Bukhārā (Persian: بخارا) is the name of a region and a city in Uzbekistan. After the spread of Islam to central Asia, Bukhara became one of the major Muslim centers and played a significant role in promoting Islam and Muslim culture such that it came to be called "the Cradle of Islam."
Prior to the time of Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar, Bukhara was a part of Iran, but during his reign it was separated from Iran and given to Russia according to the Treaty of Akhal. Notwithstanding, the people of Bukhara have preserved their Islamic and Iranian culture up until today.
The Shiites were present in Bukhara since early Islamic history. They were in contact with the Shiite religious authorities in Najaf. They hold Ashura mourning ceremonies and have their own mosques and husayniyyas.
The Region and City of Bukhara
“Bukhara” is the name of both the city and region of Bukhara. Bukhara Region, with a population of 1,843,500 (in 2017) and a total area of 41,934 square kilometers is located in the south-west of the Uzbekistan Republic. It borders Kazakhstan Republic in the north, Sirdaryo Region in the east, Qashqadorya Region in the south-east, Karakalpakstan and Turkmenistan in the west.
Bukhara Region was delineated in 1938 and the city of Bukhara was made its capital. Uzbeks form the majority of the population of this region.
The city of Bukhara is the capital of Bukhara Region with a population of 272,000 (in 2017). It borders Samarqand in the east and Tashkand in the north-east.
Samarqand has several colleges and important libraries in which precious manuscripts related to Ibn Sina, Nawa'i, and Ferdowsi, among others, are held. In 1927, the city’s museum of anthropology was inaugurated.
Historical Monuments and Sites
Bukhara has many historical monuments and sites, such as the following:
- Ark of Bukhara, allegedly built by Siavusha (5th century CE)
- Samanid Mausoleum (3rd/9th or 4th/10th century)
- Poi Kalan complex, including Kalan Minaret (520/1126) and Kalan Mosque (948)
- Namazgokh Mosque (10th/16th century)
- Magok-i Attari Mosque (6th/12th century)
- Chashma Ayub Mausoleum
- Mir-i Arab Madrasa (941/942)
- Khodzha Zainutdin Mosque (10th/16th century)
- Char Minar madrasa (1222/1807)
- Abdul-Aziz Khan Madrasa (1062)
- Bahoutdin Naqshbandi Complex (9th centrury)
- Remains of Varakhsha Castle
- Grave of Khwaja Abu Hafs Bukhari (150-217)
During the reign of Mu'awiya, the Arab army under the command of Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad reached Bukhara, but a peace treaty was made between Khatun, the queen of Bukhara, and Ubayd Allah. After the latter, Sa'id b. Uthman b. Affan was appointed by Mu'awiya as the governor of Khorasan. Sa'id also decided to conquer Bukhara, but when his army arrived there, he too made a peace treaty with the Bukharis. In 87/706, Qutayba b. Muslim, the commander of the Arab army and the deputy of Hajjaj b. Yusuf in Khorasan conquered Baykand, a city near Bukhara and a center of trade, and killed the people and destroyed the city. In the next year, he conquered Bukhara and gained a tremendous amount of spoils.
In the Samanid Period
Bukhara reached the zenith of its prosperity during the Samanid period (204-390/819-1000). The Samanid dynasty was the first independent Iranian dynasty in the east, and Bukhara, chosen by the Samanids as their capital, developed significantly under their rule. Being a major trade center between the west and the east along the silk road was an important factor in this regard.
Prior to the Mongol invasion, Bukhara had libraries that were famous in the Muslim world, such as the library of Bal'ami (d. 362/973) and the library of Nuh b. Mansur Samani (365-387/976-997), which was burnt during the time of Ibn Sina.
In the Samanid period, Bukhara was considered the center of scholarship and literature as well. Poets such as Rudaki, Shahid Balkhi, Daqiqi, and Kasa'i Marwazi hailed from Bukhara and were supported by the Samanid court. Samanid viziers such as Abu l-Fadl Bal'ami, Abu Ali Bal'ami, and the Jayhani family lived in Bukhara and were among the intellectuals and literati. Ibn Sina, too, spend a part of his life in Bukhara. In the subsequent centuries after the Samanids, Bukhara remained the birthplace of prominent scholars and men of literature such as Mulla Muhammad Sharif Bukhari.
Inclination to Ismailism
In the beginning of the fifth/eleventh century, because of their dissatisfaction with the caliphate, the people of Transoxiana became inclined to Ismailism, as the Ismailis opposed the Abbasid caliphs.
Genghis Khan's Invasion of Bukhara
In 616/1219, Genghis Khan invaded Iran and executed, in Bukhara, Turkan Khatun, the queen of Bukhara, and Burhan al-Din Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Abd al-Aziz, the leader of the Hanafis, together with a number of scholars and sayyids. Genghis Khan ousted the people from the city, looted their properties and burnt the city.
The people revolted against the occupiers several times. For instance, in 636/1239, there was a revolt under the leadership of Mahmud the Sieve Maker, in which lay people and scholars of Bukhara participated, but it was harshly crushed by the Mongols.
In the beginning of the seventh/thirteenth century, the mother of Möngke Khan funded the construction of a splendid madrasa in Bukhar, and Sayf al-Din Bakharzi was chosen as the head of the school. In 658/1286, Bakharzi passed away and was buried in Fath Abad district of Bukhara. Apparently, it was from this time that Bukhara became a center of Sufism.
In 671/1272, Abaqa Khan (r. 663-680/1265-1281), plundered Bukhara and burned Mas'ud Bayk madrasa, which was the greatest madrasa in Bukhara, together with its library.
In 763/1362, the people of Bukhara participated in the revolt of Sarbedaran. Mawlanazada Bukhari, a member of Bukhara's elite, led this revolt against the Mongols in Samarqand.
Bukhara at the Time of Tamerlane and His Successors
During the reign of Tamerlane (r. 771-807/1369-1404) and his successors, Baha' al-Din Naqshband (d. 791/1389) founded the Naqshbandi order. In 873/1468, Tamerlane's territories were divided into two separate states, and this marked the beginning of the separation between Transoxiana and Iran. Transoxiana was given to the successors of Abu Sa'id Timuri and Khorasan to the descendants of Umar Shaykh.
In 906/1500, Shaybak Khan (or Muhammad Shaybani) besieged Bukhara for three days, which ended with a peace treaty. Later, however, he invaded the city again and plundered it totally. Notwithstanding, since mid-sixteenth century CE, the Shaybanids made Bukhara the capital of their state. The city regained its prosperity and came to be called Dar al-Saltana (the Abode of the Rule) and Dar al-Mulk (the Abode of Kingdom) and regained its old name Balda Fakhira (the Honorable Land).
In the mid-eighteenth century CE, Bukhara was ruled by the Mangit dynasty. In 1868, this state was made a Russian protectorate, and in 1924 it was replaced by the Uzbek S.S.S.R. Bukhara remained the capital when Uzbekistan became independent in 1991.
Shiites in Bukhara
Among the indications of the early presence of Shiites in Bukhara are a number of hadith transmitters that hailed from Bukhara, such as Ahmad b. Abi Awf and his son Muhammad. In addition, Alid sayyids lived in Bukhara, some of whom were among the prominent personalities of the city and much respected by the people, such as Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Ali b. Abd al-Rahman, who was a hadith transmitter and a poet.
Given the considerable number of the companions of the Imams (a) and hadith transmitters who were from the various cities of Transoxiana such as Bukhara, Kash, and Samarqand, one can speak of a Shiite school in that region, especially in the first half of the fourth/tenth century.
From the sixth/twelfth to ninth/fifteenth century, there is not much information about Shiites in this region, but it is obvious that they became few and that Transoxiana was no longer a welcoming place for the Shia.
In the Timurid period, and especially in the ninth/fifteenth century, Khorasan witnessed a climate of religious tolerance, but this climate was immediately changed by the emergence of the Uzbeks, and the coming to power of the Safavids led to more restrictions on the Shia by the Sunni rule in Transoxiana.
In the second and third decades of the Twelfth/eighteenth century and with the decline of the Safavids, the Uzbek and Afghan invasions of Khorasan increased. During these invasions, a number of Shiites were taken to Bukhara as captives. In 1158/1745, Nader Shah was able to release 6,000 Iranian Shiite families that were captivated by the Khan of Khiva. The Uzbeks who were in war with the Safavids for three centuries had some fatwas that declared Shiites to be infidels. Accordingly, the Uzbeks would buy and sell Iranian Shiites as slaves. Some Iranians in that region hid their faith and were able to reach high political positions, such as Husayn Khan who became the governor of Karakol. Zayn al-Abidin Shirwani reports that during his travel to Bukhara he learned about 10,000 Shiite families who used to hide their faith.
In 1873, Amir Muzaffar, the ruler of Bukhara was forced to abolish slavery, and by 1885 all slaves were freed and the situation of the Iranians in Bukhara improved.
According to a report, the Iranian Shiites began to hold public mourning ceremonies between 1873 an 1885, which led to sectarian conflicts.
Between 1889-1905, Mulla Jan Mirza Sabzavari, an Iranian Shiite, became the chancellor. It is reported that some Bukhari Shiites gained tremendous wealth under the Russians, and they would send their donations to the holy Shrines in Iran and Iraq.
When the railway reached Bukhara and travelling between Iran and central Asia became easier, the Shiites of Bukhara were able to travel to the Shiite religious centers such as Mashhad, Karbala, and Najaf. Since then, they were in contact with the religious authorities in Najaf and would send them their religious questions and receive their answers.
One of the major madrasas in Najf, the madrasa of Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Yazdi, was renovated with the financial aid of Ustan Quli Bayk, the vizier of Abd al-Ahad Bukhari, between 1325-1327/1907-1909. He also funded the renovation of three madrasas belonging to Akhund Khurasani.
Although the Iranian community of Bukhara gained power, the majority of the Bukharis did not have a cordial relationship with them. In 1328/1910, a sectarian conflict broke out over the mourning ceremonies of Ashura. Some scholars believe that the motivation behind this conflict was limiting the influence of the Iranians in the high political positions.
Limiting the influence of the Shiites continued unit the death of Qadi Badr al-Din in 1908. After him, the situation changed drastically. Ustan Quli Bayk, the chancellor, allowed the Shiites to hold mourning ceremonies freely, which led to further sectarian conflicts.
In Muharram 10, 1328/January 22, 1910, a huge conflict broke out between the Shiites and the Sunnis, because the students of a Sunni madrasa insulted the Shiites for holding mourning ceremonies. This conflict, which led to widespread chaos, eventually ended with the intervention of Russian soldiers. Consequently, Ustan Quli Bayk and other officials related to him were deposed and holding mourning ceremonies in public was banned. Now, the Shiites in Bukhara have their own mosques and husayniyyas.
There are also Iranian communities called Afshar, which seem to be descendants of Nader Shah's troops in that region. In Bukhara, Nowruz is gloriously celebrated.
Shiite Mosques and Centers
In Bukhara, many mosques and other religious and cultural centers belong to Shiites, including the following:
- Hajj Mir Ali Mosque
- Ribat Miri Mosque
- Baba Kalan Mosque
- The Mosque and Husayniyya of Sayyid al-Shuhada'
Haj Mir Ali Mosque
This mosque is the main Shiite place of gathering, which is also called the Iranians' Mosque. About 10,000 Shiites form the community of this mosque, who usually speak Afghan Persian (Dari) and are known as Iranians because of their Iranian descent.
Ribat Miri Mosque
This is a newly built mosque with a community of about 1,000 Shiites, but Sunnis also use this mosque. The Shiites hold mourning ceremonies during Muharram, and the Sunnis pray tarawih in the month of Ramadan. Interestingly, sometimes Sunnis also attend the mourning ceremonies in Muharram.
Baba Kalan Mosque
This is a small mosque used mostly for funeral ceremonies. Sunnis and Shiites use the mosque together. There are nearly 4,000 Shiites around this mosque, most of them of Iranian descent.
The Husayniyya and Mosque of Sayyid al-Shuhada’
This complex is located in Tatar district and contains two buildings: a mosque and a husayniyya. It was built about one-hundred years ago. Nearly 10,000 Shiites constitute the community of this mosque; they usually speak Tajiki and rarely Uzbeki.
Ashura Ceremony in Bukhara
Among the manifestations of the historical and current presence of Shiism in Bukhara is the Ashura ceremony in this city. The ceremony is held in some regions of Bukhara province in a special way. It starts on the 10th of Muharram and is known by such names as “Shah Husayn,” “Wa Husayn,” “Mah-i Ashur,” “Chihil-i Imam” and “Ta’ziya Imam.” The ceremonies are held in places called ta’ziya-khana (mourning place). Women participate in the ceremonies with plates of food and by telling stories about the Prophet (s) and Ahl al-Bayt (a).
- The material for this article is mainly taken from بخارا in Farsi WikiShia.