The fundamental fact about the religious landscape in post-Soviet Uzbekistan (and in post-Soviet Muslim societies in general) is the lasting impact of the Soviet legacy. The anti-religious campaigns of 1927–1941 in the USSR caused massive destruction to the infrastructure of Islamic learning and marginalized the authority of the ulama, subordinating them to those of both the state and the nation to an extent arguably not seen anywhere else in the Muslim world. For the ulama after 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the task has been to re-establish their authority within a political field still dominated by Soviet-era institutional structures of state control of religious activity and Soviet-era discursive modes that lead to a deep suspicion towards religion. This article focuses on the “de-Islamization” of the 1930s and then considers its implications for the ulama of today.
The short-lived People's Soviet Republic of Bukhara is usually dismissed as a Soviet puppet state that served merely as a prelude to the Sovietization of the former protectorate. Recourse to the thick documentation in the Arabic script (mostly in Uzbek, some in Persian/Tajik) left behind by the republic and now available in the central state archives of Uzbekistan allows a much more complex picture of the republic to emerge. This article presents a preliminary assessment of these Muslim sources to reveal the way the Bukharan government saw its mission and how its members imagined the world. Seen through these documents, the Bukharan republic appears as neither a puppet state, nor as transitional, but as an attempt at creating a modern national state for the Muslim population of Bukhara. Against the odds, it struggled to establish national sovereignty in the political and economic realms, with an independent foreign policy and a national memory. The intellectual moorings (and bureaucratic practices) of the republic owed more to Muslim modernist discourses of the late Ottoman Empire than to the Russian revolution.