|Mazar festivals of the Uyghurs: Music, Islam and the Chinese State. British Journal of Ethnomusicology. Volume 11, Issue 1, 2002|
Mazar in Central Asia are the tombs of Islamic saints, mythical or real, whose protection the Uyghurs (Turkic Muslims of China’s northwestern Xinjiang Autonomous Region) invoke against drought, for a good harvest, for the birth of a son, and so on. Several hundred of these tombs are scattered around the deserts and oases of Xinjiang, mapping out a sacred landscape whose paths Uyghur peasants follow yearly on their pilgrimage journeys around the tombs. Some mazar, like the tomb of the eleventh‐century Sultan Bughra Khan who fought a holy war to bring Islam to the region, are the sites of annual festivals which may be attended by thousands. The performance of music — the “classical” Muqam tradition, dastan (story‐telling), drum‐and‐shawm dance music, Sufi zikr rituals ‐ is an essential component of these festivals, used both for entertainment and with ritual meaning. The Uyghur mazar festivals are increasingly caught in the struggle between the Chinese State and rising Islamic fundamentalism in the region. This paper discusses the role of music in popular Islam in Central Asia, and Chinese Communist Party strategies of control and manipulation of popular religion, in terms of contesting the symbolic landscape and soundscape.