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Monday, 23 March 2009

Tajik Spirituality: Saints and Ritual in the Zarafshan Valley - Page 5

Written by Ai Watanabe
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I left for Zarafshan from Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, at about noon. Not the best idea to leave then -- I ended up traveling through the hottest part of the day and arrived after dark in Penjikent, a northern city along the Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border. Despite the heat, the drive was spectacular. I felt consumed by the beauty of the deep, crystalline blue of the rivers that sliced through the dusty mountains and snow-capped peaks. The sparse trees were showing hints of autumn, with the aspen leaves tinged yellow. Almost every rooftop of the mud-brick village along the road was dotted with rust-colored apricots drying for the coming cold season.

Religious Transformation and Adaptation

The ladies’ evening incorporated many traditions that had for centuries been handed down from generation to generation. The ritual bore a strong resemblance to Sufi rituals that have long been practiced in Central Asia, while also showing folk devotion to local saints, such as Bibi Seshanbe (a female saint who intervenes specifically to lessen hardship). Interestingly, this ritual was still practiced despite years of Soviet persecution of religious practice in any form.

The ladies meet every week to hold this gathering, either on a Seshanbe (Tuesday) or a Chorshanbe (Wednesday). Sabohat said she had been attending Bibi Seshanbe gatherings since she was a teenager and her mother and grandmother used to do it as well. When she was nineteen and had finished school under Soviet rule, she went to study with the local Mullah who taught her to read Arabic in secret.

Even though it was illegal to study these books, or even to have them (the Soviets killed and imprisoned people who kept books about religion or anything written in Arabic script), Sabohat told me she wasn’t afraid because she knew the risk was for God. She showed me the copies she had of the prayer in both Arabic and Cyrillic, and even Uzbek written in Arabic script. Tajik Spirituality, Saints and Ritual in the Zarafshan Valley, travel Zarafshan, travel Tajikistan, Dushanbe, Penjikent, Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border, Village Sarazm, Tajik saints, pilgrimages, shrines, Bibi Mushkil Kusho, Bibi Seshanbe, Auliya Baba Shahid, womens rituals, mystic islam, Ai Watanabe The copy of the Qur’an she had was particularly ironic because the pages were held together by stamps that were marked by the insignia of the USSR.

As it turned out, Salokhiddin’s wife was the prayer reader for all the ladies of the village. The knowledgeable biology teacher was the town’s Mullah and Muslim authority. The ‘old lady’ who was the grade school history teacher was also the elder who presided over religious gatherings. And, despite decades of Soviet persecution and control, a ladies tea was a perfect opportunity to practice a religious ceremony that had endured for generations.

© Ai Watanabe

(Page 5 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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