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date: 24 July 2017

Khojas of Kashgar

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article.

The Khojas of Kashgar have a Sufi lineage and became a ruling dynasty in Eastern Turkestan or present-day Xinjiang in Western China. Founded by the Samarkandi spiritual master Ahmad Kāsānī (d. 1542), a member of the Naqshbandiyya Sufi order strongly involved in politics, the lineage divided into two competing branches, one led by Ishāq Khoja (d. 1599) and the other by Āfāq Khoja (d. 1694). Both leaders were influential at the court in Yarkand and engaged in frequent proselytizing missions among Turkic, Mongol, Tibetan, and Chinese populations. Yet, only Āfāq Khoja and his group of followers, the Āfāqiyya, with the support of Junghar Mongols, created a theocracy whose capital was Kashgar and which was based on Sufi organization, practice, and ideology. Venerated as Sufi saints (īshān), the Khojas embodied a politicoreligious form of Islamic sanctity (walāya) while promoting a doctrine of mystical renunciation. Paradoxically, while the regime did not survive internecine conflicts and the Qing conquest in 1759, the Khojas of Kashgar, including the Ishāqiyya sublineage, continued to be very active in the long term. They conducted insurrections throughout the Tarim Basin and created short-lived enclaves until their complete neutralization in 1866 with the forced exile of the last great Khoja, Buzurg Khān Töre (d. 1869). In Xinjiang, the Khojas remain venerated figures of the past, although collective memory paints a contradictory picture of them, oscillating between holy heroes and feudal oppressors. Descendants of the exiled Khojas in Eastern Uzbekistan and Southern Kazakhstan formed communities, which have preserved relics and oral as well as written traditions.