Places, Memories and Religious Identity: Muslim Places of Worship in Badakhshan Region of Tajikistan
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This study examines the ways in which the Ismailis of the Badakhshan region of Tajikistan understand and relate to their sacred sites. It explores the sacred sites of Badakhshan within the framework of anthropological literature on space and place. Using the concept of chronotope, this study shows that the sacred sites disrupt the materialist and historiographic understanding of and relation to the spaces and places. Through the stories of the miracles of the saints, sacred sites validate and confirm the presence of the transcendent in the lived environment of the people. Beyond the legends about the miracles of the saints, sacred sites are chronotopes that evoke the memory of the Soviet campaigns against these places. Through the retrospective narratives about the Soviet past, people allocate the responsibility for the destruction and desecration of these sites at that period to members of their communities. Although these retrospective narratives are about recent events, they include transcendent intervention; that is, they show how these sites punished those that were involved in the Soviet campaigns against them. Moreover, through these discources and through their visitations to the sacred sites, people unconsciously attribute certain agency to them, which emerges in the relationship between people and these places. People seek the help of these sites to grant their wishes. In most cases, these wishes are about curing the seriously ill family member or curing infertility problems. In that sense, sacred sites help people to recapture the sense of agency in situations where they experience its loss. Therefore, sacred sites are chronotopes, the physical sites in the inhabited space of the community that incorporate and evoke the legends about the miracles of the saints, the stories about the recent Soviet past of these sites and the discourses about their current status in the life of the community. The stories and discources associated with the sacred sites affect and shape people’s perceptions and articulations of their inhabited spaces and places.