Afghanistan: The Tajik Ismailis of Takhar-An End to Isolation

By Emadi, Hafizullah | Contemporary Review, Autumn 2009 | Go to article overview
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Afghanistan: The Tajik Ismailis of Takhar-An End to Isolation


Emadi, Hafizullah, Contemporary Review


IN recent decades there has been renewed interest in the study of Islam and the Muslim world, resulting in scholars, theologians and religious figures presenting their interpretations of modernity and development in Muslim societies. It is generally agreed that after gaining independence from their former colonial masters, the majority of Muslims struggled to maintain their traditional ways of life. They were dismayed by the continuation of Western hegemony through its imperialistic policies that sought to impose modernization in their societies through wholesale industrialization and its corresponding inculcation of an alien culture and political system. The implications of such policies polarized theologians, clerics and intellectuals throughout the Muslim world. Muslim responses to the grim status quo often translated into embracing various political ideologies such as nationalism, socialism and even individual anarchism. Those at the forefront of Islamic revivalist movements also worked to rally the Muslims in support of a system of government based on Islamic teachings.

One group of Muslim leaders and theologians, who represented the majority of the conservative and traditional segment of society, adopted a rejectionist approach, vehemently opposing concepts such as secularism, modernization and other reforms associated with imperialism, viewing such concepts as integral to a Western conspiracy designed to undermine Muslims and relegate them to a subordinate position. Their resistance to Western-oriented and sponsored modernization was based on the belief that only unwavering allegiance to the fundamentals of Islam would lead Muslims to a better future. In their view, Islamic identity should be the core guiding principle for an individual's behaviour and relations with other Muslims and the outside world. Their struggle eventually culminated in the formation of militant organizations with the mission to combat the cultural influence of the West, to end their physical and political subordination, and to disseminate Islamic values.

Other groups emerged which, while rejecting imperial domination, supported selected elements of modernization, including secularism, constitutionalism and human rights. They embarked upon a movement of social and political reform based on modern technological and scientific achievements. The leaders of these groups argued that economic prosperity and technological progress within the framework of Islamic values and traditions would enable Muslims to avoid the influence of alien ideologies, politics and cultures. At the same time, Muslims needed to abolish the asymmetrical relations the capitalist world economy had imposed on them. Liberal and moderate religious leaders and intellectuals were at the forefront of such movements, and their ideas contributed to a new socio-political awareness that compelled many Muslims to work towards reforming the rigid social, cultural and political structures in their respective countries.

The struggle for renewal and modernization of the Muslim world has accelerated considerably in recent times, especially in the most impoverished, neglected and peripheral regions, including war-torn countries such as Afghanistan. The two decades of civil war that wreaked havoc on Afghanistan's economy and polity caused many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to launch large-scale aid programmes aimed at rebuilding the country's infrastructures and civic institutions. An NGO that is at the forefront of integrated community development in Afghanistan is the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) that has been engaged in the reconstruction of the country since 2002. The principal objective of this article is to study the plight of the minority Tajik Ismaili community in the northern province of Takhar prior to and during the civil war in Afghanistan, and explore the role of the AKDN in the process of rebuilding economic infrastructures in Takhar, as well as its efforts to modernize the community and facilitate its integration into the twenty-first century.

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