Qodiriy’s vision of a modern Muslim republic will be discussed at length in a later post, but for now we will focus on the character of Yusufbek Hajji. Hajji as an historical figure poses a couple intriguing questions for the reader of O’tgan Kunlar. Through Qodiriy’s accounting, Yusufbek Hajji is simply a Tashkent notable, father of our hero Otabek, and adviser to the ill-fated Azizbek who meets his end in Volume One.
Yet, when we review historical sources from the period, in this case Dr. Shodman Vohidov and Dr. Rahbar Khalikova’s work on Khulosat Ul-Akhval or Circumstances of Life by Abu Ubaidullah Tashkenti, we have one individual named Muhammad Yusufbek Hajji “Parchabaf”, or the Brocade Weaver, and another name Mohammad Yunus ibn Azimjan from Osh, located in present day Uzbekistan/ Kyrgyzstan. In my analysis Qodiriy indulges in the time-honored conceit of the historical novelist by conflating two historical persons into one fictional character.
In the first case we have Yusufbek Hajji Parcha Baf who was in fact adviser, or Dirbar, to Nur Mohammad Qushbegi– enemy of Musulmanqul and liberator of Tashkent from Azizbek in 1847– and played a central role, as in the novel, as instigator of the rebellion against Azizbek. Then we have the actual adviser to Azizbek– a certain Azimjan Sillik, or The Polished. —- mentions that poets contemporary to the events depicted in Volume One refer to Azimjan and his compatriot, Karimkul Mekhtar, as “Destroyers of Kokand.”
We see then that Qodiriy, perhaps for expediency and poetic license, conflates the two figures to streamline the narrative. But we know for certain that the events depicted throughout this volume are backed by both western and Uzbek sources!
As for the literary figure of Yusufbek Hajji, he witnesses some of the more harrowing moments in the novel: He instigates an uprising among the general population of Tashkent against Azizbek after a gruesome war against the Kokand Khanate, as the man-behind-the-scenes he orchestrates Azizbek’s replacement as Hakim of Tashkent, Nur Mohammad Qushbegi and the Uttaboi Qushbegi, and finally he raises a principled voice of dissent against the sedentary factions within court to purge the Khanate of male Qipchaqs, essentially a pogrom or ethnic cleaning of a 19th century court.
Throughout these chapters Yusufbek Hajji’s decisions are guided by simple, yet elegant ,sources of Islamic piety: the Quran, Hadith, and methods of Usal-al Fiqh, or Islamic Law. In Chapter Nine, Volume Three, titled Yusufbek Hajji Disavows the Ways of the World, Hajji quotes a Hadith directly from Muhammad Al-Bukhari in his Sahih Al-Bukhari. Considered by many Sunni Muslims as the most authentic compiler of Hadith, and hailing from Bukhara, Uzbekistan, it is worth quoting at length:
From the Sahih Al-Bukhari– Book 19, Hadith 30: Once the Prophet PBH was speaking to us when, a Bedouin came and asked him: “When will the Last Day be? The Messenger of Allah continued in his talk. Some of those present thought that he had heard him but disliked the interruption and the other said that he had not hear hear him. When the messenger of All concluded his speech he asked, “Where is the one who inquired about the Last Day?” The man replied: “Here I am.” The messenger of Allah replied, “When the practice of honoring a trust is lost, expect the Last Day.” He asked: “How could it be lost?” He replied, “When the government is entrusted to the under deserving people, then wait for the Last Day.” See source at library.islamweb.net
Later in Chapter Fifteen, Volume Thee, titled Her Delivery Date Nears, Yusufbek Hajji whiles away the hours upon retirement as an official in the Kokand court by reading the Quran and Dalil. To use Oxford Islamic Studies Online as a quick example of Dalil, the basic definition would be “Proof” as seen through logical deduction and reasoning based on analogy or proof by example. Inference plays a key role in Dalil as does empirical evidence through experiment, event or documentation.
Interestingly in the scene under discussion, Hajji is engaged in reading both sources of Islamic Law just before he mediates a dispute between Qumush and Zainab. Perhaps Qodiriy intends this scene to be an instructive on how to resolve conflict through proven Islamic systems of governance and as a counter-balance to threat of failed leadership as warned in the passage outline in the Sahih Al-Bukhari above.
As a counterpoint to Hajji’s Islamic piety, Qodiriy throughout the novel uses his brutal sarcasm to lambaste misguided attributions to Islamic Law by an uneducated populace. Many times during the novel we read the time-worn formula “The Shariat says insert misguided belief here.” The purpose of this post is not to enter into the many debates over the nature of Islam–usually itself fraught with hyperbole and polemic– but to draw attention to one of the central values behind reading O’tgan Kunlar and its rightful place in world literature: namely the universality of its many messages. As someone who knows southern culture I can comfortably compare my own culture of “The Bible says”insert misguided belief here.” to Qodiriy’s attempt to draw attention to the irony of those who engage in religious polemics through battling verses hence losing sight of the deeper meaning of faith.
Therefore Yusufbek Hajji’s character becomes a quiet, well grounded voice of faith and a reminder to Qodiriy’s readership to remember what is most important and central to their identity during times of crisis whether its 19th century Turkistan or 20th century post-Bolshevik Revolution: these are the tenets of our faith. We are a Muslim people with centuries of learning behind us. All the rest that travels through word of mouth– be it faith healers known as Tabibs, seers who trade in spells, or those playing the part of the pious while attending Bacha Bozi, dancing boys, should be met with healthy skepticism, or best avoided altogether.
It is not to say that Yusufbek Hajji, or his more fervent son Otabek, are against innovation and modernization within Muslim society. In fact, the deductive reasoning and inference as shown through the method of Dalil demonstrate a central tool to reforming Muslim society along modern lines. But Yusufbek Hajji cautions the world around him that as we struggle to obtain our idea of a proper society or family, we should always always keep at the forefront of our thoughts the idea of compassion. We see Hajji expound this idea publicly through his defense of the innocent Qipchaqs who will be murdered all for the sake of the career advancement of one person at court. We see it in the methods used to arrive at his decisions on all matters related to society. We see it in his inevitable conclusion after years of effort to inform his society of Islamic piety— Perhaps I will shake off the corrupt ways of the world and engage in deeper contemplation and reflection