Khast Imam (Hast Imom, Hazret Iman, Khazrati Imam and a million more variations) has been the spiritual heart of Tashkent for centuries. Remodeled in 2007, the enormously void square, bereft of trees and benches, is no longer a place to linger. Still, a number of religious sites (equally airbrushed though) are worth a look.
Hazrat Imam mosque
Flanked by a pair of 50m-high minarets, the Hazrat Imam mosque fronts the square. The largest place of worship in Tashkent was built in 2007 in a record-breaking 4 months. It neatly displays the then-government’s view of what Islam should ideally be like: pretty to look at, but preferably without substance.
Construction was an expensive undertaking: sandalwood columns from India, green marble from Turkey and blue tiles from Iran point to the international underpinning given to this visible new bastion of Islam. Next-door is the administrative centre of the Mufti of Uzbekistan, the head of official Islam in the Republic.
Oldest Quran in the world
The primary attraction on Khast Imam stands in the center of the square: the small Muyi Mubarak Library holds the oldest Quran in the world. The Uthman Quran on display is stained with the blood of the third Caliph Uthman who was murdered while reading it in 655.
It is one of 5 originals spread across the Islamic world from Qufa to Basra and Mecca to Tashkent. In the late 14th century, Tamerlane brought the Quran as a trophy from Kufa, where the Caliph Ali had brought it from Baghdad, to grace his new Bibi Khanum mosque in Samarkand. General Kaufmann, tsarist conqueror of Turkestan, dispatched it to St Petersburg in 1868. Lenin sent it to Ufa in 1924 to appease Muslims, from where it made its way to Tashkent in 1989.
Or so the story goes. Research reveals this is very likely not the oldest Quran in the world, and is not the famed Uthman Quran. How it got to Tashkent is unknown and based on legend. Did Lenin send it back via Ufa, or did Muslims from Kazan take it home and had it stolen from them by the Tashkent muftiate? All blurry.
What we do know is that it is very old (8th century) and now only a third of the original remains. The Quran was written in the Kuraish language (an early form of Arabic), in Kufic script on thick parchment.
The museum also contains other treasures: Muyi Mubarak means ‘the sacred hair’, a reference to a hair believed to have belonged to the Prophet Muhammad. Other manuscripts in the small library include an 8th-century deer skin manuscript from Katta Langar and a Quran optimistically written in Hebrew.
Other madrassahs, mausoleums and mosques
Across the square from the Hazrat Imam mosque stands the Barak Khan Madrassah. Nowadays souvenir shops occupy the student rooms of this 16th-century Medressa. To the side stands the Tellya Sheikh Mosque, formerly Tashkent’s main place of worship.
Built by Mirza Akhmed Kushbegi in 1856, the mosque is a peaceful place with some attractive carved pillars and painted ceilings, though notably less ornate than the Hazrat Imam Mosque that has effectively replaced it.
Just to the north of the Barak Khan madrassah are 2 more sites of interest. In the corner of the landscaped area stands the little 16th-century mausoleum of Abu Bakr Mohammed Kaffal Shashi, the grave of a 10th-century local philosopher and poet of Islam that became a site of pilgrimage. Barren women smear their faces with dust from his tomb in the hope he will end their curse.
Next-door stands the 19th-century Al-Bukhari Institute, one of the few Islamic centres allowed to operate during the Soviet period. It still operates as a religious college today.
- On the map: OSM / Gmaps – Midway along Qorasaroy street
- Metro stop: Chorsu or Gafur Gulom
- Muyie Mubarak library
- Opening hours : 9-12 & 14-17 Mon-Fri, 10-15 Sat
- Entrance: 5000 sum
- Other sites are free to enter, usually morning until evening
Combines well with a walk through Old Tashkent.