The Muslim Miners of Mongolia

The stark vistas of Sharyn Gol in summer – Cloud-painted sky with green pastures and sheep and industrial heritage in the background. Photograph by Saleem H. Ali

Five years ago I wrote a book called Treasures of the Earth, in which I developed an argument around how redefining our relationship with primary geological resources is the most elemental means of charting a pathway for environmental and social sustainability. Extracting resources can bring much pain and promise to the people who are involved or impacted by the process. Nevertheless, the advent of extraction has been an essential part of the development of modern society. The allure of mineral wealth is a common human impulse shared by most global cultures and creeds. Mining rushes are moments of convergence and nowhere is this more apparent these days than Mongolia – that vast land-locked country that once sent hordes of gallant warriors to conquer more than half of Asia. The country is booming with mining professionals from all over the world as one of the world’s largest forecasted copper mines got approval to move forward with expansion in mid-May.

The history of mining in Mongolia and the migration of multiple cultures is certainly not new. The mining town of Sharyn Gol in northern Mongolia exemplifies the convergence of cultures that mining booms can instil. During the 1960s, a coal rush brought Kazakh Muslim communities from the far West of the region to this remote locale nestled between rolling grasslands. Islam and Mongolia have intersected for centuries as the great conquering Mongol nomads clashed with Muslim lands in Turkik regions further west. The progeny of these Khans built empires such as the Mughals, which headed back east to reign over South Asia for several centuries. Yet many of —> Read More