Buddhism and Islam in Termez

This morning began with a visit to the Termez Archaeological Museum whose collections are all artifacts excavated around Termez and thus the collection spans the Stone Age, the Bronze Age as well as the time of Alexander the Great and subsequent periods up to the modern era. The main focus of interest for me was the collection of Buddhist artifacts from the 3rd to the 4th century.

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The Buddhist presence was strong in the pre-Christian era. In fact in the museum you can see Greek influence on Buddhist art.

Right after the museum there is a stone outcropping in a field: the ruin of a Buddhist stupa

The ruins are of a third century AD Buddhist monastery. Genghis Khan leveled the Buddhist shrines and monastery. I found the ruins very fascinating in that you can understand how mission-minded Buddhism was in those days and was spread along the Silk Road as far west as Merv. The ruins give evidence of the rich cultural interchange.

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The mausoleum of Al Hakim is a sacred place of pilgrimage for Muslims who come to venerate this 9th century Sufi philosopher. In front of the sarcophagus you see a copy of the Koran wrapped in fabric.

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The Muslim who comes to venerate the holy man will pick up the book and touch their forhead and kiss it three times. It reminds me of how Christians venerate icons. They touch the tomb and open their hands in prayer. Then they go to a room where the imam chants a portion of the Koran in Arabic then recites a prayer. The practice is done with such  devotion.

As I was walking away from the shrine it struck me how for almost 70 yeas Islam was brutally suppressed by the Soviets and people according to my guide forgot their religion. As she said they are rediscovering their religion and I am amazed how in less than 20 years the society is being re-Islamized for want of a better word: restoration of mosques and new mosques and pilgrimages where they can rediscover their religion the Soviets suppressed. I thought how quickly my country has become de-Christianized and yet perhaps there is the hope that there can be a revitalization of faith that could bring such joy to our secular society.

Walking through ruins of cities and fortresses give me a deep desire to learn more about the history of central Asia but also what role central Asia will play in the future. Central Asia is a vast territory rich in natural resources and wonderful people.

After a long day I had such a great time in the market. People are so friendly and are so happy when I tell them I am from America. They want to take pictures of us! When walking through the market I encounter smile after smile and hello after hello.  There is a feeling of security in the midst of the friendliness and respect that I have found among the people on the streets.

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And the food on the street is great.  And the ice cream is very good which offers some relief from the heat.