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Ruhnama (The Book of the Soul, from Arabic روح and Persian نامه ) is a book written by Saparmurat Niyazov, late President for Life of Turkmenistanmarker, combining spiritual/moral guidance, autobiography and revisionist history, much of it of dubious or disputed factuality and accuracy. The text includes many stories and poems, including those by Sufi poet Magtymguly Pyragy. It was intended as the "spiritual guidance of the nation" and the basis of the nation's arts and literature. The Ruhnama was introduced to Turkmen culture in a gradual but eventually pervasive way. Niyazov first placed copies in the nation's schools and libraries but eventually went as far as to make an exam on its teachings an element of the driving test.

In March 2006, Niyazov was recorded as saying that he had interceded with God to ensure that any student who read the book three times would automatically get into paradise.


Niyazov issued the work's first volume in 2001, saying it would "eliminate all shortcomings, to raise the spirit of the Turkmens". In 2004, Niyazov issued a second volume, covering morals, philosophy and life conduct. The book was a substantial part of Niyazov's personality cult and his administration's policy of Turkmenization. The government required bookstores and government offices to display it prominently — and mosques to keep it as prominent as the Qur'an. After some imams refused to comply with this demand, alleging that compliance would be blasphemous, the state reportedly demolished some mosques.

The Ruhnama's role in society

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Knowledge of the Ruhnama is compulsory, imposed on religious communities and society generally. The work is the main component of education from primary school to university. Knowledge of the text (up to the ability to recite passages from it exactly) is required for passing education exams, holding any state employment and to qualify for a driving license.

Public criticism of or even insufficient reverence to the text was seen as the equivalent to showing disrespect to the former President himself, and harshly punished by dispossession, imprisonment or torture of the offender or the offender's whole family if the violation were grave enough. Since the passing of Niyazov, punishment for disrespect of the book is in a questionable status.

There is an enormous mechanical replica of the book in Ashgabatmarker, the country's capital. Each evening at 8:00 pm, it opens and recorded passages from the book are played with accompanying video.

Months after President for Life Niyazov's death (in December 2006), the Ruhnama's grip on the Turkmen public seemed unweakened, the AP's Benjamin Harvey reported in May 2007. Television stations featured solemn readings from the book. "The Ruhnama is a holy book" was carved into one side of the entrance arches at Central Asia's largest mosque in Niyazov's hometown — and "The Qur'an is Allah's book" was carved into the other, wrote Harvey, adding: 'Posters of the Ruhnama flank the roads of the capital city, Ashgabat, alongside likenesses of Niyazov. Quotations from it are inscribed on the desert city's fantastic array of fountains, monuments and official buildings.'

Michael Denison, of the United Kingdommarker's University of Leedsmarker, told the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs' IRIN News: "I don't think [the Ruhnama] will be disavowed [...] It might just [become] rather perfunctory." Others hope for restoration of full secondary and tertiary education and changes to the curriculum, which were cut back and reformed under Niyazov to be based primarily on the Ruhnama.

Questions remain about whether Niyazov actually wrote the Ruhnama himself. It has been translated into 41 languages.


  1. Turkmenistan Project
  2. Forum 18 Search/Archive
  3. ENTERTAINMENT - The Denver Post
  4. IRIN Asia | Asia | Turkmenistan | TURKMENISTAN: President sworn in amid cautious hope for change | Governance | News Item

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