WASHINGTON, June 7--Sufism—a mystical form of Islam that has flourished in the Muslim world for centuries—has enjoyed a strong revival in Central Asia.  In a new 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.


  1. 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). 
  2. Sufism in Central Asia: A Force for Moderation or a Cause of Politicization? , is the third paper in an ongoing project for a forthcoming book on Islam in Central Asia. 
  3. For more information about the Carnegie Endowment’s Russian and Eurasian Program, visit:   
  4. The Central Asian Voices Portal is a multilingual website featuring timely analysis of regional issues and a forum enabling the exchange of ideas among policy makers, analysts, journalists, bloggers, and informed readers across the globe 
  5. Press Contact: Jessica Jennings, 202/939-2265,   

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing cooperation between nations and promoting active international engagement by the United States. Founded in 1910, its work is nonpartisan and dedicated to achieving practical results.