Ethnographers, Functionaries, Mullahs, and the Making of “Muslims”

  • Sophie Roche
Part of the Transcultural Research – Heidelberg Studies on Asia and Europe in a Global Context book series (TRANSCULT)


In this chapter, I will begin with describing the institutionalization of Islam during the Soviet period, when the category “Islam” or “Muslim” was established in Central Asia. We will see the degree to which ethnographers have shaped and adopted these categories, which has led to completely detached discussions about everyday Islam and security politics. This distinction relegates jihad and terrorists to the realm of security concerns and political Islam, where they do not interfere with people’s peaceful everyday Islamic practices. Whereas security discussions have used possibilities (e.g., Islam could become a source of radicalization; violent actors could emerge from such a development) as a source of analysis, ethnographers have tended to overlook forms of disruption, violence, or conflict in favour of everyday practices. These two opposing views on Muslims in Central Asia grew from Soviet categories that opposed folk Islam to political Islam and the state’s role as the arbiter of what constitutes “good” or “bad” Islam.

The difference between institutional and bureaucratic categories, on the one hand, and the experience of scholars on the other, developed during the Soviet period. What we see in contemporary Tajikistan is a continuation of the same structural principles, but with a much larger variety of groups and movements. The plurality of authorities and directions in Islam created a dynamic field for debates among scholars and ordinary people that reached its peak in 2009. Since the military autumn in 2010, government authorities have implemented measures aimed at acquiring tight control over the field and regaining its position as arbiter. During this process the IRPT was banned in Tajikistan and its members persecuted as terrorists setting an end to the democratic efforts that had followed the civil war of the 1990s.

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Sophie Roche
    • 1
  1. 1.Social AnthropologyKarl Jaspers Center for Advanced Transcultural StudiesHeidelbergGermany

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