Turkistan, formerly known as Turkestan, is a city in the southern region of Kazakhstan, near the Syr Darya river. It has a population of 85,600 and is situated 160 km north-west of Shymkent on the Trans-Aral Railway between Kyzylorda to the north and Tashkent to the south.
Turkistan is one of Kazakhstan's historic cities with an archaeological record dating back to the 4th century. Throughout most of the medieval and early-modern period it was known as Yasi or Shavgar and after the 16th-17th centuries as Turkistan or Hazrat, both of which names derive from the title 'Hazrat-i Turkistan', which literally means "the Saint (or Blessed One) of Turkistan" and refers to Khoja Ahmad Yasavi, the Sufi Shaikh of Turkistan, who lived here during the 11th century CE and is buried in the town.
Because of his influence and in his memory the city became an important centre of spirituality and Islamic learning for the peoples of the Kazakh steppes. In the 1390s Timur (Tamerlane) erected a magnificent domed Mazar or tomb over his grave, which remains the most significant architectural monument in the Republic of Kazakhstan.
The city attracts thousands of pilgrims. According to a regional tradition, three pilgrimages to Turkistan are equivalent to one hajj to Mecca (such local piety is known also in relation to other religious monuments in the Muslim world). The Saint was held in such reverence that the city was known as the Second Mecca of the East, a vision which has helped shape the spiritual identity of Muslims in Kazakhstan. However, it is considered to be blasphemous to compare hajj to Mecca with three pilgrimages to Turkistan. There is no supporting evidence either from Quran or Hadith that this place is holy and three pilgrimages to Turkistan are equivalent to one hajj to Mecca.