Blog # 8 – Topics in the Study of Islam in contemporary Central Asia and Afghanistan

The articles, Shaping an Islamic Identity, Feminism, the Taliban and the Politics of Counter-Insurgency, The Clash of Ignorance deal with three very crucial issues central to the understanding of contemporary Islamic society. The first article, Shaping an Islamic Identity by T. Jeremy Gunn, addresses the crucial issue of politically preserving Islamic ideals and values in the emerging secular post communist societies in the Muslim majority Central Asian countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In the second article, Feminism, the Taliban and the Politics of Counter-Insurgency, Saba Mahmood and Charles Hirschkind critically analyze the effectiveness or the lack of it of the Los Angeles based organization, Feminist Majority in supporting their undying cause of liberating Afghani women from the oppressive regulations enforced on them by the Taliban.  Finally in the third article, The Clash of Ignorance, Edward Said critically refutes Samuel Huntington’s article, Clash of Civilizations? who suggests an inevitable showdown between the West and the Muslim world due to their irreconcilable differences.


Gunn provides an astute account of the methods employed by the post Communist Central Asian governments in order to incorporate Islamic values into their administration as part of a greater initiative to revive Islamic values in the mainstream cultures. Rather than praising this broad initiative, Gunn in fact, points out the numerous flaws in the governments’ “Islamic” policies, e.g. the government of Uzbekistan decided to encourage the revival of Madrasahs and Islamic learning centers, yet if any of them were not properly registered with the government, the Imams of the particular institutions were at risk of being persecuted and imprisoned. The underlying message Gunn was trying to voice through his article, was that although the initiative may in fact be genuine and well-intentioned, the way in which the governments’ are implementing it is proving to be ineffective in fulfilling their main objective of reviving Islamic zeal and enthusiasm among the mass population of Central Asia. If the government were to truly meet their goals, they would have to take a less zealous and more tolerant stance through the implementation of their Islamic policies.


Saba Mahmood and Charles Hirschkind analyze the effectiveness or lack of it of the Los Angeles based organization, Feminist Majority in furthering their cause of liberating destitute and oppressed Afghani women from the Taliban’s oppressive society. Although the article initially commences by highlighting the many positive changes that the organization was able to bring about, e.g. by bringing together activists from all sectors of society to work for one particular cause, the article’s main point was to expose the inadequacies in the way in which the organization functions. The authors clearly wanted to express that if Feminist Majority were really going to bring about significant change in the lives of the Afghani women, they desperately needed to modify their game plan, by focusing less on liberating the women from the restrictions on their appearance, to applying their focus and attention on more detrimental social ills such as their inaccessibility to proper healthcare and education. Also, the authors expressed the need for Feminist Majority to stop antagonizing the Taliban society as being “evil” and recognize the need for major social development in the society as a whole.


Finally, in the last article, Edward Said, produces a very strong refutation of Samuel Huntington’s 1993 article, Class of Civilizations? Said argued that contrary to what Huntington proposed, the division of the world into two main camps, the West and the Muslim world, is highly problematic if one were to look at it from a cultural perspective. Said felt that Huntington failed to take into account when constructing his elaborate highly antagonist theory, the existence of a broad range of cultures and languages within the different nations which take precedence over the religious life of the state, or at least greatly influence its religious life. In short, Said dismissed Huntington’s essay as being ignorant and lacking a basis on adequate convincing factual evidence which rather than easing tensions between the two so called camps, only seemed to endorse and encourage further hate and antagonism.