Sufism—a mystical form of Islam that has flourished in the Muslim world for centuries—has enjoyed a strong revival in Central Asia. In this Carnegie Paper, Sufism in Central Asia: A Force for Moderation or a Cause of Politicization?, Martha Brill Olcott explores Sufism’s potential to become a political movement in Central Asia by analyzing the movement’s history and current leaders in Central Asia, particularly Uzbekistan.
The future role Sufism will play in Central Asia is dependent on both secular and religious circumstances. Olcott contends that political leaders will require a political subtlety that has been lacking in recent decades in order to construct a reasonable balance between Sufis and fundamentalists.
Olcott also argues that while Sufism currently poses little threat to the secular ideology of Central Asian states, there is potential for a dangerous backlash if governments openly try to use Sufi ideology as a way to gain support.
This is the third paper in an ongoing project for a forthcoming book on Islam in Central Asia.
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About the Author
Martha Brill Olcott is a senior associate in the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment, directs the Central Asian Voices website, and co-directs the Carnegie Moscow Center Project on Religion, Society, and Security in the former Soviet Union. She specializes in Central Asia and the Caucasus and is the author of Central Asia’s Second Chance (Carnegie, 2005).
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The Carnegie Russia and Eurasia Program has, since the end of the Cold War, led the field of Eurasian security, including strategic nuclear weapons and nonproliferation, development, economic and social issues, governance, and the rule of law.
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