Qozha Imam Faizulla, Bureaucracy, and Coal Stoves: A Case Study of Late Soviet Islam in Kazakhstan

In: Journal of Central Asian History
Ulan Bigozhin Nazarbayev University Astana

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Family identity and honor were important priorities for Central Asian Muslims in the Soviet era. This ethnographic case study explores how sacred family identity affected the educational and career choices of Faizulla, an imam in northern Kazakhstan whose career started in the late Soviet era and stretched into the 2000s. Faizulla was a Qozha: a person descended from Islamically significant figures, such as the Prophet Muhammad or Sufi masters. Qozhas expect respect from Kazakhs, but this comes with expectations that Qozhas and their children should maintain standards of piety and Islamic learning. We show how in the late Soviet period Faizulla attempted to live with the demands of Qozha identity, and how he navigated Soviet bureaucracies to meet these demands. It transpires that Faizulla did not frame himself in Soviet national terms, and nor did he identify himself fully as Uzbek or Kazakh; rather, he employed a shifting repertoire of identity roles in the process of dealing with the Soviet authorities.

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