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Materialist Ideology Facing a Great Sufi Poet: the Case of 'Ali Shir Nawa'i in Soviet Uzbekistan

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This article focuses on the ways the Soviet authorities in Uzbekistan, and specially the scholars, dealt with the figure of ‘Ali Shîr Nawâ’î (844-906/1441-1501), the great poet of Central Asia, and his connections with Sufism, within an ideological
  29  V  ol .  XLVI  2011 Materialist Ideology Facing a Great Sufi Poet *Ph.D Candidate, The CETOBAC (Center for Turkish, Ottoman, Balkan and Central Asianstudies), Collège de France-EHESS-CNRS Paris Materialist Ideology Facing a Great Sufi Poet:The Case of Ali Shîr Nawâ’î in Soviet Uzbekistan;From Concealment to “Patrimonalisation” Marc T OUTANT * This article focuses on the ways the Soviet authorities in Uzbekistan, andspecially the scholars, dealt with the figure of ‘Ali Shîr Nawâ’î (844-906/1441-1501), the great poet of Central Asia, and his connections withSufism, within an ideological framework dominated by the dogma of “scientific atheism.” Nawâ’î was initiated into the Naqshshbandiyya order by his spiritualmaster and lifelong friend, the great Persian poet and mystic, Jâmî, in 881/1476-7. His work was deeply influenced by Sufism and Naqshbandîdoctrine. During the Soviet period, due to his historical importance, theauthorities had no choice but to take him into consideration in a way thatwould not detract the materialist ideology. Emphasis was therefore put onhis “humanist” and “materialistic” conceptions, and even when thescholars had to speak of Bahâ ud-Dîn Naqshband they tried to conceal asmuch as they could his religious and mystical influences on the poet. Soalong with Nawâ’î, even Bahâ ud-Dîn Naqshband became some kind of  pre-communist figure.This sort of “patrimonalisation,” that is to say a kind of officialexploitation of two major historical and religious figures in Central Asiaturned into pre-Soviet characters, had soon had to face the independenceof the country in 1991. During this period, speaking of Sufism wasencouraged by the new authorities who wanted to promote what theyregarded as “the golden heritage” of free Uzbekistan. But ten years after the independence, some Uzbek scholars pointed out the fact that in thefield of “Navoishunoslik” (“Studies on Nawâ’î’s life and work”) Sufimatters were still not enough investigated. This shows how significant has been the impact of the Soviet ideological policies on modern Uzbekistanand some of the difficulties the country has to face to recover its ownheritage. Keywords:  Nawâ’î, Sufism, Uzbekistan, Chaghatay, Soviet  ORIENT 30 I. Introduction  Nizâm Dîn ‘Alî Shîr, later called Mîr ‘Alî Shîr, with the pen-name of Nawâ’î(1441-1501), is a well-known outstanding fifteenth century Chaghatay poet andan important Central Asian cultural figure of the reign of the Timurid sultanHusayn Bâyqarâ (1469-1506). After his death, his name was revered throughoutCentral Asia and the poet became a central feature of the cultural heritage of theregion, especially in Uzbekistan, where Nawâ’î is still renowned above all other  poets. 1 During the Soviet period the doctrine of “scientific atheism” kept a lot of Central Asian writers in the dark and numerous of works were banished from publication because of their connections with Islam. Nevertheless, a figure like Nawâ’î was one of major importance and in the construction of a new-bornCentral Asian Soviet republic like Uzbekistan, the authorities had no choice butto take him into consideration in a way that would not detract the materialistideology.Due to his relationships with great Sufi like Jâmî, his involvement in the Naqshbandiyya brotherhood—a Sufi order which became and remained anexceptionally important influence in its Central Asia homeland—and most of allthe prominence given to Sufism in his own work, the problem for the Sovietauthorities was far from easy. If the Soviets at first tried to conceal as much asthey could Bahâ ud-Dîn Naqshband’s religious and mystical influences on Nawâ’î and emphasized the Chaghatay poet’s “humanist” and “progressive”conceptions so as to keep him away from Naqshbandî Sufism and religiousmatters, they eventually did not hesitate to tackle the Naqshband’s figure in away that is quite significant of the methods the Soviet ideological policy wasready to put into practice.This is that kind of methods and some of their repercussions on the studiesdevoted to Nawâ’î in Uzbekistan this paper would like to examine. II. Nawâ’î’s Connections with Sufism Considered as the greatest representative of Chaghatay Turkish literature which,thanks to him, reached its apogee in the second half of the fifteenth century atthe court of Husayn Bâyqarâ in Herat, Nawâ’î was already regarded by hiscontemporaries as the greatest poet to have ever written in the Turkishlanguage. 2  But, apart from his political and his intellectual activities, he becameacquainted with the Naqshbandiyya tarîqa  founded in Bukhara by the SheikhMohammad Bahâ ud-Dîn Naqshband (1317-1389) which rapidly became themost important of all Sufi brotherhoods. The one who was to become an  31  V  ol .  XLVI  2011 Materialist Ideology Facing a Great Sufi Poet important member  3  was initiated into the Naqshbandiyya order by his spiritualmaster and lifelong friend, the great Persian poet and mystic, Jâmî, in 1476-1477. Jâmî’s spiritual prestige was important: as the former disciple andsuccessor of Sa‘d ud-Dîn Kashgharî (d. 1456), who was himself the successor of the great Bahâ ud-Dîn Naqshband, Jâmî was the representative in Herat of the powerful Naqshbandiyya order centred at the time in Samarqand.When Nawâ’î met Jâmî, not only he became his murîd   (“spiritualdisciple”), 4  but soon they became close friends whose literary interestscoincided. During all of his life Nawâ’î remained loyal to his master, 5  andstrengthened their ties by a close intellectual collaboration. Moreover, it is wellknown that Jâmî’s most substantial and widely read contribution to the Suficanon was perhaps his  Nafahât ul-Uns (“Breaths of Fellowship”),   ahagiographical compendium that marked the apex of the genre in Persian. But itis commonly less mentioned that it was Nawâ’î who encouraged him tocomplete his work. 6  Besides some three years after the death of Jâmî, ‘Alî Shîr  Nawâ’î translated the  Nafahât   into Chaghatay as  Nasâyim ul-Muhabbat minShamâyimi’l-Futuwwa (“Perfumes of Love from Zephyrs of the Futuwwa”). Onthe one hand, he abbreviated some of the entries found in the srcinal, and on theother, he expanded it by including material on Jâmî himself as well. It was thefirst tazkirah  ever written in Turkish which gives information about sevenhundred and seventy Sufis.Apart from the  Nasâyim ul-Muhabbat   a number of Nawâ’î’s works aredirectly related to Sufism, and especially to the Naqshbandiyya. Two pieces are particularly important. The first poem ( dâstân ) of Nawâ’î’s  Khamsa , 7    Hayrat al-abrâr   (“The Confusion of the Righteous”) (1483) is a didactic mathnavîmodelled on Nizâmî’s  Makhzan al-asrâr  , Amîr Khusraw’s  Matla’ al-anwâr   andJâmî’s Tuhfat al-ahrâr  . Like these three pieces, it is a mystical poem withillustrative anecdotes. The chapter XXI, for instance, is devoted to an eulogy of Bahâ ud-Dîn Naqshband. This chapter is built like a qasida 8  and his  sarlawha 9   isunambiguous:In the eulogy of Khâja Bahâ ud-Dîn Naqshband, may his secrets besanctified, [say that] the Designer of Art [God] with the pen of Wisdom, on the page of Time, has designed, with an Islamic manner,the ornament of his existence, and with his quality of true guidance,has erased the Chinese and European ornaments from the page of theheart of infidel peoples and [we present our] supplication to Khâja‘Ubaidallâh, may God keep him healthy, who he is the absolute  ORIENT 32 successor of the holiness [Naqshband], and most of all the caliph of the truth. 10 Bahâ ud-Dîn Naqshband is depicted as the one who has extended Islamthroughout non-Muslim world and Khâja Ahrâr  11  is regarded as a “caliph.”Significant references are also made to Bahâ ud-Dîn Naqshband in  Lisânut-tayr   (“The Language of the Birds”) a retelling of Attâr’s  Mantiq ut-tayr  (“Speech of the Birds”) in Chaghatay Turkish. The  Mantiq ut-tayr   is anallegorical poem whose subject is the quest of the birds for the mythicalSimurgh, the birds typifying the Sufi pilgrims, and the Simurgh “the Truth.” Nawâ’î claimed his work as a translation in Chaghatay Turkish of ‘Attâr’s work.Although there are significant differences between the two works, like  Mantiqut-tayr  ,  Lisân ut-tayr   is also “a story about the hard journey to Sufienlightenment.” 12  Some verses of the poem tend to show that the Hoopoe wholeads the birds to the Simurgh-God was no other than Bahâ ud-Dîn Naqshband. 13  His name is explicitly quoted in the  sarlawha of the   chapter CLXIII:Bahâ ud-Dîn’s words at the stage of the perfect nothingness. 14 which means that Bahâ ud-Dîn’s words are the way to obtain “perfectnothingness,” the aim of the mystical-Sufi quest.These are two significant works that show the importance of the figure of Bahâ ud-Dîn in Nawâ’î’s work, but the question is much more complex since thematter of Sufism can be investigated in most of the poet’s works. For instance,whereas the  Muhakammat ul-lughateyn  (“Judgment of Two Languages”) hasalways been considered as a kind of linguistic essay dealing with the respectivemerits of Persian and Turkish languages by different traditions of researchers,Alexandre Papas has recently advocated that the text dealt much more withmystic and Sufism than linguistics. 15  Similarly, the question could be asked for the other mathnawîs  of the  Khamsa 16  since each of the “narrative” poemsembodies a mystical vision of the relation between the soul and God. 17 The question also remains for the divâns too. In 1996 A. Hajitmetov pointed out that in  Badâe’ul bidâya , the first divân of Nawâ’î, written during hisyouth, there was a qit’a  devoted to Naqshband. The qit’a  begins like this: “If you say let my solitude ( khilwatïm ) not become society ( anjuman ),” and endswith this matla’  :  33  V  ol .  XLVI  2011 Materialist Ideology Facing a Great Sufi Poet With this melody you will become Naqshband Nawâ’î if it comes your turn. 18 a motto which reminds the famous Naqshband’s “ khilwat dar anjuman  (solitudewithin society).” According to Hajitmetov there are a great number of qit’a  likethis one in the other divâns.These few aforementioned examples are good illustrations but a definitiveanswer on the influence of Naqshband’s Sufism in Nawâ’î’s work would be preliminary, and the point remains until further researches are done. 19  The fact isthat a satisfactory answer has been severely delayed since the question wastackled in an unambiguous way during the Soviet period. III. Soviet Policies and Sufism in Uzbekistan In 1924 the political map of contemporary Central Asia was born. The threekhanats of Turkistan, Bukhara and Khiva were reconstituted as the Sovietsocialist republics of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and later Kyrgyzstan,Tajikistan and Kazakhstan also became union republics. These lands of Islamictradition were confronted with one of the most important themes of Sovietideology, the doctrine of “scientific atheism.” Since Stalin’s access to power, a period which saw the closure and —in many cases destruction— of mosquesthroughout Soviet Central Asia, up to Khrushchev who wanted a return to therevolutionary purity of the civil war era and launched antireligious campaigns inthe late 1950’s, and even after in the Brezhnev period, the struggle againstreligion took many forms. 20  As wrote Adeeb Khalid: “All form of Islamicexpression came under sustained assault in the Soviet period: patterns of thetransmission of Islamic knowledge were damaged, if not destroyed; Islam wasdriven from the public realm; the physical marking of Islam, such as mosquesand seminaries, disappeared.” 21 The problem was that the Soviets occupied a region which had become oneof the most active areas of Sufis expansion. Several of the most important andcelebrated brotherhoods were founded in Central Asia: the Kubrawiyya andYasawiyya brotherhoods in the twelfth century and the Naqshbandiyya in thefourteenth. As a consequence of the Soviet occupation, much of the continuity of Central Asian Islam with its past, including the Sufi tradition, was irreparablydisrupted. Due to the fact that the Soviet regime framed its official rhetoric interms of progress, defining progress in entirely nonreligious and antireligiousterms, no public position could be justified with reference to Islam and its moralor ethical value; at best, religion was a human construct corresponding with a
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