The Intersection of Shamanism and Islam

Men pray the Eid al-Adha prayer in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: theislamawareness.blogspot.com

Fatima Sartbaeva is a doctoral candidate of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying female shamans among Muslim Kyrgyz.

Is there a compatibility between Islam and shamanism in Central Asia? How do nomadic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz intertwine Islam and shamanism in their religious cosmology? And are there any contradictions between Islam and shamanism among Kazakh and Kyrgyz?

In answering these questions, I sat down and spoke with Professor Oraz Sapashev of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. An ethnic Kazakh from Altay, Kazakhstan, and a scholar of Central Eurasian Turkic languages and culture, Sapashev shed some light on the relationship between shamanism and Islam. The following excerpt is a translation of our conversation in Russian.

Q: Could you tell me more about Altay and its cultural history?

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The Bubu Shaman Women of Kyrgyzstan

Traditionally Dressed Kyrgyz Woman

Fatima Sartbaeva is a doctoral student of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying female shamans among Muslim Kyrgyz and Kazakhs.

The Central Asian Republics, which include Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, make up one of the geographically largest Muslim populations in the world. For example, in my homeland of Kyrgyzstan eighty percent of the population is Muslim, consisting of various ethnic groups such as the Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Tatar, Tajiks, Kazak, Uigur, and Dungan. At present, although the Kyrgyz are officially categorized as being Sunni Muslims, their pre-Islamic Shamanic believes and practices are still visible in their everyday lives.

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The Sound and Feeling of the Koran

Today, we introduce a new element of Inside Islam — digital stories. These short pieces will complement our radio series and blog to help exemplify and demonstrate the diversity of the Muslim World. This first digital story was produced by Fatima Sartbaeva and the Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia (CREECA) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. You can listen to the story — “The Sound and Feeling of the Koran” — by clicking on the player following the introductory comments and acknowledgments.

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