Muslim Countries of the World: Turkmenistan

159706668 © Ilkin Guliyev | Dreamstime.com
159706668 © Ilkin Guliyev | Dreamstime.com

Turkmenistan is a state in Central Asia, bordering on Uzbekistan and a small stretch of Kazakhstan in the north and on Iran and Afghanistan in the south. On October 27, 1991, Turkmenistan declared its independence and seceded from the Soviet Union. Turkmenistan is a secular state, but traditionally Sunni Islam of the Hanafi madhhab is its national religion.

The Hanafi madhhab defines a fairly wide degree of liberalization of the morals and customs of Muslims in Central Asia in general and Kazakhstan in particular. This is partly due to the fact that during the period of the persecution of Islam in the 1920s – 1930s, atheistic authorities tried to eradicate any mention of Sharia in the country (for example, women were forced to take off their burqa at gunpoint, etc.).

The peoples of Central Asia (Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Turkmens, Kirghiz and Tajiks) have a common history. In the territories of their settlement (Khorasan, Transoxiana), states were formed throughout the Middle Ages, in which almost all of these peoples lived. The history of Islamization was also shared by these peoples.

Islam penetrated the territory of Khorasan and Transoxiana in the middle of the 7th century, together with the Arab conquest of Central Asia. All the rulers of these regions were zealous defenders and propagators of Islam. The last act of Islamization of the Turkic peoples was the adoption of Islam in 942 by the future founder of the Karakhanid dynasty (rulers of Khorasan and Transoxiana in the 10th-12th centuries) Satuk, who adopted the Islamic name Abdul Karim and the title of the kagan of all Turks. With this, the remnants of idolatry in the region were stomped out. This was especially true of the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan, where local idolatrous cults were strong until the era of the Karakhanids.

By 7011, the Umayyad caliphs conquered the entire territory of modern Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. This region was ruled by the Arab governor of Khorasan. However, as a result of the resistance of the local Turkic and Persian peoples, Khorasan fell away from the Caliphate. At the beginning of the 9th century, the state of the Samanids was formed on its territory, then that of the Karakhanids. In the west, in the territories inhabited by Turkmen tribes, the Ghaznavids established their power. Just before the Mongol conquest of the 1260s, the Khwarazm state gained prominence in the region. After the Mongol invasion and the defeat of Central Asia, the territory of Khorasan and Transoxiana in the 14th-16th centuries was part of the state of Timur Tamerlane, later, as a result of its collapse, separate ststes were formed here, namely, the Bukhara Khanate (Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmens), the Khiva Khanate (Khwarazm) (Uzbeks, Turkmens), the Kokand Khanate (Kirghiz), the Kazakh Khanate (which spent almost a hundred years in the wars with the Mongolian Dzungar Khanate and, in an attempt to defend itself against it, became part of Russia in 1734).

In the 1920s, the national-territorial demarcation of Central Asia was carried out in Soviet Russia, as a result of which modern states were formed. Initially, Islam was persecuted: mosques were closed, imams and mullahs were repressed. However, during the Second World War, the authorities considered that Islam could have a strong moral impact on patriotic feelings and began to liberalize relations with Muslims. In 1943, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Central Asia was created, which was headed by the Mufti (Eshon Babakhan became the first Mufti, then the Spiritual Administration was headed by his son Ziyauddin and grandson Shamsuddin Babakhanov). In each of the republics, a Qadiyat of the Spiritual Administration was formed, headed by a qadi. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, each of the independent states of Central Asia formed its own Spiritual Administration.

In Turkmenistan, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Turkmenistan was formed, which includes the Council of Ulema and is headed by the Mufti of Turkmenistan Yalkab Khojagulyev, the former chief imam of the Lebap velayat, since August 2019.

Paradoxically, Islam in Turkmenistan performs “secular” functions, namely, as a national idea, it promotes the development of the country in the social and political direction. According to the country’s first President, Saparmurat Niyazov, “Islam in Turkmenistan is more culture than religion.” The state exercises control over the country’s Islamic organizations and regulates the activities of Muslim organizations.