, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 173-197

Traditions and texts: how two young women learned to interpret the Qur’an and hadiths in Kazakhstan

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Abstract

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, translations of the Qur’an and books of hadiths became widely available in Kazakhstan for the first time in 70 years. However, most Kazakhs do not read the Qur’an or books of hadiths on a regular basis. This essay examines the ways in which two young Kazakh woman who do read the Qur’an and hadiths learned to interpret and use these texts. I describe how the first young woman, who is a member of the piety movement in Kazakhstan, reads the Qur’an and books of hadiths on a daily basis using a schema that emphasizes the Prophet, the Qur’an, hadiths, and the differences between Muslims and non-Muslims. The second young woman, who is a member of Ata Zholy, an Islamic movement in Kazakhstan that focuses on revitalizing Kazakh traditions, reads these texts only occasionally and uses a schema that emphasizes ancestors, saints, tradition, and linking contemporary Kazakhs with an idealized Kazakh Islamic past. I link the ways that these two women learned their respective interpretive schemas to their family’s practice of Islam and, more broadly, to the restriction of Islamic practice in the Soviet era.