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Islam in Turkmenistan

Some have claimed that the Turkmen are not true adherents to the faith, despite Turkmen protestations. Some have even called the Turkmen form of Islam “a primitive pre-Islamic tradition dressed over in Islamic garb.” But it is a blend of Sufi mysticism, early shamanism, and Zoroastrianism. Turkmen tradition included the concept of ancestor worship. Therefore, those who brought Islam to a community came to be thought of by Turkmen tribes as “community fathers.” Their burial sites became a place for the faithful to honor these Islamic founders, and the sites were soon regarded as shrines with sacred powers. Turkmen also believed that certain people had magical powers and would become saints. Their burial sites became sacred also. In modern Turkmenistan, these shrines retain great importance, and people often make pilgrimages in hopes of communicating with the departed spirits. Many of the shrines are for local saints who may be unknown outside a particular village. Pilgrims may come for any number of reasons: to ask for divine intervention to resolve problems, to ask for advice, or simply to pay homage.

A variety of ritual practices have emerged around visitations to these holy sites. One, the memorial meal known as sadaka and kurban (offering and sacrifice), underscores the importance of these two values to Islam. The concept of hudaiyoli refers to giving a meal at a shrine. Since most important shrines are equipped with cooking utensils and hearths, the meal is prepared and eaten at the shrine. Usually an animal is slaughtered, and family, guests, and other visitors share the meal. Leftover food is often given to the poor when pilgrims return to their homes. This giving of alms is also an important value of Islam and signifies that those who ate the meal made a symbolic pilgrimage.