Abstract of the Presentation given at the 37th Congress of the International Congress of Asian and North African Studies (ICANAS), 16-21 August 2004.


The paper addresses a number of academic and strategic issues. First, it problematizes concepts such as Orientalism and Pamirology in both global spectrum, and in the Russian and Soviet Oriental Studies in particular, highlighting the socio-historically constructed nature of these and other related concepts. Orientalism, including Pamiri and Ismaili studies, are presented as social constructions, dependant on a number of factors, one of which is human agency, i.e., a scholar's personal values, knowledge and vulnerability.

Second, the paper presents the mandate and approach of The Institute of Ismaili Studies not only in the deconstruction and reconstruction of Orientalism, but also in the promotion of those voices and perspectives of Islam that have been historically marginalized, excluded, misunderstood, and misrepresented. Niyozov argues that such negative and derogatory portrayals have been based not only on lack of knowledge and alternative data (e.g., Ismaili sources, as Daftary has suggested), but also on the lack of (i) critical and reflexive capacities on the part of the scholars, (ii) conditions for critical scholarship, and (iii) understanding of the ethics, politics, and social implications of a research undertaking. Such argument about poor scholarship preparation is seen equally applicable to Eastern and Western Orientalist schools that have historically dealt with Islam and its Ismaili tradition. In other words, Orientalism has not only increased our knowledge of the Orient, Islam and its internal diversity; it has also been a cause of problems and the crises of relationships that we witness in the contemporary world.

Third, the recent breakthrough in Western scholarship on Ismaili studies needs to be coupled by a few but important examples of Ismaili Studies in Russian and former Soviet Oriental Studies, which still await further critical breakthroughs. It is to this end that the efforts of The Institute of Ismaili Studies, in its collaboration with Russian and Central Asian research centres on Oriental studies, have been geared.

Fourth, the paper discusses a few existing examples of such partnerships and highlights their underlying fundamental principles, and suggests areas of further collaboration which include archival studies, critical analysis of existing research, development of research capacity, creation of conditions for critical scholarship, and two-way translation activities.

Sultonbek Aksakolov

"Soviet Orientalism left behind a large amount of scholarship on Ismailism (the history, doctrine and culture of Ismaili Islam), that were conducted along the lines of various scholarly disciplines over a period of more than 70 years.

In this paper, a few examples from this scholarship will be analyzed that will give an insight into general Soviet Orientalist methods of research and ways of interpreting Ismailism. In order to provide a proper background for the analysis, references will be made to the general studies on the Ismailis (their history and doctrine), Orientalism, and methods of research in the Soviet period.

Although being influenced by the Soviet state ideology and the dominance of the Marxist-Leninist paradigm of research, scholars have still produced various and often contradictory accounts of the origin, development and philosophy of the Ismaili movement. Consequently, Ismailism has been regarded as both a reactionary and a progressive mass movement in light of Marxist account of society and history. Some scholars, however, produced a moderate account of Ismailis as a community within Islam. The paper reveals that in many cases the Soviet time research on Ismailis were processes of social constructions, negotiated between the dominant ideology, scholars' personal beliefs and knowledge, and the realities of the texts and fields of study."

Ramazon Nazariev

This paper discusses the emergence of Ikhwan as-Safa and highlights some of the particularities of their vision, different from other theological and philosophical schools of Islam. The focus of the paper is, however, on the illustration of the social issues and goals that underlined the Ikhwan's use of the allegorical interpretation and metaphorical tools. As a basis of his argument, the author analyses the famous 22nd risala (epistle) of the Ikhwan as-Safa, called the "Complaint of Animals for the Deeds of Humans". In this risala, allegory and metaphorical language are used to discuss vital social issues of medieval societies that have relevance for contemporary societies (e.g., expression of discontent and free thinking, protection of citizens' rights, fairness in treating various groups in society, adverse consequences of totalitarianism and despotism, undermining the sanctity of life, state corruption, disregard for science, scholars and the intellect, etc.). The debate on these issues also highlights obligations of human beings, as masters of the material world, to find a workable compromise between various groups in society while protecting the rights of minorities (represented in the allegory by various categories of animal life such as insects, sea creatures, etc.). Participation of these groups in such discussions allows them to contribute to decision making in society and state governance. The author argues that the Ikhwan as-Safa's creatively lies in their discussion of issues within the existing medieval societies using allegories. In developing their social and political philosophy, they appropriated ideas from classical Greek philosophical thought as well as existing alternatives from within Islamic societies of their time.

The so-called Theology of Aristotle is the key bearer of Neoplatonism in the classical tradition of Islamic philosophy. Its influence upon key thinkers, such as Ibn Sina (d. 1037) who wrote a brief set of glosses upon it, is well known. What is perhaps not as widely recognised is the significance of the text for Safavid thinkers who returned to it as part of their cultural project of reviving their intellectual heritage and re-asserting the Neoplatonic turn in Islamic thought. The number of manuscripts of the Theology that date from this period as well as the numerous citations of the text (including a possible Persian version of it composed by the Shirazi philosopher Taqi al-Din Abu’l-Khayr al-Farisi) attest to its significance. But more striking are two commentaries on the Theology from the later Safavid period: a Persian set of glosses associated with a Persian version of the text by ‘Aliquli b. Qarajghay Khan and an Arabic commentary on the first four mayamir of the text by the mystical thinker Muhammad Sa‘id al-Qummi known as Qadi Sa‘id and Hakim-i Kuchik (the younger philosopher in comparison to his elder brother and philosopher Muhammad Husayn).

Henry Corbin famously dubbed Qummi the archetypal Shi‘i Neoplatonist. His work expresses a complete complementarity between Neoplatonism as espoused in the Theology and the teachings of the Shi‘i imams. He glosses the narrations with citations of the Theology and explains the Theology with recourse to narrations and Qur’anic citations. Clearly, his conception of the philosophical tradition is a singular prophetic wisdom handed down for Adam through Hermes and Plato to the Islamic philosophers. There are two aspects to his reception of the Theology: his commentary which runs to about 150 pages and his citations of the text in his other works, in particular his magnum opus, a commentary on the hadith collection, Kitab al-tawhid of al-Shaykh al-Saduq, his commentary on Forty Hadith and his collection of treatises entitled al-Arba‘iniyyat. What emerges is a highly idiosyncratic Neoplatonist, critical of Aristotle and Avicenna, rejecting the dominant ontology of Mulla Sadra, chiding Suhrawardi for his lack of fidelity to the Platonic tradition and upholding the insights of the Sufi tradition of Ibn ‘Arabi. Qummi exhibits his Neoplatonism in two key areas.

First, his God, the One is utterly transcendent and beyond being; as a hyperousion, it cannot be described in human language.

Second, the soul pre-exists the body and is utterly independent of it thus allowing for mystical experience which requires that one ‘doffs’ one’s body and experiences the beatific vision of the world of intelligibles and ultimately ‘tastes’ the One. In Qummi’s thought mystical experience and philosophical discourse go hand in hand. This paper asserts that in Qummi we have a truly independent minded thinker (more than merely a ‘philosopher’) who constructs his thought on the twin pillars of the earliest tradition: of Neoplatonism exemplified in the Theology and other texts of the Arabic Plotinus, and of Imami Shi‘ism expressed in the hadith of the imams.

Elbon Hojibekov

Based on unique data, collected from community members as well as Soviet archives in Tajikistan, the author presents the life and work of one of the most prominent Pirs of the Ismaili community of Badakhshan of the 19th century, Sayed Farrukhsho.

The major arguments of the paper are as follows:

(a) Ismaili Pirs of Shugnan and Badakhshan were not agents of any foreign power, as the Soviet historiography often labelled them, but patriots and leaders of their community who had obligations to fulfil as their moral duty to their communities and Imam, and (b) the Pirs were not merely religious clerics but people of strong literary and political standing. As such, they contributed to the development of local cultural life and to the Tajik-Persian literature. In order to defend its arguments, the paper brings rich evidence from the writings of Sayed Farrukhsho as well as other sources related to him.

Sultonbek Aksakolov

Like many other Soviet Central Asian republics, the establishment of Tajikistan was regarded mainly as a by-product of Soviet national delimitation policy in Central Asia. It is a fact that the central Soviet government played pivotal role in the formation of new republics in Central Asia, turning the fluid and homogenous map of the region into more fixed territories of the Soviet republics. While the role played by central Soviet government in creation of the national republics such as Tajikistan cannot be minimised, it should be also taken into account that there was significant amount of the local involvement in this process. This paper examines the role of the local Tajik leaders in the formation of Tajikistan as a Soviet Socialist Republic. It particularly focuses on the analysing the role played Shirinsho Shotemor one of the first Soviet Tajik statesman in the formation of this republic.