Much of the debate over Islam in post-Soviet Central Asia is cast in monolithic terms: Islam is contrasted to secularism, fundamentalism to democracy. In considering complex issues in mutually exclusive categories, we reduce each side to a homogeneous whole. Yet, Central Asia, in common with the rest of the Muslim world, is heir to a rich tradition of debate and contention. An awareness of this tradition, which is still very much alive today, helps refine our understanding of the place of Islam in contemporary Central Asian societies.
For two centuries now, Muslims have been engaged in a debate about their place in the world, about what it means to be Muslim in the modern world. This debate takes different forms at different times and in different places, but out of this debate emerge understandings of the role Islam should have in society and indeed what Islam itself is.
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Adeeb Khalid is an associate professor of history at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.