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Muslims at the Crossroads: An Introductory Survey of Historical and Contemporary Aspects of Islam in Central Asia

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Central Asia Reemerges

Central Asia has reappeared as a player in the ebb and flow of international relations. Ironically, the region the political geographer Halford J. MacKinder called “the geographical pivot of history” in 19041 was for most of the twentieth century consigned to the sidelines, as world wars and their geopolitical aftermath carried other actors to center stage. Yet at many earlier historical junctures, Central Asia had served as a crossroads, linking Asian, European, and Middle Eastern civilizations, a bridge that facilitated a “global economy” more than a thousand years before the industrial age. Moreover, the region was not only a conduit for economic exchange. Traders and invaders brought wares and warfare, and their religious beliefs with them. Zororastrianism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and other faiths all made their way to the heart of Asia, but the most enduring of the religious currents to flow into this cultural crucible was Islam.