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Islam in Central Asia

By July 13, 2012 No Comments

Islam in central Asia (or “the stans”), is the region’s most prolific religion, which came about in the 8 th Century following a rapid growth in powerful Muslim empires.

Central Asia, as you’d now know from previous posts, consists of five republics of the former Soviet  Union – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Mongolia is also included in the Central Asian region, but not included in the aforementioned “stans” category. These countries form the bulk of our Silk Road Northern Route, so it’s more than appropriate to familiarise ourselves with the history of Islam in this region.

Short History of Islam in Central Asia

Here’s how Islam in Central Asia took form, from its inception to modern day practices:

  • The 751 Battle of Talas saw a major influx of Islam conversions into the region. Islam in central Asia
  • The Timurids, a Muslim empire with Turco-Mongol origins, ruled large parts of Central Asia from the 14th century, and adopting a Persian literary and high culture.
  • The 1860s conquests of Central Asia saw the region come under Russian control and a factionalist approach to the tolerance of Islam in the region.
  • In parts, repressive regimes executed a zero Islam tolerance, while others adopted a path of least resistance tolerance.
  • The 1917 Russian Revolutions saw Soviet control dominating and the inevitable Marxist opposition to religion taking effect.
  • The Soviet government spent time and money on establishing infrastructure and public schools in favour of Islam ones, seeing the closure of many Islamic educational institution and of course, mosques.
  • It wasn’t until Gorbachev’s glasnost policy in the mid 1980s that Islamic tolerance became more and more relaxed, resulting in an actual Islamic revival.
  • The advent of 21st century terrorism, in particular the attacks on the World Trade Centre, saw a global, and specifically Central Asian, suspicion and mistrust of Islam.
  • Attacks on Islam radicals are common in Central Asia, with ethnic and religious tensions escalating in the region, and some governments using Islamic groups as scapegoats or rationale for economic and social repression.

Photo – credit


The bottom line for us, is that while civil unrest is a reality in much of the Northern Route of our journey, Islam is by no means a reputable threat to our safety or practical facets of our journey. Displaying cultural respect and our general inquisitiveness around Islam and its customs should make for a trouble free and fulfilling trip.


Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, will be in full swing during our journey. The 2012 month runs from July 19 to August 18 and is where Muslims stop eating and drinking during daylight hours, learning about submission, humility and spirituality. Below are some general rules to consider

Ramadan rules and etiquette 

  • Eating with your left hand is considered unclean.
  • Pork and pork products are frowned upon in Muslim countries.
  • Observant Muslims don’t drink or smoke. It’s fine to drink in hotels, but in restaurants or cafes, if it’s not on the menu, it’s best not to request it.
  • During Ramadan, refrain from eating, drinking and smoking in public.
  • Iftar, the banquet and festival when fasting is broken, can often engender invitations to Westerners. You’re encouraged to accept these invitations.
  • “Ramadan Kareem” (“Happy – or blessed – Ramadan”) is the traditional Ramadan greeting and Westerners are encouraged to use it.

Anything else we omitted to mention? Any tales of ramadan and Iftar in the Stans?

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