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From Shamanism to Sufism pdf

From Shamanism to Sufism: Women, Islam and Culture in Central Asia

  • Book Title:
 From Shamanism To Sufism
  • Book Author:
Razia Sultanova
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Women-have traditionally played a vital part in Islam throughout Central Asia — the vast area from the Caspian Sea to Siberia. With this ground-breaking and original study, Razia Sultanova examines the experiences of Muslim women in the region and the ways in which religion has shaped their daily lives and continues to do so today.

 From Shamanism to Sufism explores the fundamental interplay between religious belief and the cultural heritage of music and dance and is the first book to focus particularly on the role of women. 

Ritual and music are at the heart of Central Asian and Islamic culture, not only at weddings and funerals but in all aspects of everyday life. Through her in-depth analysis of these facets of cultural life within Central Asian society, From Shamanism to Sufism offers important insights into the lives of the societies in the region. The role of women has often been neglected in studies of religious culture and this book fills an enormous gap, restoring women to their rightful historical and cultural context.

It will be essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in the History or Religion of Central Asia or in Global Islam.


  1. Historical Overview
    1. Early religious practices and beliefs 1
    1. Islam in Central Asia 3
    1. Central Asia under Russian and Soviet rule 6
    1. ‘Land ploughed by Cultural Revolution’ 8
  2. Shamanism in Nomadic Culture
  3. Theory and practice 17
  4. How to become a Shaman? 18
  5. Women and Shamanism in Central Asia 21
  6. Epic forms: Kyrgyz heroic Manas 22
  7. Shamanism and Islam 24

3 Sufism in Central Asia

  1. Historical development 28
  2. Main Tariqahs of Central Asia: Naqshbandiyya,

Kubraviyya, Yassaviya, and Qadiriyya 32

  1. Zikr in the Ferghana Valley: Male society 41

4 Female Sufism

  1. Historical overview 43
  2. Sufi poetry in Central Asia: Ghazal and female poets 48


5 Transmission of Sacred Knowledge in Its Connection to Sufi Tradition

  1. Ustad–Shogird training in medieval sources 60
  2. Ustad–Shogird tradition today 64
  3. Mehterlik or professional guilds 66
  4. Hofizlik: professional training in music 68

6 Music and Female Sufis

  1. Sufi masters in music 71
  2. Sufi music in Central Asia: from court to folk traditions 74
  3. Central Asian Sufi music and female singers 75
  4. Female Maqam singers 79
  5. Munojat Yulchieva 83
  6. Sufi origin genre Katta Ashula 87

7 Interaction of Shamanism and Sufism in Central Asian Female Performance

  • From healing rituals to protective songs 90
  • Female Shamanism in Turkmenistan 91
  • Galeke: the Kazakh Shaman 95
  • Female Shamanism in Tajikistan 97
  • Elements of Shamanism and Sufism in Uzbek folk music 99

8 Musical Instruments and Dance in Female Communities

  • Musical instruments: from Shamanism to Sufism 103
  • Dutar 106
  • Dances in Central Asian culture 115

9 Female Folk Sufism

  • Female religious practices 118
  • Otin-Oy as female Sufi Pir 125
  • How to become an Otin-Oy: Malika Asqarova’s case 130
  • Sufi rituals led by Otin-Oy 135


  • Zikr 137
  • Current situation: female religious school in Bukhara 144

10 Female Rituals

  • Other rituals led by Otin-Oy 145
  • Classification of religious rituals led by Otin-Oy 148
  • O’qish (reading) as a ritual session 152
  • Pre-Islamic practices: Mushkul Kushod 165
  • Female rites of passage 170
  • Toy (wedding celebration) as a Sufi feast 174
  • Calendar rituals led by Otin-Oy 183
  • Otin-Oy in Uzbek pop culture 184

11 Similar Female Rituals in the Turkic-Speaking World (in Tatar, Azeri, Turkish, Cypriot, and Afghani Traditions)

  • Turkic rituals and ceremonies 187
  • How musical are female rituals? 201

Conclusion 203

Appendix: Female Poetry 204

Notes 207

Glossary 223


Shamanism in Nomadic Culture – THEORY AND PRA CTICE

Shamanism probably developed in the Stone Age (possible the Palaeolithic era) and was known to all people in the early stages of their history. It has often been declared that originally, in deep antiquity, anyone was able to Shamanise.43

Without going into the existing theories on Shamanism, I would like to draw reader’s attention to the most important elements of this practice, by considering the following questions: Who is a Shaman? How does a Shaman communicate with spirit? How is Shamanism connected to Islam? How popular is Shamanism among women? What is the role of music in Shamanic rituals? Those questions are addressed below.

Examining the present rich variety of forms of Shamanism in Central Asia, numerous scholars mentioned that ‘in Central Asian culture Shamanism was an essential part of religious beliefs’.44 Based on cults of ancestors, stones, mountains, and the earth goddess Otukan, Shamanism was shared by the Uzbeks of the Oxus delta, and the Mongols and Turkmen.45 Nineteenth- century Russian ethnographers reported the presence of Shaman-sorcerers and exorcists in Tajikistan, who employed human skulls drums, smoke, and animal blood in their rituals.46

Similarly, the Uzbek and Kazakh Shamans, until the nineteenth century, had beaten sacred drums and were adept at divination and healing. Among the Kazakhs these specialists were known as Baqshi. They were said to have been able to communicate with jinns (spir- its, in Arabic), who acted as their familiars, helping them to cure illness, foretell the future, and combat the malicious influence of evil spirits.47

The Turkmen also had Shamanistic beliefs, several of which persist in Afghan Turkestan. Among the Kirghiz and Uighur, Shamans were also known as Baqshi. While curing illness and foretelling the future, they used to beat drums, enter into trances, and invoke Allah, Adam, Noah, and other members of the ‘Biblical-Qoranic pantheon’.48 Ancient Turks called Shamans Kam.

 They are first mentioned in the Tan’shu, Chinese manuscripts of the tenth century, which refer to Hakass and their Kams (Shamans). Some evidence of Central Asian Shamanism is displayed in Kutadgu Bilig by Yusuf Hos Hajib (eleventh century) and the Dictionary of Turkic Dialects by Mahmud Kashgari (eleventh century).49

Today, in Ferghana Valley, Shamans are mostly women. Shamanic ritu- als there take place during daylight hours, not in the dark as in Kazakh or Turkmen cases. In Ferghana Valley, Shamans are called baqshy, parihan, (Pary – a spirit, hondan – to read), or falbin (fal – a destiny, bin – to see).

Also they could be called taib (tabib in Arabic) or kinanchi (the person taking evil from a patient). The predominant tool for Shamanic healing rituals is a frame drum.50

According to the study of Shamanism, the term ‘Shaman’ is derived from the Tungus-Ewenki (the ethnicity living in the forests north and east of Lake Baikal in Siberia, speaking Altaic language) word saman or vaman,51 meaning a magician, healer, priest, mystic, poet, and performer of miracles, or a Shaman as ‘one who uses specific techniques of ecstasy’.52

 These tech- niques include music, rhythmic dancing, seclusion, and, most frequently, Zikir (i.e. Zikr) – the repetition of mystical formulae.53 Therefore, the most distinguished features of Shaman should be: ‘unique ritual paraphernalia, a specialised mystical language, and operational procedures such as working for a fee’.54 It is a common picture to see that a Shaman ‘begins to pronounce his incantations and, holding a drum, strikes it forcefully against the ground’.55


In studying Shamanism as an important phenomenon in Central Asian culture, we cannot avoid the usual question related to the origin of such experience: how to become a Shaman. What precedes a Shaman’s training? By what means did the Shaman grasp the secrets of their complicated skills?

It has often been declared that originally, in deep antiquity, anyone was able to Shamanise.56 However, the situation has changed these days. It seems difficult to imagine that the novice Shaman could begin practising without first undergoing an apprenticeship from an experienced master (Photos 2 and 3). Nonetheless, ethnographers have gathered little

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