emergence of a more centrally organized Naqshbandī order among the otherwise unorganized Khwājagānī tradition by the mid-15th century, later Naqshbandī hagiographers have retroactively combined the development of both traditions under a single linear narrative. While such hagiographies from the 16th century onward portray the Khwājagān as a monolithic group, united in beliefs and rituals, and tracing its silsila (lit. “chain”) or spiritual lineage back to the first caliph Abū Bakr (r. 632–634), there is little evidence from the 13th and 14th centuries to buttress these claims. A study of earlier sources from this time period instead suggests that there was considerable variation among the attitudes and beliefs espoused by individual Khwājagānī Ṣūfī masters and that a loosely defined common identity among the Khwājagān grew out of aversion to the practices of more established Ṣūfī traditions that included ascribing particular importance to spiritual lineages and public displays of devotion. Thus, this Khwājagānī current spread across Central Asia in the form of local Ṣūfī communities, which sought to challenge traditional understandings of Sufism. Part of the Khwājagānī aversion to ostentatious modes of worship by more traditional forms of Sufism led to an increased preference for silent forms of dhikr (lit. remembrance) or the ritualistic recitation of sacred names and phrases, as opposed to more vocal and public forms. By the 15th century, this proclivity toward silent dhikr had become a hallmark of the Khwājagānī-Naqshbandī tradition. The term Khwājagān is the plural of the Persian word khwāja, which literally means “master” and often reserved for persons of distinction. As an honorific term, originally reserved as a title of prestige for prominent members of Persianate societies, Ṣūfī murīds or disciples used the title “khwāja” to refer to their masters or teachers with respect. In Naqshbandī sources written from the 16th century onward, hagiographers such as ʿAlī b. Ḥusayn Kāshifī Ṣafī have consistently referred to all members of the Khwājagānī and the Naqshbandī tradition by the epithet “khwāja.” Consequently, these Naqshbandī hagiographers have used the term Silsila-ye Khwājagān or the Chain of the Khwājas to refer to both the Naqshbandī silsila and its predecessors among the Ṣūfī masters of 12th-, 13th-, and 14th-century Central Asia.
Bengali Literature of Arakan
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.
Central Asia between Empires: New Research on the 18th and 19th Centuries
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.
The Persian Cosmopolis
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.
Khojas of Kashgar
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.