Mahmud Khoja Behbudi
Iraj Bashiri

copyright 2000

Mufti Mahmud Khoja, known almost exclusively by his pen name of Behbudi, was one of Central Asia's most prominent "enlighteners" of the 19th century. He was a resourceful leader and ideologue of the Jadid movement in Turkistan as well as a legal authority, a politician, a journalist, and a playwright.

Mahmud Khoja was born in 1875 to a peasant family of modest means outside the city of Samarqand. His father, although poor, was a devout Muslim and a conscientious instructor of the recitation of the <I>Holy Qur'an.</I> Mahmud Khoja completed his early education in 1894 under the tutelage of his father. He was about twenty years old. He then learned Persian and Arabic in addition to Turkish, his native tongue, and taught himself Russian. Arabic, of course, was necessary for his chosen profession while he needed Persian and Russian just to keep up with the up-and-coming Jadids of Turkistan.

Mahmud Khoja was a family man. He married when he was in his early twenties. The family had a son who was educated not in the madrasah tradition but in the new-method schools where he could learn the Russian language. Receiving instructions in secular subjects not included in the traditional curricula, Behbudi thought, was of paramount importance for the future viability of his son. Mahmud Khoja himself, at this point, studied law and, for his living, he worked as a law clerk. As an aspiring mufti, he also adjudicated minor Shari'a cases.

Mahmud Khoja was a traveler. Between 1900 and 1914, he traveled extensively in Egypt and Turkey. In 1907, he traveled to St. Petersburg via Tashkent, Urfa, Kazan, and Orenburg. As a result of his travels he became acquainted with a totally different world, learned concepts unheard of in Central Asia, and learned methods that he thought could elevate the educational standards of the region were the ulema to allow them to take root and grow. He also was an avid reader. As a means for learning about different cultures, in addition to travel, he read a lot. And, as a result of his erudition, towards the end of his life, he came to possess a major personal library which he dedicated to the city of Tashkent.

A well-educated mufti, Mahmud Khoja dedicated a considerable portion of his time to writing educational materials for new-method schools. These works were written to familiarize Central Asian children and youth with the topography of their homeland. They include the following volumes: Madkhali Juqrofiyo (Introductory Geography, 1905); Muntakhabi Juqrofiyoi Umumi (Geography: Some General Selections, 1906); Kitob ul-Atfol (Children's Book); Mukhtasari Ta'rikhi Islom (Concise History of Islam, 1909); Amaliyoti Islam (Islam in Practice); and Mukhtasari Juqrofiyoi Rusiyya (Concise History of Russia). He also authored and published a number of maps, including maps for Turkistan, Bukhara, and Khiva.

Between 1913 and 1915, he published "Samarqand," and "Oina." Both newspapers were dedicated to the promotion of Islam and exposure of the social ills perpetuated by the ishans and muftis under the guise of Islamic Shari'a law. In 1915, the Ulema, against whose excesses, especially with regard to the Waqf properties, Behbudi had written extensively, reacted. They denounced the reformist Jadid leader as an infidel. The charge was that the mufti had sanctioned the consumption by faithful Muslims of food prepared by infidels Christians.

Mahmud Khoja also wrote two plays. One is as yet to be published; the other is entitled <I>Padarkush</I> (The Patricide). <I>Padarkush</I> was the only theatrical work written and performed in a Central Asian local language before the October Revolution. Completed in 1911 and performed in Tashkent in January 14, 1914, the play depicts the life of Liza, a Russian prostitute, who caters to Uzbek men. Among others, the play emphasizes the gravity of sin and the consequences of inaction, especially where decisive action is required. The play was unique in that it dealt with the newly instituted bourgeois life in the region. It was puzzling to some and disliked by some others because it seemed to support the interests of the bourgeois class and the local merchants of the region.

Politically, Mahmud Khoja was one of the prominent organizers of the national bourgeois autonomy in Khokand. Like Mirza Abdul Wahid Munzim who led the Bukharan Jadids and Munavvar Qari who founded the Tashkent new-method school, Behbudi was the founder of the Samarqand new-method school (1903). When the community failed to support the movement by providing space for it, Mahmud Khoja volunteered his own house for the purpose.

During Mahmud Khoja's time, there were many opinions regarding the fate of the Emirate of Bukhara and, indeed, about the fate of the last Amir of the Manghit line, Sayyid Alim Khan. Mahmud Khoja, however, had a definite solution for the problem. Rather than disposing the amir, he advocated, the reformers must bring about a genuine bourgeois revolution in Bukhara. All that was necessary, in his view, was the implementation of correct bourgeois measures, whatever that meant.

He was also a major supporter of the Emperor of Russia whom he regarded as the "Healer of the People." He viewed the 1917 bourgeois revolution in Russia with great joy; because, in it he saw the achievement of the lost political rights of his people in the course of a truly local bourgeois revolution. This, of course, set him apart from many pundits of the time who decreed that Behbudi failed to comprehend the dynamics of the October revolution in Russia.

In May 1916, Behbudi presided over a meeting of the leaders of the Jadid movement. Munavvar Qari (Tashkent), Pehlavan Niyaz (Khiva), Usman Khojaoughlu (Bukhara), Abidjan Bek (Khokand), and others were in attendance. The agenda of the meeting included one major item. It demanded that the Czar's decree regarding the recruitment of Central Asian males for work behind the front be withdrawn. They were absolutely against Central Asians being taken away from their normal farm duties and be forced to put on Russian military uniforms.

Finally, Mahmud Khoja was a highly respected and famous nationalist. He led the All-Turkistan Muslim Conference in Tashkent and was one of the 200 dignitaries who witnessed Amir Alim Khan's manifesto regarding the implementation of reforms in the Emirate (March 17, 1917) of Bukhara.

In 1919, Mahmud Khoja Behbudi was killed in Qarshi at the hand of the executioners of Amir Alim Khan.

See also
Mahmudkhoja Behbudi International Foundation By-Laws

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