In its widest acceptation, Transoxiana refers to a geographical area which has been the cradle of two great oriental civilizations, those of Sughd (Sogdiana) and Khwarazm (Chorasmia). Owing to its commercial and political relations with China and Turkistan, in the east, and Iran and Rome, in the west, the region was a melting pot of various religious tendencies, such as Buddhism, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity. The Sogdians themselves were adherents of a wide range of creeds.
With the consolidation of the caliphate in Hijaz and the advent of Islamic conquests, up to 22 AH, vast tracts of Khurasan, all the way to the Amu Darya, were opened up to the Muslims and Transoxiana, lying immediately to the north, fell within the domain of the Islamic caliphate. In 54 AH (674 AD), the rulers of Khurasan embarked on a series of military campaigns against the kingdoms of Sogdiana which continued until 90 AH (709 AD) without achieving any solid results. The primary sources on these conflicts are the Conquests of Khurasan, by `Ali b. Muhammad Mada’ini, and the Book of Khurasan, by Abu `Ubaydah Mu`ammr b. Muthanna, which have been the basis of reports by Baladhuri, Tabari and Narakhshi.
Though, in certain reports there has been mention of conquests on the other side of the Amu Darya, simultaneous with the triumphs in Khurasan, plausible evidence points to `Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad as the first Khurasani commander to have crossed the Amu Darya and entered into the Sogdian territory. In 54 AH, he marched toward Bukhara at the head of huge army, however, it was of little use since the conquest of Ramithan and parts of Baykand lasted but for a short while. The campaign was the initial point for a series of annual summer military excursions into the region of Sogdiana by Khurasani emirs, some of which were attended by Companions such as Qutham b. `Abbas. This prompted the local rulers of Transoxiana to join forces in the framework of a military alliance, whose effectiveness was evidenced all throughout the coming decades, since Khurasani commanders displayed deep reluctance with regard to military campaigns in the north. The only Muslim official with enthusiasm for the enterprise was Hajjaj b. Yusuf, who prodded his Khurasani peers from his base in Iraq. For instance, the march to Khwarazm, in 85 AH, led by a reluctant Yazid b. Mihlab was owing to Hajjaj’s instigation.
Among the examples of the infiltration of Muslim emirs into Transoxiana in the decade of the 70s AH, mention may be made of Musa b. `Abd Allah’s foray into Tirmidh. Based on historical records, around the year 70 AH, Musa, the son of `Abd Allah b. Hazim, the ruler of Ibn Zabir, in Khurasan, took a large army of loyal Bani Hazim, at the behest of his father, and crossed the Amu Darya, where after several skirmishes he passed through Bukhara and Samarqand and reached Tirmidh, where he took up position at a garrison and established his control over the region. After consolidating his powerbase in Tirmidh, Musa started to be seen by the emirs of Transoxiana as a Muslim ruler opposed to the central government of `Abd al-Malik b. Marwan and Tirmidh became a stronghold for those opposing the emir of Khurasan. The anti-Syrian government of Musa b. `Abd Allah, in Tirmidh, was finally brought to an end in 80 AH, as a result of internal strife leading to Musa’s murder. From a historical point of view, Musa’s rule was not only the first Muslim government in the region, but was among the first to have been established independently from the central caliphate.
With the consolidation of the central caliphate in Syria by the Marwanid branch of the Bani Umayyah, in 89 – 96 AH (708 – 715 AD), Qutaybah b. Muslim, who had been appointed by the caliph as the governor of Khurasan, was finally given the order to embark on a widespread military campaign against the kingdoms of Sogdiana and Khwarazm, which resulted in the establishment of relative Muslim control over the areas of northern Khurasan up to the western regions of Chach and Furqanah.
This period of Transoxiana’s history, which may be considered as the early Islamic or pre-Samanid period, has received short shrift in the modern studies of the region. The early part of this period was marked by a string of revolts and skirmishes between the native inhabitants and their newly established Muslim overlords, for instance those in 110 – 112 and 121 AH, which were mainly intended as moves toward regaining their lost independence. In time, the gradual infiltration of Islamic culture in the region extinguished the impetus for such movements. In the coming years, independent movements of Transoxanians were no longer characterized by their anti-Islamic orientation and riddah rebellions had taken the place of those which were commonly dubbed as Shu`ubism. Apart from the single case of the Sapidjamagan (the White-clad), these were separatist and sectarian movements which were in overall agreement with the Islamic religion.
In the course of the events which led to the transfer of caliphal authority from the Umayyads to the `Abbasids, it appears that the people of Transoxiana chose to throw their support behind Abu Muslim, whose revolt seems to have been informed by sectarian tendencies with a Shi`ite `Abbasid orientation. However, in the immediate aftermath of the consolidation of `Abbasid caliphate, there arose an anti-caliphal movement in Transoxiana, which compelled Abu Muslim to resort to military action as a means of establishing order in the region. During the same period, Transoxiana was home to Shi`ite groups with `Alawite tendencies who also engaged in political activities, a prominent example of which was the anti-`Abbasid revolt led by Sharik b. Shaykh Mahri (or Mahdi) in 133 AH. Sharik’s anti-caliphal movement met with such widespread enthusiasm in Transoxiana that even he managed to receive the allegiance of the Muslim emirs of Bukhara and Khwarazm.
In terms of the history of ideological tendencies, the first theologian of substance to appear in Transoxiana was Jahm b. Safwan Rasibi (d. 128 AH), a resident of Samarqand who expressed rational views on the divine attributes, resurrection and a number of other theological issues. Politically, he was a staunch opponent of the Umayyad regime and took an active part in the anti-Umayyad revolt of Harith b. Sarij in Khurasan.
Among the earliest sectarian tendencies in Transoxiana, though one that failed to strike deep roots, was that of the Muhakkimah, which, owing to its particular view on government, had the potential of attracting a huge following among the independence seeking Muslims of the region. This movement appears to have remained in force into the period immediately after the final conquest of Transoxiana. The first seeds of the Muhakkimite movement may have been sewn by `Akramah, the mawla of Ibn `Abbas, who had traveled to Samarqand on a mission of religious propagation. The Muhakkimite ideology received a wider reception in Khwarazm, which differed from Sogdiana in terms of climatic and cultural characteristics. In fact, Muqaddasi, the Muslim geographer of the 4th century AH, likens the Khwarazm region, in terms of its climate and inhabitants, to Sijilmasah in Maghrib. The Saharan city of Sijilmasah, for the same reasons, was for long a stronghold of Muhakkimite Sufris.
In the decades of 120s and 130s AH, Transoxiana, like Khurasan, was fertile ground for the missionary activities of Sufri and Ibadhi propagandists. The latter were especially successful in the region of Khwarazm. Abu Yazid Khwarazmi, a native of Transoxiana, was the most eminent Ibadhi da`i (propagandist, missionary) in the eastern part of the Islamic territory. He studied in Basra at the feet of Abu `Ubaydah, the leader of the Ibadhis, and other eminent scholars. Abu Yazid established one of the most important centers of Ibadhi culture in Khwarazm out of which rose such great scholars as Ja`far Khwarazmi, and his son `Abd al-Rahman, Abu Sulayman Khwarazmi and `Abd Allah Nasr Khwarazmi. However, the Muhakkimite movement had a brief lifespan in Transoxiana and there were few remnants of it by the 3rd century AH. The representatives of a major spectrum of Islamic thought, namely the Traditionists (ashab al-hadith), who later came to be referred to as the People of Sunnah and Jama`ah (Sunnis), were scattered throughout the region in the 2nd century AH. The presence of eminent traditionists of predominantly Arab extraction in the cities of Bukhara and Samarqand, such as `Ubaydah b. Hilal `Ammi Basri, Bard b. Sanan Samarqandi, `Isa b. Musa Ghanjar Bukhari and Abu Muqatil, Samarqandi, as the first traditionists on the other side of Amu Darya, paved the way for the establishment of a major Traditionist school in Transoxiana. The traditional school in Transoxiana flourished into the 3rd century AH and produced distinguished authors and transmitters such as `Abd Allah b. `Abd al-Rahman Darimi Samarqandi, `Abd b. Hamid Kashshi and Muhammad b. Isama`il Bukhari. Throughout the period of the compilation of al-Kutub al-Sittah (the Six Books, i.e. the six major works of hadith), which marked the zenith of the traditional literature in Islam, the scholars of Transoxiana played a substantial role alongside their colleagues from Khurasan and Jibal.
From its earliest days, Sufism also found a considerable following among the people of Transoxiana. The region produced some of the first Sufi masters, such as Abu Turab Nakhshabi and Abu Bakr Warraq Tirmidhi.