Sufism in Central Asia: A Force for Moderation or a Cause of Politicization?

Publication Date: June 2007

Publisher: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Author(s): Martha Brill Olcott

Research Area: Culture and religion; Politics

Type: Report


Sufism--a mystical form of Islam that has flourished in the Muslim world for centuries--has enjoyed a strong revival in Central Asia. In this Carnegie Paper, Sufism in Central Asia: A Force for Moderation or a Cause of Politicization?, Martha Brill Olcott explores Sufism's potential to become a political movement in Central Asia by analyzing the movement's history and current leaders in Central Asia, particularly Uzbekistan.

The future role Sufism will play in Central Asia is dependent on both secular and religious circumstances. Olcott contends that political leaders will require a political subtlety that has been lacking in recent decades in order to construct a reasonable balance between Sufis and fundamentalists.

Olcott also argues that while Sufism currently poses little threat to the secular ideology of Central Asian states, there is potential for a dangerous backlash if governments openly try to use Sufi ideology as a way to gain support.