chapter  15
29 Pages

Ahmad Yasavi and the Divan-i hikmat in Soviet scholarship: Devin Deweese


The waning of antireligious pressure at the end of the Soviet era yielded dramatically expanded, and altered, attention to previously problematical “religious” figures linked with the broader cultural history of Soviet Muslim peoples. Among the most prominent of these was Khoja Ahmad Yasavi, a Sufi saint who is best known in connection with two major cultural legacies: one is his shrine, built by order of Timur at the end of the fourteenth century and still standing in the town of Turkistan, in southern Kazakhstan, and the other is the collection of Turkic mystical poetry known as the Divan-i hikmat. Given the flood of publications dealing in some way with Ahmad Yasavi since the breakup of the USSR, and Yasavi’s elevation as a national cultural icon in post-Soviet Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan,1 it is easy to forget the relatively sparse, but often ideologically charged, attention devoted to him during Soviet times. Likewise overlooked is that Soviet scholarship on the presumed cultural and religious legacy of Ahmad Yasavi did much to solidify fundamentally flawed and misguided understandings of Yasavi’s impact that persist today, even in scholarly and popular environments that reject the antireligious coloring of Soviet scholarship.