A Female Saint in Muslim Polemics: Aghā-Yi Buzurg and Her Legacy in Early Modern Central Asia

A Female Saint in Muslim Polemics: Aghā-Yi Buzurg and Her Legacy in Early Modern Central Asia
Aziza Shanazarova


This dissertation is a study of the devotional work, Maẓhar al-ʻajā’ib, written to expound upon the teachings of Aghā-yi Buzurg, a female religious master active in the early 16th century in the vicinity of Bukhara. The Maẓhar al-ʻajā’ib is a historical source shedding light on female religiosity and gender history in 16th century Islamic Central Asia, when the region underwent major socio-political, religious and economic changes in the aftermath of the downfall of the Timurid dynasty, the establishment of the Shibanid dynasty, and the rise of the Safavid dynasty.
The dissertation consists of four chapters highlighting four particular aspects of the religious history of Central Asia based on the Maẓhar al-ʻajā’ib: text, author, gender, and religion. An epilogue discusses the shrine of Aghā-yi Buzurg on the basis of 19th-century documents and its contemporary status as a holy site in Uzbekistan. The epilogue is followed by the critical edition of the Maẓhar al-ʻajā’ib. The dissertation argues that the Maẓhar al-ʻajā’ib lays claim to the ahl al-bayt on behalf of the Sunnis, in competition with Shiʻism, which was then on the rise with the support of the Safavid dynasty. The very claim for the ahl al-bayt put Aghā-yi Buzurg’s group in a strained relationship with the Bukharan religious authorities, culminating in accusations of Shiʻi heresy against her followers. In its portrayal of Aghā-yi Buzurg, the Maẓhar al-ʻajā’ib represents a tradition that maintained an egalitarian conception of gender in the spiritual equality of women and men. The Maẓhar al-ʻajā’ib attests to the presence of multiple voices in Muslim discourse, and challenges conventional ways of thinking about gender history in early modern Central Asia. The project is theoretically informed by several related literatures that form a compelling interdisciplinary intersection of studies of Sufism, the history of Central Asia, and women’s and gender studies. The dissertation draws from recent inquiries in these works, contributing materially or theoretically to each. The dissertation explores the little-known world of female spirituality in 16th-century Central Asia, in order to build a solid historical foundation for further analysis of female religiosity and gender history in early modern Central Asia.


Aziza Shanazarova

PhD defended at

Indiana University Bloomington, Departments of Central Eurasian Studies and Religious Studies




Central Asia


Gender and Identity