Category Archives: Summaries

Dudoignon, Stéphane A., ‘A Surrogate Aristocracy’, in C. Mayeur-Jaouen, ed., Adab and Modernity, 2021

Dudoignon, Stéphane A., ‘A Surrogate Aristocracy? Sufi Adab, Modernity, Rurality and Civilisation in Ex-Soviet Central Asia’, in C. Mayeur-Jaouen, ed., Adab and Modernity: A ‘Civilising Process’?, Leiden: Brill (Islamic Literatures: Texts and Studies), 2020, pp. 527–51, ill.

Sufi adab in Soviet times shows paradoxical. In the absence of madrasas, it was revitalised, for cenacles of followers, by spiritual guides who had escaped or returned from the Gulag. To larger segments of society, it was communicated non-verbally, through the master’s physical example. In villages where they withdrew since not allowed to stay in cities, their very bearing and clothing determined their status as much as sacred ancestry, intellectual pedigree or magical power. Here, the legacy of Islamic reform strengthened the equivalence between adab and personal ethics (akhlāq). Besides, since the 1920s new roles fell to the shaykh and modern saint, who tended to become a substitute for the khan, and many a symbol of the aulic culture of the defunct khanates found their way into Sufi sociability. (Riding, hunting and other attributes of the past khans have found their place within the textual hagiographies that begun to be fixed in writing in the 1990s.) Identified with pre-modern Persian and/or Turkish literature, interpreted as heritage (ar. mirath) and a vector of civilisation (madaniyat), Sufi adab proved was to prove attractive, soon, to many actors the including secular intelligentsias of the late Soviet period. Through these facts, the present paper will try to question what the numerous paradoxes of a Soviet history now rediscovered bring to the common reflection on the place of adab in local the local reappropriations and constructions of modernity.

Dudoignon, Stéphane A., ‘Fragments de Gnose Musulmane Soviétique’, JSS (2021)

Dudoignon, Stéphane A., ‘Fragments de Gnose Musulmane Soviétique: Quelques Ghazals du Dīwān de Shaykh ʿAbd al-Raḥīm Dawlat Īlākī (1881-1947)’ [Fragments of Soviet Muslim Gnosis: Some Ghazals by Shaykh ʿAbd al-Raḥīm Dawlat Īlākī (1881-1947)], Journal of Sufi Studies 10/2 (2021), pp. 197–214

Described as an isolate of conservatism, the Central Asian Islam of the Soviet era shows, even in its archaic features, deep mutations. Among them: the valorisation, by a Persian or Turkic gnostic poetry of classical form produced the short 20th century, of Sufi ways as a place of resistance to the ‘idolatries’ of the time. After the disappearance of the khānqāhs (lodges) upon collectivisation, this invocation was intended for a small audience of initiates. It reminds us of the usefulness, in a repressive context, of the inner dhikr praised in the Naqshbandiyya. Reinterpreting the Naqshbandi principle of ‘asceticism in society’, it also insists, in a mujaddidī spirit, on the importance of the figure of the Guide for deepening mystical commitment.

Its vehicle is a poetry of classical form and metre, combining hermeticism and interest in orality. Transmitted orally and preserved in manuscript form until the turn of the 21st century, this literature became a vehicle for hagiographic processes carried out by holy lineages and networks of closely related disciples, present in vast territories. It is illustrated in this study by a selection of Persian ghazals by Shaykh ʿAbd al-Raḥīm Dawlat Īlākī (1881-1947), a mujaddidī master trained in Bukhara under the last emirs. Active until his death in the upper Qarategin valley, his teaching spread the territory of the Tajik SSR as a result of the post-World War II population movements to the cotton plains of the centre and south of the republic, laying the foundation for a current celebration of Shaykh ʿAbd al-Raḥīm as a national Tajik saint.

Dudoignon, Stéphane A., ‘Holy Virgin Lands’, in E. Tasar et al., ed., The Khan’s Oven, 2021

Dudoignon, Stéphane A., ‘Holy Virgin Lands? Demographic Engineering, Heritage Management, and the Sanctification of Territories in ex-Soviet Central Asia, since WWII’, in E. Tasar, J. Eden, A. J. Frank, ed., The Khans’ Oven: Studies on the History of Central Asian Religions in Honor of Devin DeWeese, Leiden & Boston: Brill (HdO), pp. 358–408, ill.

This chapter analyses different types of embedment of religious practices and identities, in the former Soviet South, in contexts impacted since after WWII by massive population re-settlements of the late 1940s and by the creation, within collective farms, of territorialised communities. It focuses on sanctifications of these territories, through Muslim hagiographic experiences developed locally during the 1990s–2000s.

By hagiographic experiences, we mean combinations of instruments — textual, monumental and/or ritual — of the worship of men of God active in Soviet times, in their recognised attributes as modern community founders. Another character of this modern Islamic sainthood is the Muslim saints’ alleged rebellion, if not against the Soviet order itself, at least against Russian kul’tura as it had been imposed on Central Asian societies.

As in the Caucasus, confessional and national values have often merged, in a politicised religious field characterised by the confrontation, from the early 1990s to the early 2010s, of sacred lineages of tomb keepers with newcomers educated abroad — the former playing the custodians of local tradition, through a patrimonial relation to Islam largely borrowed, in fact, from specifically Soviet reappraisals of cultural ‘heritages’.

Frank, Allen J., ‘Companions of the Prophet’, Die Welt des Islams, 2021

Frank, Allen J., ‘Companions of the Prophet as Anti-Colonial Fighters: The Political Evolution of ʿAlī Tales in Siberia and the Kazakh Steppe’, Die Welt des Islams (2021), pp. 1-19

Tales about the Caliph ʿAlī have circulated as popular entertainment throughout the Islamic world since the mediaeval era. While their meaning to their audiences has varied, on the frontiers of Islam, including in Siberia and the Kazakh steppe, the battles of ʿAlī and other Companions of the Prophet against infidels took on special meaning. Among Kazakh nomads under Russian rule, these tales gained broad popularity in the second half of the nineteenth century as the status of Kazakhs as a Muslim community came under threat from changing Russian policies. It was at this time that Kazakh-language ʿAlī tales were composed and published by Muslim publishers in Russia. One of these was the Qiṣṣa-yi Ṣalṣāl, by the Siberian poet Mäulekey Yumachikov, in which the infidels whom ʿAlī and the other companions battle are clearly identified as being Russians, although placed in the earliest period of  Islam. This tale enables us to see the political evolution of such tales, which constitute a response to the cultural and political pressures of Russian colonialism.

La visite pieuse aux tombeaux des saints. Étude ethnographique en milieu soufi chinois (Gansu, 1901-2019), by Marie-Paule Hille

Studia Islamica 116 (2021), pp. 393-423


« La visite pieuse aux tombeaux des saints. Étude ethnographique en milieu soufi chinois (Gansu, 1901-2019) »

La visite pieuse aux tombeaux des saints est une pratique largement répandue dans le nord-ouest de la Chine. Élément constitutif de la sainteté, la ziyāra sera abordée ici à travers une ethnographie menée au sein du Xidaotang, un mouvement soufi chinois minoritaire apparu tardivement à la fin du XIXe siècle. La présente étude se fonde sur un corpus constitué d’une hagiographie, d’une chronique interne, d’observations effectuées près des tombeaux et de discussions avec les dévots. Les textes de type hagiographique mettent en exergue le rôle de la visite pieuse aux tombeaux dans un récit édifiant qui sert à la fois à légitimer le développement de ce nouveau mouvement religieux et à le fondre dans un modèle de sainteté hérité du passé. Les chroniques, quant à elles, mettent en lumière la pluralité des contextes de visite pieuse aux tombeaux : fêtes religieuses, fêtes commémoratives, cas de maladie, visites de politesse ainsi que des formes de recueillement (collective ou individuelle, avec ou sans invitation de membres extérieurs à la communauté). Aujourd’hui, le culte rendu aux saints défunts concentre une pluralité d’activités pieuses qui sont autant de façon d’exprimer sa religiosité : honorer la mémoire des défunts en leur adressant des prières de paix, rappeler aux hommes leur condition d’hommes mortels soumis à la miséricorde, demander l’intercession des saints pour l’exaucement de vœux ou pour se repentir de ses pêchés, accéder à une étape spirituelle sur la voie de la purification par un déplacement du cœur vers l’espace intime de la tombe.

Mots-clés : Islam, Soufisme, Xidaotang, Nord-Ouest de la Chine, Gansu, ziyāra, tombeaux,sainteté, hagiographie, ethnographie


“The Pious Visit to the Tombs of Saints. An Ethnographic Study in a Chinese Sufi Environment (Gansu, 1901-2019)”

The pious visit to the tombs of saints is a widespread practice in Northwest China. As a constitutive element of sanctity, the ziyāra is here approached through an ethnography conducted within the Xidaotang, a minority Chinese Sufi movement that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. The present study is based on a corpus consisting of a hagiography, a community chronicle, observations made near tombs, and discussions with devotees. The hagiographic texts emphasise the role of the pious visit to the tombs by means of an edifying narrative that serves both to legitimise the development of this new religious movement and to conflate it with a model of sanctity inherited from the past. The chronicles, on the other hand, highlight the plurality of contexts of pious visits to the tombs: religious celebrations, commemorative festivals, illnesses, courtesy calls, as well as various forms of worshipping (collective or individual, with or without invitations from outside the community). Today, the worship of the deceased saints concentrates a plurality of pious activities which represent as many diverse ways of expressing one’s religiosity: honouring the memory of the deceased by addressing them peace prayers, reminding humans of their condition of mortal subject to mercy, asking for the intercession of the saints for the fulfilment of  one’s wishes or for the repentance of one’s sins, accessing a spiritual stage on the path of purification by displacing one’s heart closer towards the intimate space of the tomb.

Keywords: Islam, Sufism, Xidaotang, North-West China, Gansu, ziyāra, tombs, sainthood, hagiography, ethnography

Des fidèles rendent visite aux tombeaux (juin 2019, Lintan)
crédits : Marie-Paule Hille