Samanid Revival in Tajikistan? By Sakar Datoo
In the speeches to the Assembly and at the inauguration of the first
Aga Khan Lycee in Khorog during his visit to Tajikistan in
September l998, Mowlana Shah Karim Aga Khan referred to Samanid Empire:
"This friendship enables us to discuss matters of signal importance for
the future of Tajikistan. To think about future policies, future
decisions, and to remember that the history of Tajikistan is the history
of Samanid Empire. We must not forget that. All Tajiks associate
themselves with that remarkable history and we must draw intelligent
lessons from that history."
This essay takes a look at Samanid Times and how the Tajik government
and the Aga Khan Development Network cooperate to reconstitute and
revive the suppressed and mutilated fabric of that civilization which
was renowned for the impulse and impetus that it gave to the Central
Asian national sentiment and learning.
Who were the Samanids? In the declining days of the Abbasid Caliphate
in the 9th century, the Samanids were a powerful family. The dynasty’s
founder, Saman-Khoda had four grandsons who had been rewarded
with provinces- Samarkand, Fergana, Shash and Herat- for their faithful
services to the Abbasid Caliphate. One of the great grandsons, Nasr
became governor of Transoxiana in 875 AD. But it was his brother and
successor, Ismail who, urged by the Abbasid Caliph to help quash the
rebel Brassworkers, defeated the rebels.
The Samanids were able to defeat the rebels of Transoxiana (the area
between the Aral Sea and Hindu Kush Mountains) and Khurasan (Eastern
Persia). They established their capital at Bukhara and ruled for almost
a hundred years, from 900 to 999 AD. (See Map of area)
The Samanid Empire was placed in the middle of the caravan routes that
stretched from China and Persia to Iraq and Eastern Europe. Because of
this and the fact that the Samanids were brilliant administrators, the
Empire prospered tremendously. They dug canals, repaired roads,
beautified the cities of their Empire and encouraged agriculture. Above
all, Samanid Empire was replete with and rich in intellectual
Under the Samanids, the Empire flourished with significant expansion of
commerce and industry. The main cities of Samarkand and Bukhara became
cultural centres. Persian language and literature flourished. Indeed, it
was an Age of Enlightenment in which were born accomplished poets like
Rudaki and Firdausi and famous physicians like Ibn Sina and Al Razi.
Philosophy and history were encouraged and the foundations of Iranian
Islamic Culture were laid.
Having come thus far, one might wonder what Samanid Empire had to do
with Tajik and Ismailis? To begin with, the Samanids had a significant
role to play from the perspective of Tajik history as the Samanids ruled
much of Tajikistan either directly or through vassals. Much of southern
Tajikistan was subject to the amir of Bukhara. The rulers of Bukhara
and the khans of Kokand fought for the control of parts of northern
Tajikistan. Later, of course, the local borders changed in a different
way when the Russian Empire conquered Central Asia in the nineteenth
It should be noted that from early times, the Ismaili da’is were sent to
many regions and they appealed to the different social segments.
Initially, the Ismaili da’is succeeded greatly in da’wa in the areas
that were less urbanized and removed from the vital administrative
centres. In fact, the early Ismaili movement assumed the mode of protest
against oppressions of Abbasids, the privileged urban classes and the
centralized administrations. In short, Ismailism sought support and
following from among the peasants.
Ismailism spread in many parts of west-central and northwest Persia.
Later the da’wa was also extended to Khurasan and Transoxiana.
In the area of Rayy, which served as the headquarters of the Ismaili
mission in the northwestern Persian region of al-Jibal, the da’wa was
started by a certain Khalaf al-Hallaj. He began to preach Ismailism
secretly. However, he was discovered and was forced into hiding in Rayy,
where he died. He was succeeded by his son, Ahmad. Ahmad’s chief
disciple Ghiyath who was well-versed in Hadith and Arabic Literature
preached among the local Sunnis and won followers in the cities of Qum
Eventually, a Sunni jurist incited the people of Rayy against him and
Ismailis, forcing Ghiyath to flee to Khurasan, where he met and
converted the amir, al-Hussayn. Many of the people under the influence
of this powerful amir who later himself became a da’i, accepted
Ghiyath later returned to Rayy and appointed as his deputy Abu Hatim who
was one of the most important early Ismaili authorities.
Abu Hatim greatly expanded the da’wa activities during the first ten
years of the 4th century by sending da’is to Isfahan, Azherbaijan,
Tabaristan and Gurgan.
The da’was was officially taken to Khurasan between 903-913 AD by Abu
Abdullah al-Khadim as indeed Ghiyath had earlier introduced Ismailism
to that province.
The head of the da’wa in northeastern Persia and the adjoining areas
was al-Hussayn al-Marwazi, already mentioned earlier. He is well-known
in the annals of Samanid dynasty. During the reign of Ahmad bin
Ismail (907-914), he had commanded Samanid forces in Sijistan, but later
during the rule of Ahmad’s son, Nasr II, he had rebelled. However, he
was defeated, and after being pardoned and spending some time at the
Samanid court, he returned to Khurasan to continue as chief dai there.
Al-Hussayn appointed al-Nasafi, a brilliant philosopher, as his
successor. This dai soon set out for Transoxiana in an attempt, as per
his predecessor’s advice, to convert the dignitaries of the Samanid
Court at Bukhara. He converted several confidants of the Samanid amir,
including his private secretary. He then moved to Bukhara and with the
help of his influential converts at the court, he managed to woo and win
over the amir, Nasr II and his wazir. Thus, the Ismaili dai acquired
a special position of influence in the Samanid capital and began to
preach Ismailism openly.
These developments antagonised the Sunni religious leaders of the state
and their military allies, the Turkish guards of the Samanid rulers.
They conspired to depose Nasr II, and under his successor, Nuh
I (943-954), the Ismailis of Khurasan and Transoxiana were severely
persecuted. However, the Ismaili da’wa continued to exist in a subdued
manner in Transoxiana where Ismailism maintained secret followers
under the last Samanids and in the subsequent years.
The Samanid Empire existed in the pre-Fatimid era, during the Imamats
of Mowlana Mehdi, Mowlana Qaim and Mowlana Mansur. It was during the
Imamat of Mowlana Shah Qaim that al-Hussayn al-Marwazi penetrated the
Samanid Court and carried out da’wa among the dignitaries of the
Among the believers at the time ranked the father and brother of Ibn
Sina (Avicenna), the celebrated philosopher-physician. Ibn Sina became
acquainted with the tenets of Ismailism but apparently, did not adhere
to Ismailism into which he was born. The poet Rudaki, however, remained
an Ismaili and wrote beautiful poetry glorifying Ismaili Imams. For an
Ismaili, it should be a matter of tremendous pride and joy to see the
statues of both Rudaki and Ibn Sina standing tall in the city of
From the mid-10th century, Samanid power was gradually undermined
economically as well as politically. Weakened, the Samanids became
vulnerable to pressure from the rising Turkish powers in Central Asia
and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the Samanids had built up their armies
with the help of Turkish slaves. In 999, the Samanids were utterly
defeated by their former slaves at the battle of Merv. The refined
Samanid Empire thus came to an end.
Samanid Empire boasted prowess in the sciences, especially mathematics,
astronomy and medicine. Geography, philosophy, Persian language and
literature cultivated the social aspects while mining and agriculture
contributed to the economy and well-being of the state. To the
Samanids, the downtrodden were considered to be the deserving element
along with the "elevation of the intellectuals and nobles of society."
Today, Tajikistan suffers from the vagaries of time and repression. It
is "an area which has suffered from isolation, economic backwardness,
the failure of the social systems…" and what the country needs is "the
delivery of humanitarian assistance, the granting of small business
loans, the provision of improved seed varieties, repair to educational
and health facilities, the introduction of new courses and programmes in
the universities and schools…."
The Samanids had responded positively to such issues. They "allocated
resources, devoted a great deal more to educating the public than ever
before, encouraged innovation and enterprise" and in the process created
a unique civilization.
Indeed, in like spirit, the Aga Khan Development Network created by the
Ismaili Imamat "as a contemporary endeavour to realise the social
conscience of Islam" undertakes to repair the damages inflicted upon
Tajikistan over these long years by harnessing "human
genius", "mobilizing creative capacity" and endeavouring "to improve the
lives of all the people…" As His Highness pointed out: "The Samanid
Empire concentrated the strongest capacity of its time under its rule in
order to govern well."
Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan at Khorog during visit to
Tajikistan in September, l998 (Opening of first Aga Khan Lycee)
Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan - addressing the Assembly during
visit to Tajikistan in September, l998.
Samanid Renaissance and Establishment of Tajik Identity by Iraj Bashiri
Heart of the Silk Road - Internet
The Ismailis - Their History & Doctrines by Farhad Daftary
The Assassin Legends by Farhad Daftary
The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam
With kind regards and Allah Hafeez,
Aga Khan Outlines Path to Peace in Afghanistan
ISHKOSHIM, On the Afghan-Tajik Border, Sept. 30 1998 PRNewswire- In a
powerful appeal to all Muslims in Afghanistan, Shia and Sunni alike, His
Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims,
outlined a basis for constructing a new and more stable civil order in Central
"All Afghans should, as promptly as possible, re-establish open and
brotherly dialogue among themselves, as our Faith instructs us to do, so that
Islam's ethic of peace becomes a national reality." "We are not allowed to
live in hate."
Announcing his intention to continue humanitarian relief programmes in
Afghanistan, the Aga Khan made a commitment to also support the rehabilitation
of education, healthcare, agriculture and infrastructure. These efforts will
commence in areas where collaboration with local communities and other
agencies can facilitate the transition to long-term development.
Addressing crowds of tens of thousands at centres along the Pyanj River
that marks the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, the Aga Khan
credited the establishment of peace in regions of Tajikistan still emerging
from civil strife for the success of agrarian reform, health, education and
economic regeneration programmes undertaken by the Aga Khan Development
Speaking to Sunni and Shia Muslims at Porshniev, Tem, Roshorv, Vanj,
Langar, Ishkoshim and Yoget during an eight-day official visit to Tajikistan,
the Aga Khan noted "with great pain and sadness, Muslims fighting against
Muslims in Afghanistan." "We must respect the sanctity of life," the Aga Khan
enjoined, citing a verse of the Holy Qur'an which says, "And whoso saves a
life, it is as if he had saved the entirety of mankind." He observed that
"because the ethical premises of civil life are the same in all schools of
Islam, we have the remarkable opportunity to build the future of civil
societies in which we will live, on premises which will unite all Muslims, and
not divide them."
"Wealth and power," the Aga Khan said, "are not objectives in themselves,
but are to be used in the service of others." "Those whom life has
marginalised are to be helped . . . to free themselves from their
constraints." "Anything to do with drugs," he emphasised, "is to be
rigorously avoided." It is on these ethical premises, said the, Aga Khan,
that we need to "bring peace to Afghanistan, to eliminate hate and division,
and thereafter rebuild the country for the benefit of all Afghans."
By mobilising US$ 110 million in collaboration with international donors
over the past six years, the AKDN's efforts in Tajikistan in humanitarian
assistance, the privatisation of agriculture, investment in health and
education, and the creation of entrepreneurial opportunities, have
significantly enhanced living conditions for populations in an area covering
half the country. Tajik communities that faced starvation only five years
ago, now expect to be food self-sufficient within three years. AKDN
programmes have nearly tripled wheat yields and doubled potato yields in parts
of the country most affected by the civil war. Today, former combatants in
the Garm Region, once the stronghold of the armed opposition, have become
AKDN has provided emergency inputs and technical assistance to sustain and
improve the delivery of educational and healthcare services. Through
scholarships and innovative educational programmes, AKDN has increased the
capacity of universities across the country to teach English, market economics
and humanities with a focus on the cultures of Central Asia. Localised
microcredit programmes have created new jobs and are transforming the barter
economy by revitalising entrepreneurial activity. AKDN is investing in
infrastructure through projects in the power and road construction sectors.
At earlier meetings in Dushanbe with Tajikistan's President Emomali
Rakhmonov and Sayid Abdullo Nuri, the Chairman of the Commission for National
Reconciliation, the Aga Khan emphasised that the country's peace process and
economic development are mutually reinforcing.
The opportunities that peace can bring were highlighted by major new
initiatives discussed during the Aga Khan's visit. A primary and secondary
school, the Aga Khan Lycee, was inaugurated as a "centre of excellence" to
serve as a model for educational institutions throughout Central Asia. The
Network is actively supporting completion of the Darwaz-Kulyab Road,
complementing the Network's funding of the Murghab-Kulma segment of a new
"Silk Route" connecting Central Asia to the Indian Ocean through both China
and Pakistan. Planning for an international university for Central Asia
specialising in the problems of high mountain societies has commenced, on the
basis of the submission by an international group of prominent experts of a
report jointly commissioned by President Rakhmonov and the Aga Khan.
The Aga Khan Development Network is a group of private, non-denominational
development agencies and institutions with specific mandates that range from
health and education to rural development, culture, the built environment and
the promotion of private sector enterprise. These agencies and institutions,
working together, seek to empower communities and individuals, often in
disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities.
For further information, please contact:
The Information Office Telephone: 33-3-44-58-4000
Aiglemont Fax: 33-3-44-58-1114
Source: Aiglemont Information Office
Ismaili Dai Al Muayyad fi din Shirazi
Mowlana Hazar Imam Revisits Tajikistan
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