It is a common assumption that the Bolsheviks, after consolidating their hold on power, sought to destroy Islam in Central Asia and elsewhere in the Soviet Union. But Islam during the Soviet era was not so much eradicated as it was institutionalized and rendered subordinate to the state.
The first decades of Soviet rule were indeed harsh ones for the faithful in Central Asia. Soviet authorities carried out a far-reaching campaign in the late 1920s, dubbed the hujum, which sought to overhaul the traditional way of life, focusing on the de-veiling of women and the closure of mosques.
Soviet attitudes toward Islam started shifting in the 1940s. At the height of World War II, in 1943, the Soviet government authorized the establishment of SADUM, the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Central Asia and Kazakhstan. The hajj was legalized in 1945. And one of Central Asia’s most important seats of Islamic learning, the Mir-i-Arab madrassa in Bukhara, reopened in 1946.
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Edward Lemon is Mellon Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at the Department of Political Science, Columbia University. In his research, he examines migration, security, authoritarianism and Islam in Central Asia.