Islam Under the Soviet Union

The American campaign against Afghanistan has thrust the region of Central Asia into the media spotlight. Despite the region’s independent in 1991, interest in this area of the world has largely been confined to governments, academics, companies and organizations such as NATO. The article briefly examines the history of this Islamic region under the Soviet; the impact of Gorbachev and his reforms, culminating in the independence of the region in 1991.

<h3>Soviet Rule in Central Asia</h3>

The Communist authorities of the Soviet Union (1917-1991) inherited Central Asia from the old Tsarist Empire which collapsed during the First World War. In spite of the political turmoil which existed within the former Tsarist Empire, heightened by the Civil War which followed, the newly created Communist regime did not allow the Central Asian region to escape its clutches. The peoples of Central Asia did not suffer repression at the hands of Soviet Communism because they were Uzbeks or Tajiks, rather, it was because they were Muslims. The Communists viewed Islam with hostility and suspicion and subjected the Muslims of the Soviet Union to countless secularization campaigns. They also tried to replace the regions Islamic identity and loyalty, with ethnically created republics.[1]

The Soviet Union attempted to challenge Islam intellectually with Marxist dogma and suppressed any public manifestation of Islam.[2] Throughout the history of the Soviet Union and its dealings with Islam and the people of Central Asia, outright repression through to co-option was the mechanisms employed by the state.[3] Islamic sentiment survived under the Soviet Union as the state after the Second World War sought to bring in certain aspects of Islam and tried to incorporate them within the state’s structure. This lead to a Soviet ‘official Islam’, sanctioned and acceptable to the regime and an ‘underground Islam’ which sought to keep alive pre-Soviet ideas and practices.[4]