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UZBEKISTAN – CRADLE OF ISLAMIC THOUGHT

51The Review of Religions – March 2007 Introduction When we look at great historical figures and places in Islamic history, many of them seem to originate in the land now known as Uzbekistan. Examples include Imam Bukhari, Tirmidhi, al- Biruni, Ibn Sena and Timur, who came from such exotic places as Bukhara and Samarkand. We also know that the ancestors of the Promised Messiah(as) emigrated from Samarkand to India. So Central Asia, and in particular Uzbekistan, is worthy of greater research to understand the state of the Islamic nation there that spawned such great leaders and thinkers. Historical Background Uzbekistan holds a pivotal position in the dusty plains between Russia to the north and India to the south, between the Arabs and Persians to its west and the Chinese to its east. So as the major Silk Route trade routes emerged, so too did the great centres of Uzbekistan emerge as trading posts for ideas and religions as well as commodities. The name Uzbek means true leaders and nobles which is appropriate as we will see later. The name probably derives from Özbeg who ruled from 1313 – 1340 and is often associated with the adoption of Islam by the Mongols. There has been population in Uzbekistan for over 3000 years, with the Sogdians, Bactrians and Khwarizm tribes later becoming absorbed into the Persian empires of Cyrus the Great, the greatest of Persian rulers. Three centuries later, Alexander the Great conquered these tribes in 327 BCE and his wife was the daughter of a Bactrian chief. Thereafter, the region was again part of the Persian Empire, and UZBEKISTAN – Cradle of Islamic Thought By Fazal Ahmad, London, UK 52 The Review of Religions – March 2007 UZBEKISTAN – CRADLE OF ISLAMIC THOUGHT remained under their influence for centuries. So when the Persians accepted Islam, Uzbekistan followed quickly. This was a great period of cultural leadership for the cities of Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand. In recent history, the Russians established their influence in the 19th century as part of the ‘Great Game’ between Russia and Europe, and after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Uzbek- istan became a state within the Soviet Union. It finally gained its freedom in 1991. Islam in Uzbekistan At a spiritual level, Islam came to the region relatively early, but it took longer for Islam to gain political currency. Muslims first gained political control within Uzbekistan under the leadership of Qutaiba ibn Muslim, the governor of Khurasan in Persia. Qutaiba made inroads as early as 706 with the capture of Bukhara and after 710, Samarkand and Khwarizm. However, it took time to establish Islam properly, as there was a political power struggle taking place between the Persians, Turks and Chinese, and it was not until the battle of Talas against the Chinese in 751 that Muslims had a chance to prosper and settle in Central Asia. After that, Islam flourished and scholarship, already a craft of the Persians, thrived even more in this region. Interestingly, Uzbekistan was regarded as Persia at the time because of the huge influence of Persia over all of Central Asia. Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), one of the greatest Islamic historians, tells us of the breadth of their influence on science and scholarship: ‘They invented the rules of (grammar) and made it into a discipline (in its own right) for later (generations to use). Most of the Hadith scholars who preserved traditions for the Muslims also were Persians, or Persian in lan- guage and upbringing, because the discipline was 53The Review of Religions – March 2007 widely cultivated in the Iraq and the regions beyond. Furthermore, all the scholars who worked in the science of the principles of juris- prudence were Persians. The same applied to speculative theologians and to most Qur’an commentators. Only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works.’ (Khaldun, p.429-430) In his description, Ibn Khaldun describes the regions beyond and these included Uzbekistan and the neighbouring states. He also points out the contributions made to science, Hadith literature and law as we will see later. Uzbek Cities Samarkand Samarkand is one of the oldest cities dating from 700 BCE, and recently was given its World Heritage status by UNESCO as the ‘Crossroads of Cultures’. UZBEKISTAN – CRADLE OF ISLAMIC THOUGHT Map of Uzbekistan and Central Asia 54 The Review of Religions – March 2007 With its central position on the Silk Route, it has been a trading centre for three millennia. It was the capital of the Sogdians until Alexander the Great captured it in 329 BCE. He knew the city as Marakanda. He is quoted as saying, ‘everything I have heard about Marakanda is true, except that it is more beautiful than I ever imagined.’ Its status as a crossroads of cultures came to the fore several times as technology was traded from east to west. An example was the handover of paper- making technology from China to create the first Islamic paper mill in Samarkand after 751. Paper then reached Europe via Islamic Spain. The town’s status grew and its cultural importance reached a peak when it was tragically sacked by the Mongols in 1220, and most of its population was massacred. It again came to the fore in 1370 when the great ruler Timur, made it the capital of his growing empire, and encouraged craftsmen from all parts of his empire to settle there. His grandson Ulugh Beg effectively created a university in the city attracting many of the best scholars of the region there. Sadly, in the 16th century, the capital of the region was moved to Bukhara and the city went into decline. Having been abandoned after an assault by the Persian Nadir Shah, the Russians took control of Samarkand in 1868 and its position grew further once the Trans-Caspian Railway reached through the city. The city has many sites that call to mind its great past and position in the Muslim world. Central is the Registan, a magnificent square surrounded by huge madrassahs from 600 years ago (Ulugh Beg madrassah dates from 1420). The Bibi Khanym Mosque is a restored version of what was once one of the largest mosques of the Muslim world. The front gate alone was 35 metres high. The tomb known as ‘Shahr i Zinda’ is a grave complex around UZBEKISTAN – CRADLE OF ISLAMIC THOUGHT 55The Review of Religions – March 2007 the tomb of Qasim ibn Abbas(ra), a cousin of the Holy Prophet(saw) who is thought to have brought Islam to the region in 676. Fresh with the experience of the teachings of the Prophet(saw), Qasim approached the Zoroastrians of Bukhara and Samarkand with missionary zeal, but the hostility of the locals led to him being decapitated (Marozzi, p.230). As such, the Shahr i Zinda has become a place of pilgrimage for regional Muslims. The great traveller Ibn Battutah visited here in the early 14th century and wrote in 1333: ‘The inhabitants of Samarkand come out to visit it every Sunday and Thursday night. The Tatars also come to visit it …’ (Ibn Battutah) Khiva Khiva is the modern name for Khorasam or Khwarezm. Its early inhabitants before Islam were Persians, but the main city of Khiva is recorded from the 10th Century when its inner city (Itchan Kala) was protected by walls. By the 17th century, the outer walls were built to protect the outer town (Dichan Kala). Bukhara Bukhara is a classical city of Islamic Uzbekistan. It was UZBEKISTAN – CRADLE OF ISLAMIC THOUGHT Registan, Samarkand 56 The Review of Religions – March 2007 founded in 500 BCE when Aryan immigrants settled here within a walled city. It was a significant city within the Persian empire, but also had a significant Buddhist minority. As the Silk Route opened, Bukhara gained prominence as a market city. After the Battle of Talas in 751, Bukhara became a Muslim city, and by 850, it was the capital of the Samanid Empire. It was established as the intellectual centre of Islam. At that time, not only were many Hadith collectors such as Imam Bukhari present here, it also became a centre of the Sufis, particularly the Naqshbandi Order. It too suffered the same fate as Samarkand under the Mongols, but recovered to play a prominent role under the Chagatays and Timur. There are several great Islamic buildings in the city from the 16th century including the Kalyan minaret which is a 45 metre brick minaret, and the Kalyan mosque dating from 1514. There are other older monuments such as the Ismail Samani mausoleum from around 900. Bukhara is also home to a significant Jewish population who have lived there since Roman times. Tashkent Tashkent is thought to be on the site of settlements from two thousand years ago in Ming- Uruk. With the development of the Silk Route, Tashkent grew in importance as a caravan cross- roads. The Arabs under-stood its importance and took Tashkent in 751. It suffered the same fate as Samarkand and Bukhara under the Mongols, but regained its status by the time Timur began to grow his empire. Given the Mongol destruction, it is not surprising that most of the remaining Islamic sites are from the 15th and 16th centuries such as the Juma Mosque, the Kulkedash Medressa [we have used the local spellings throughout – ED] and tombs for people such as Yunus Khan (grandfather of Babur). The majority of Tashkent is a modern city with all of its trappings. UZBEKISTAN – CRADLE OF ISLAMIC THOUGHT 57The Review of Religions – March 2007 Famous Uzbeks Al-Khwarizmi (790 – 850) Abu Abdullah ibn Musa al- Khwarizmi was born in Khwarizm (modern Khiva in Uzbekistan) in 780. Once Baghdad was established as a global seat of learning, al- Khwarizmi found his way to the House of Wisdom in Baghdad where he lived and worked for many years. He made many contributions to science inclu- ding the foundations for algebra. As a later Director of the Baghdad academy of science, he directed a team to produce the first map of the known world. He produced the first astronomical tables. He became known as the father of algebra and astronomy. Imam Bukhari (810 – 870) The famous Sunni scholar Imam Muhammad ibn Ismail al- Bukhari was born in Bukhara in 810 CE. His father Ismail had also been a theologian and a Hadith scholar. As a young man, he had already memorised hundreds (some say tens of thousands) of Hadith. At the tender age of sixteen, he went to Hajj with his mother (widowed now) and brother, and then from Makkah, he took the opportunity to visit many other Hadith scholars in Egypt, Iraq (Baghdad and Basra) and Iran on his journey back. He made other trips and was able to hear of traditions from hundreds of scholars across the Islamic world. When he returned to Uzbekistan, he compiled his al- Jami al-Sahih, a collection of authentic Hadith arranged in subjects. These are now considered the most authentic collections. One of his students from Nishapur (Iran), Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj later compiled his own collection now called Sahih Muslim. He died in 870 in the village of Khartank near Samarkand where his grave is still visited today. al-Tirmidhi (824 – 892) Another famous Hadith collector, Abu Isa Muhammad ibn al- Tirmidhi was born in Termez (Arabic Tirmidh) in Uzbekistan and was a contemporary of Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim and Abu Dawud. He was from the Banu UZBEKISTAN – CRADLE OF ISLAMIC THOUGHT 58 The Review of Religions – March 2007 Sulaym tribe and like Bukhari, he also travelled and consulted across the Muslim world. His collection of Hadith is known as Jami al-Tirmidhi. Al-Biruni (973 – 1048) Abu Rehan al-Biruni was born in Khwarazm (modern Khiva) in Uzbekistan in 973. He travelled extensively in India long before Timur established his empire there. Indeed he was the first Muslim scholar to study India and Hinduism. He absorbed Indian science and culture and then wrote his Kitab al-Hind. He was a leader in many sciences, and ahead of his time, literally. He created the blueprint for an astrolabe with gears which could keep up with the motion of the earth. This was the early forerunner to modern clocks. He also famously described the Milky Way as a ‘collection of countless fragments of the nature of nebulous stars.’ His major contributions were to mathe- matics where he advanced arithmetic, ratio theory, algebra and geometry. Ibn Sena (980 – 1037) Abu ‘Ali Al-Hussain ibn Sina (known as Avicenna in the West) was born in Afshana near Bukhara in Uzbekistan into an Ismaili Shia family. He was educated in Bukhara by some of the best scientists of his time, and had memorised the Qur’an by the age of 7. As his reputation grew, he came under the patronage of the vizier of Urgench, and later researched in Merv, Nishapur, Gorgan and other places around the Persian empire. He wrote two major works among his 450+ books, al-Shifa being an encyclopedia of humanities, medicine, and sciences, and the second, al-Qanun became the most comprehensive study of medicine in history. Indeed, for almost 700 years, this was the standard text on medicine in European Universities. He died of Colic in Hamadan, modern Iran. Timur (1336 – 1405) Timur bin Taraghay Barlas is often referred to as Tamerlane in the West, and was a great military leader of the 14th Century who founded the UZBEKISTAN – CRADLE OF ISLAMIC THOUGHT 59The Review of Religions – March 2007 Timurid Empire. He was born in 1336 in Kesh (modern Shahr-e- Sabz) near Samarkand. The son of the leader of the Barlas tribe who had also been the first of his contemporaries to accept Islam, Timur followed in his father’s footsteps by leading not just the Barlas tribe, but extended his empire rapidly to encompass eastern Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and western India. His motto is quoted as being ‘As there is only one God in Heaven, so there should be only one king on earth’. However his advances were often brutal and made him enemies. In taking Damascus and Baghdad, two of the great Muslim cities of the time, his troops massacred most of the civilians and deported those with skills they needed, back to Samarkand. This created hostility from both the Ottoman Turks and the Mamluk’s of Egypt. Timur tried to advance against the Ming dynasty to the east to get control of China, but was finally defeated by the plague and fever. His body was taken back to Samarkand where it lies today at the Gur-e-Amir tomb. His legacy was mainly through one of his descendents, Babar. After defeat to Shaybani in 1512, Babar travelled to India and established the famous Mughal Empire. The rest of Timur’s empire fragmented soon after his death in 1405, and while Timur’s son Shah Rukh ruled eastern Persia (Iran), his grandson Ulugh Beg made Samarkand an intellectual centre. UZBEKISTAN – CRADLE OF ISLAMIC THOUGHT Char Minar Mosque, Bukhara 60 The Review of Religions – March 2007 Ulugh Beg (1393 – 1449) Mirza Muhammad Targhai Ulugh Beg was a grandson of Timur. He was born in Sultaniyeh in Persia, but as a young man, settled to become the governor of Samarkand in 1409 at the age of 16. Just a few years later in 1417, he established a madrassa (university) in Registan Square, Samarkand. He invited many senior Islamic scholars to study and teach there including astronomers, mathe- maticians and other academics including al-Kashi. In 1428, his interest in astronomy led him to build a huge observatory ‘Gurkhani Zij’ in Samarkand, through which one of the greatest star catalogues was compiled. He also had the solar year calculated to be 365.257 days, which was only improved upon by the great astronomer Copernicus. He found a new great role for Samarkand, and in honour of his achievements, a crater on the Moon was named after him in 1830. The Promised Messiah(as) Hahdrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah(ra) came from a Mughal family in the Indian town of Qadian. The family trace their lineage back to 1530 when Mirza Hadi Beg, a chieftain of Samarkand, moved out and emigrated to the Punjab region of India accompanied by his family and staff, following in the footsteps of Babar from the same town. Mirza Hadi Beg himself was descended from the uncle of Timur (Adamson) and was therefore from royal stock. Mirza Hadi Beg had established a town called Islampur where he was also appointed the local judge (Qadhi). Over time, the town took the name Islampur Qadhi, and more recently Qadian. So the ancestors of the Promised Messiah(ra) and the town he grew up in had very strong links to the Uzbek clans that had emigrated to India almost 500 years ago. Modern Uzbekistan The Uzbek khans ruled Central Asia for many centuries from Khiva and Bukhara until they were subsumed into the ill-fated UZBEKISTAN – CRADLE OF ISLAMIC THOUGHT 61The Review of Religions – March 2007 Soviet Union in 1924. For around 70 years, Islam was then suppressed by the Communists, and the great Mosques lay empty and silent. It was after the fall of the Soviet Bloc in 1991 that Islam began its revival in Uzbekistan. The early seeds of discontent under Soviet rule came from Tashkent (the modern capital) under the banner of Birlik (the unity movement) formed in 1989. They began a push to make Uzbek the official language and to restore their culture. It was only as recently as August 1991 that the Uzbeks got their independence. Islam Karimov, moved from First Secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan to their President. His decades of power do not give the impression of popular freedom. The modern country has a population of just over 25 Million, the vast majority of whom are Sunni Muslims and have now embarked on a journey to recover their traditions and history from their Soviet slumber. Conclusion The great cities of Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand have had lofty positions in history as centres of intellect and culture, although the Mongols them- selves are not remembered with as much affection. The strategic significance of the region encouraged great rulers such as Cyrus and Alexander to take up roots, and later Russia and Britain vied for influence. Today, Russia, the USA and China have also seen this as a tactical theatre as they vie for power. The greatest service of the Uzbeks to Islam was long before the Mongols when the great scientists, scholars and artisans left us magnificent collections of Hadith which are still treated as the most authentic sayings of the Holy Prophet(saw) to this day. At that time, the zest for learning and Uzbekistan’s advantageous trade position on the Silk Route produced not just scholarship of the Qur’an and Hadith, but also UZBEKISTAN – CRADLE OF ISLAMIC THOUGHT 62 The Review of Religions – March 2007 of all of the sciences and mathematics. Technology, such as clocks, paper mills and printing presses, and concepts such as algebra, the first world maps, star charts and even medical encyclopedias have all taken root in Uzbekistan. For this, the Persians must be credited, and the extent of interaction with other Persian cities such as Baghdad, Merv, Isfahan and Kandahar illustrates the flow of ideas across its realm. Modern Uzbekistan is a shadow of the great period, and is still trying to recover its legacy from the veil of the Soviet Union, but the people could hardly wish for better examples to inspire them from their history. References 1. Adamson, Iain, Ahmad the Guided One, Islam International Publications Ltd, Tilford, UK, 1990, p.17-18 2. Macleod, Calum & Mayhew, Bradley, Uzbekistan – The Golden Road to Samarkand, Odyssey Publications, Hong Kong 2004. 3. Schimmel, Annemarie, The Empire of the Great Mughals, Reaktion Books Ltd, London, 2004. 4. Marozzi, Justin, Tamerlane, Harper Perennial, London, 2005. 5. Rahman, Mushtaqur & Rahman, Guljan, Geography of the Muslim World, IQRA International Education Foundation, Chicago, 1997. 6. Rahman, H.U., A Chronology of Islamic History 570 – 1000 CE, Ta- Ha Publishers Ltd, London, 1999. 7. Azimabadi, Badr, Great Personalities in Islam, Adam Publishers & Distributors, Delhi, India, 1998. 8. Virk, Zakaria, ‘Muslim Contribution to Mathematics and Astronomy’, The Review of Religions, Vol.93, No.3, March 1998, p.7-13. 9. Khaldun, Ibn, Muqaddimah – An Introduction to History, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, USA, 2005. 10. Fox, Robin Lane, Alexander the Great, Penguin Books, London, 2004. 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