This book is the first substantial study of Islamization in any part of Inner Asia from any perspective and the first to emphasize conversion narratives as important sources for understanding the dynamics of Islamization. Challenging the prevailing notions of the nature of Islam in Inner Asia, it explores how conversion to Islam was woven together with indigenous Inner Asian religious values and thereby incorporated as a central and defining element in popular discourse about communal origins and identity. The book traces the many echoes of a single conversion narrative through six centuries, the previously unknown recounting of the dramatic "contest" in which the khan Özbek adopted Islam at the behest of a Sufi saint named Baba Tükles. DeWeese provides the English-language translation of this and another text as well as translations and analyses of a wide range of passages from historical sources and epic and folkloric materials. Not only does this study deepen our understanding of the peoples of Central Asia, involved in so much turmoil today, but it also provides a model for other scholars to emulate in looking at the process of Islamization and communal religious conversion in general as it occurred elsewhere in the world.
This text is a study of conversion to Islam in Inner Asia, among peoples until recently part of the Soviet Union, and its role in the shaping of communal self-understanding from the 14th to the 20th centuries. It includes translations and analyses of a range of passages from various sources.
This is a whale of a book, not only because of its size. Its geographical and chronological scope are vast, and it combines great philological skill with considerable conceptual sophistication. . . . This is a profound and important book whose arguments and conclusions are on the whole convincing. This is truly a groundbreaking study and as such can be recommended to a wide audience.
International Journal of Middle East Studies
About the Author
Devin DeWeese is Associate Professor of Central Eurasian Studies and Assistant Director of the Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies at Indiana University.
By Christopher W. Chase
In this book, Devin Deweese states that his overall mission is to uncover and revise current views on the Islamization of Central Asia through examining what meaning and function a Muslim conversion narrative had for the people that lived there at the time. This is largely uncharted territory for Central Asian studies, and Deweese's book represents a significant achievement in this area.
This text is monumental and meticulously researched, yet it's premises are simple. Deweese examines the historical context of a conversion narrative, both in its Islamic missionization aspects and the history of pre-Islamic Central Asia geography and religious practice. Then he proceeds to analyze two separate narratives-the conversion of Ozbek Khan to Islam and the different narrative versions of this conversion that circulated at different times and in different geographies in the local region. The meat of the book begins, though, with the telling of the earliest recorded version of the coming of the Sufi shakya Baba Tukles and his trial by ordeal, proving Islam the one "true" religion." The rest of the book is concerned with analyzing this myth, which was so central to the dominance and persistance of Islam in the region.
Deweese is careful to note that in popular and academic discourse, the idea persists that Islam has a policy of forced conversion or death for conquered peoples, and also that Islamization often does not graft itself onto populations at a deep level, since "belief" or faith is not emphasized over ritual action. He believes both notions are false, and I agree that the historical evidence is in his favor.
Deweese clearly demonstrates that within an Islamic worldview, the production of "eventually" correct ritual behavior can be a gateway for the grace of Allah to produce correct belief, so there need not be such an emphasis on early zeal for a convert. In other words, you didn't have to understand everything right away to be a good Muslim. Significantly, although Deweese criticizes the common image of Islam as a religion of the sword, he does note that up until the Islamization of Central Asia the main motif of conversion narratives within Islam was that of the "holy war." Deweese understands this as a metaphor for the internal struggle of the individual to submit to Allah. Indeed, this is by far the more common meaning of "jihad" outside of the overt militancy that the American media has a fascination for.
This brings us to the rich exposition Deweese has of the Tukles narrative. He finds that the motif of the traveling founder or progenitor is common in Central Asia mythic motifs. Thus the development of the Tukles conversion narrative is evidence of a syncretic production between the structure of Muslim narrative and the structure of indigenous Central Asian motifs. In other words, conversion stories are the result of what the potential convert brings to the experience, just as much as the party that advocates for conversion.
The most interesting section to me was the section that expounded on the mythic meaning and function of the image of the "crucible" as part of the conversion narrative. Deweese contends that this constitutes a mythic identification with the shamanic figure-a common motif of the transformed individual through sacred disassembly and ritual reassembly. Instead of following early work on this too closely, Deweese asserts that this should be understood not only as the creation of a new individual, but the ritual founding of a new progenitor/First Man and also a sacred Muslim community at the same time.
It's difficult to say anything bad about this book. Deweese, in the Introduction, tells you explicitly what his project is...a analysis of a conversion narrative -- and its different versions and motifs relating to a particular community. About the only thing that one could accuse him of is perhaps viewing the religious community in Central Asia as monolithic, and not exploring the different political functions of the myth to legitimate internal power.
But then again, this is a huge book, and this is only a small omission given the grand scope of the book.
By A Customer
A fascinating study through several centuries, cultures and linguistic strata, concentrating on islamization narratives and national self identification within their context, this book is a fascinating collation of sources both medieval and modern; it is a remarkable achievment, detailed and interestingly argued, on what at first might be taken to be a topic of little relevance, but is in actuality one of the most basic of all human concerns, how societies perceive and identify themselves. Although more scholarly than a light read, I'd reccomend it to any person with a desire to further their understanding of both the scholarly process and the societies it touches upon.