High up the Langar valley, withdrawn into the protective foothills of the Hissar range and isolated by the Langar Gorge, lies one of the few towns in Uzbekistan which the long arm of Soviet transformation never quite reached. The traditional town of Langar spills down the hillside in horizontals of clay brick, its fall broken only by its remarkable Friday Mosque. The plain exterior of the mosque (1520, 1562, restored 1807) masks an inner world of blue, black and gold mosaic tilework created by Samarkandi and Bukharan masters. Flowered grills of alabaster punctuate a ceiling band of tiled calligraphy.
Perched on a mountain spur, overshadowing the town, stretches the high Timurid drum of the Langar Ata Mazaar, the final resting place of 15th- and 16th-century sheikhs from the Iskiya order, rivals to the dominant Naqshbandi order, who had them driven out of Samarkand during the Timurid period. The mausoleum marks the beautiful tomb of the most famous local sheikh, Mohammed Sadik (d. 1545), his father Abul Hasan, son Hudaykel and an unknown Timurid noble, thought to be the seven year old daughter of Tamerlane.
The hilltop mausoleum is clearly visible from all around, and the mosque by its side once held both an early Qu'ran and a cloak said to belong to the Prophet Muhammad. These artefacts have sadly long-since been removed, but it's still worth stopping off here for half an hour, if only to break the journey south.
Langar, which means "pier" or "anchor" not a rare name in Uzbekistan and most often refers to villages that grew up near the Mazars (the burial place of Muslim saints). Langar is to some extent is even philosophical concept and a direct translation doesn’t uncover the full meaning: this is the shelter, and the last hope, and a place where God sometimes comes. The names of those who are resting on those Langar mazars at times recede into the background, being replaced by the title of Langar-Ata, and this gives rise to an astonishing confusion. Somewhere they write that there are seven Lyangars in Central Asia, but this, as you understand, is a very magical number and therefore conditional. There is a Langar in Tajikistan and Samarkand, and in the mahallas of Tashkent, and even in Kashkadarya one more Langar with a very beautiful White Mosque stands about the same distance from Shakhrisabz, but in other mountains. But the most revered and famous of them is still this one, and sometimes it is even Katta-Langar, that means the Great Quay.
The mausoleum, built at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, is slight in build from the outside - but take a notice of its spire with four balls. This is not an adornment: each of them means a certain level of approach to God: the Shari'ah ("the law", or rather its knowledge and observance is the destiny of every orthodox believer), Tarikat (the "path" to God, which the person himself chose - the destiny of the Sufi disciple-Murid ), the maarifat (the "knowledge" that is found on this path is the destiny of the Sufi wise men) and hakikat ("truth", a complete fusion with the divine, like Buddhist Enlightenment). The local people say about Langar, and in any guidebook one can also find that there are only two mazars of the "4th level" in the world – and the second one is in in the Turkish Konya on the grave of Jalaladdin Rumi, the founder of the famous movement of "whirling dervishes" who came to Asia Minor from the Afghan Balkh. In fact, all this is rather arbitrary: there was no single system and the Sufi sages determined the symbolism of their constructions themselves, proceeding from their ideas.
Langar was the abode of now almost disappeared, and once seemingly flourished ishkiy tariqat (Sufi order), that preached the knowledge of God by mind. Muslim Central Asia is primarily the Sufi brotherhoods with incline towards in the "Turkic people's Islam" and Buddhism, primarily the Bukhara Naqshbandiya. Iskia, however, was a new movement, born in 8th century Arabia around Baba Ishka of Mecca, who was considered the keeper of the Qur'an of Usman, the original of the "first edition" of the holy book of Muslims collected in the 640s by one of the companions of the Prophet. Now several manuscripts claim to be the originals of this script, one of which is in Tashkent - in the 15th century it was taken from the Middle East by Tamerlane. Apparently, at that time the the followers of Iski came to Central Asia and firstly settled in the Nurata Mountains near Samarkand. There, the young Mohammed Sadyk was learning from the old Sufi, and according to legend, one day the water in the jar which he brought to his teacher for washing spontaneously boiled, and the teacher, seeing such a miracle, only said that two wise men in one place is like two housewives in one kitchen, and instructed him to sit on a white camel and ride until it stops. The camel drove Sadyk to the mountains and finally stopped on top of this hillock. The shrine, which Muhammad Sadyk left, was soon devastated by cholera ... it was all in 1472.
And around Sadyk, surnamed Langar-Ata, a new community has rallied, secludedly living in the mountains away from the worldly bustle - it is believed that 360 of its followers have been buried there, and the carved gravestones around the mausoleum are belonging to them. The mausoleum, which is unattractive on the outside, turns out to be quite beautiful inside, and strange figures on the walls are also letters from one of the ancient fonts. But most interesting here are headstones with fine carving of steles - under the dome of the mausoleum buried are, Mohammed Sadyk himself, his father and son, one of the daughters of Tamerlane, who entered this community, and mostly impressive king of Yemen, who in the very old age renounced the throne and departed to the most remote abode of Ikshki order, whom he apparently belonged.
These are the beautiful legends and they can hardly be verified, but from locals point of view the legend as a kind of shadow of the history that also has a right to exist. Anyway, Lyangar in Uzbekistan is extremely honorable and is visited by pilgrims.
Occasional buses run from the town of Kamashi to Kyzyl Kishlak, from where Katta Langar lies a six-kilometre hitchhike away, and buses return to Kamashi in the afternoon. Shared taxis run from Shakhrisabz to the junction at Kyzyl Tepa, where other cars wait to follow the Langar River east.
The history of the Iski Sufis brotherhood is closely connected with the history of Sufism emergence. This mystical branch of Islam originated in Muslim countries over 1200 years ago, within next several centuries Sufism spread from the Middle East to Central Asia and India and from the northern outskirts of China to Indonesia. The term Sufism – tasawwuf - goes back to the Arabic word ‘suf’ - wool, rough woolen clothing - an attribute of the ascetic. The philosophical essence of Sufism consists in comprehending the mystical path of approaching God and attaining the Divine Truth. The key concept of Sufism is the attainment of an ecstatic state that is given from above and manifests itself as instantaneous enlightenment, the filling of the soul with divine love and knowledge.
During the IX-XIV centuries Sufi communities were formed in Central Asia, that had many students and followers around the world and had an invaluable influence on the development of philosophical thought and theology in the entire Muslim world. According to the legend, the brotherhood of Iskia (isk means love to Allah), a branch from the famous Sufi brotherhood of Taifuriya, received its name in the VIII century by the name of its founder - the noble inhabitant of Mecca Baba Iska. He allegedly owned the genuine Quran of Osman and was forced to flee from the persecution of the Emir of Mecca, who also claimed to have this Qur'an. Hiding his young son and the Koran in a saddlebag, he left his homeland.
Centuries later, his followers led by Sheikh Abul-Hasan al-Ishki, settled in Movarounnahr in the 13th century, establishing the Astana-ata monastery in the northwest of the Samarkand oasis in the Nurata Mountains, in Kohinur. In 1472, Ishki brotherhood suffered a great calamity: cholera began in the monastery. Obviously, this made the sheikhs of Ishkia move to the valley of Kashkadarya.
Indeed, it was impossible to choose a place for the monastery better than that. Remoteness from the busy caravan roads, the harsh beauty of the surrounding mountains, the murmur of the waters of a mountain stream, detachment from worldly vanity only helped in mystical searches for the Divine Truth. Apparently, the area where Katta Langar is located had magical appeal for local population since ancient times. Even before the arrival of the Arabs in Movarounnahr, people gathered here for rituals that go back to the Zoroastrian beliefs - the celebration of the spring holiday Navruz, for rituals and chants at the festivals of Sayil and Guli Surkh. To this day they preserved in Katta Langar an ancient tradition of lighting fixtures in special small structures called "chirogdon."
The legend of the founder of the brotherhood - the owner of the ‘Koran of Osman’ - Baba Ishka - in fact, finds confirmation. There is a chest kept in the mosque of Katta Langar, that was made according to the Arabic inscription on it, in the second half of the XIX century by the order of the Bukhara emir Muzaffarhan and intended "for the storage of the Prophet's khirqah." It is known that during the consecration to the Sufi brotherhood, a ritual was observed that goes back to the custom established by the Prophet Muhammad for his disciples: the teacher shook hands with the disciple, put on him the garb of a dervish - khirqah and a cap - kulokh. This garment was a symbol of spiritual continuity, it was believed that it was given by the Prophet to his spiritual successor and through many generations became the property of the Sufi brotherhood of Ishkiy. Local residents claim that in this same chest the famous holy Koran of Osman was kept.
Originally the Koran was spread in word of mouth from the listener to the listener, and even if it was, it was sketchy and unsystematic, despite the fact that the Prophet Muhammad called for the preservation of every word of God. The initiator of the compilation of the Quran was the second Caliph Osman. Zeid ibn Sabit was entrusted to fulfill this charitable deed, who in recent years was a scribe of the Prophet Muhammad. The final consolidated text of the Koran was completed in 656, the sacred book was rewritten in five copies and sent to the most important centers of the caliphate - Mecca, Medina, Damascus, Kufa and Basra. The original Osman kept himself, and this unified text of the Qur'an was recognized as canonical.
According to the legend, it was this Qur'an that was read by Osman, when the rebels came to kill him, and the pages of the book still bear the stains of the blood of the righteous caliph. The fate of this copy of the holy book for many centuries was unknown. But at the end of the 14th century, Amir Temur brought the Osman Koran to Samarkand after his campaign to Syria and Iraq, and the boo was placed in the library of the sovereign himself. The historical fact is that in 1868 this Koran was kept in the mosque of Khoja Ahrar, the sheikh of the Sufi order. After the Russians arrived in Samarkand, Osman's Koran was in the hands of General Abramov, who sent it to Tashkent, and then the sacred book was sent to St. Petersburg. Then the precious manuscript was sent to Ufa, where the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims was then, and in 1924, in a special railway car, the Koran of Osman was brought to Tashkent. Since 1941, the place of permanent storage has become the Museum of the History of the Peoples of Uzbekistan in Tashkent. In 1989, the Osman Qur'an was transferred to the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Uzbekistan, and now it is stored in a special room of the Library of the Office. In 2000, UNESCO issued a certificate confirming that the Osman Qur'an, which was kept in Tashkent, is the only surviving Koran, which was rewritten in the time of the Caliph Osman.
Nevertheless, one of the world's oldest Koran was actually kept in Katta Langar. According to Katta-Langar old-timers, in 1941 the book numbered 143 pages, of which only 12 have survived, they have been deposited with the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Uzbekistan. The Kutta Langar mosque houses well-made copies of these sheets. Studies established that the handwritten Quran on parchment from Katta Langar was made no later than the middle of the VIII century. By the will of destinies, about 80 sheets were found in the depositories of the St. Petersburg branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, one sheet at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan, some of the sheets of the precious copy were lost. Unfortunately, the location of the khirqah that was long kept in Katta Langar is not known.
The Sufi brotherhood of Ishkia had adherents in Kashkadarya and Bukhara until the beginning of the 20th century. Sacred relics have been lost, Sufi rituals have been forgotten for a long time now, but in Katta Langar the time seems to have stopped and the place remained a shelter of piety and faith.
The phenomenon of Katta Langar awaits researchers. Far from the temptations of civilization and worldly vanity, in harmony with the pristine nature live the inhabitants of Langar, observing the ancient rituals, organizing folk festivals with dances and songs, where one can still feel the reflections of ancient Sufi traditions. Like their ancestors hundreds of years ago, they still cultivate fields and gardens, graze livestock, build houses and raise children. They are friendly and simple-hearted and are always glad to every guest who visit Katta Langar from the outer World. Until now, the stream of pilgrims has not dried up in these holy places and people keep coming here from neighboring villages and distant cities. Here, at the sacred tombs, offering prayers to Allah, people ask for a good harvest, good luck in business, healing from disease ... Here in Langar, the Place of God on earth, all those who suffer will be given last hope and salvation.