Introduction / History
In the deep, high mountain valleys of the western Pamir Mountains live the Shughni. They are part of a larger group in the area who refer to themselves as "Pamirian Tajik" in order to distinguish themselves from the neighboring Tajik. In particular, they differ from the Tajik in language and religious background. The most numerous of the Pamirian peoples, the Shughni are located in the western part of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. In their villages, they speak an East Iranian language that is very different from the language of the Tajik. In order to communicate with the world around them, they use the Tajik and Russian languages.
Relatively little is known about the history of the Shughni. Their roots apparently stem from the Saka ethnic group who first inhabited the Pamirian region in the first millennium B.C. Little else is known about them until their conversion to Ismaili Islam in the eleventh century.
What are their lives like?
Most Shughni settlements consist of several extended families that share a common male ancestry. The villages are generally situated along river deltas or river terraces. The small village, or kishlak, is designed much like a town square. All the buildings face an inner courtyard, and the external walls are connected to close off the square to the outside. The houses within the village have stone walls and wooden roofs. The roofs are supported by wooden columns, with the main column, or shastan, being decorated with carvings. Traditionally, upon entering a Shughni house, a person is expected to greet the shastan, if no one is home. Otherwise, the master of the house will be offended because reverence was not shown to the spirits of his ancestors. Recently, more Shughni are beginning to build separate and elegantly decorated houses. Since Ismaili Islam has no mosques, the public center of the village is a common house called the "house of five." This building serves as a place for communal feasting and marriages or as a type of men's club.
Shughni life is based on agriculture, with grains and legumes being the main crops. When the terrain allows, the Shughni plow, plant, and harvest with mechanical equipment. However, remote areas still require the traditional ox and plow methods.
Cattle, sheep, and goats are also vital to Shughni economy. Dried fruit is a popular supplement to a diet that consists mainly of grain and milk products and, occasionally, meat. The Shughni are known for their hand-crafted textiles, such as rugs and woolen cloth. They are also distinguished by the high quality of their wooden vessels and pottery.
Traditionally, the Shughni marry their first or second cousins of either the father's or mother's lineage. Maternal uncles are often involved in the arrangement of marriages. Until recently, the age of marriage was quite young for girls, generally at 15. Now the acceptable age has been raised to either 18 or when the girl finishes her education. Today, both young men and women have opportunities for higher education.
What are their beliefs?
The ethnic identity of the Shughni is based upon religion. Since the eleventh century, they have belonged to the Ismaili sect of Islam. This religious group follows the Aga Khan and is also known as the "Seveners." They believe that important cosmic and historical events occur in series of seven. Their doctrine is very secretive and private, understood by the select few. Ismailis have no mosques or official clerics, but private houses of prayer and itinerant clergy are numerous. Overall, Ismailis actively labor to gain followers and even send out missionaries to other Islamic groups. The Shughni isolate themselves from all Tajik and Pamirian who have adopted Sunni Islam.
What are their needs?
The Shughni seem to be completely isolated from any Christian witness. Prayer is urgently needed to develop an effective strategy for taking the Gospel to these secluded people.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send missionaries who will know how to witness to the Shughni in culturally relevant ways.
* Pray that Jesus will reveal Himself to the Shughni as the Lord of lords.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Shughni so they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil through worship and intercession.
* Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Shughni.