Category Archives: Books

Book review: Islamic Sufism Unbound by Robert Rozehnal

Robert Rozehnal (2007) Islamic Sufism Unbound. Politics and Piety in Twenty First Century Pakistan, New York & Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

In this book, which is a revised version of a PhD defended at Duke University with Bruce Lawrence as supervisor, Robert Rozenhal addresses a central question: “What do contemporary Chishti Sabiris make of modernity?”. He explores how they “accommodate a life of spiritual discipline and religious piety to the myriad demands of their daily experiences” (p. 8). What the author calls “alternative modernity” is made up of “a range of practical strategies to integrate Sufism into the complex matrix of twenty-first century life” (p. 9). Contesting the essentializing and reductive lenses with which Western scholars interpret Sufi thought and practice, he stresses the need of a “more nuanced, multidimensional, interdisciplinary reading of Sufism’s multiple dimensions – its public and private manifestations – doctrines and practices, its piety, and its politics” (pp. 13-14). In his methodology, Robert Rozenhal combines manuscripts and fieldwork, to bridge a disciplinary divide.

After an introduction devoted to “Mapping the Chishti Sabri Sufi Order”, the book is divided into six chapters: 1. Sufism and the Politics of Muslim Identity, 2. Muslim, Mystic, and Modern: Three Twentieth-Century Sufi Masters, 3. Imagining Sufism: The Publication of Chishti Sabri Identity, 4. Teaching Sufism: Networks of Community and Discipleship, and 5. Experiencing Sufism: The Discipline of Ritual Practice. Robert Rozenhal’s approach is undoubtedly innovative but since he focuses on the Chishti Sabri tradition, he sometimes makes rapid formulations. For instance, he states that “Pakpattan now stands as the unrivalled center of a distinctly Pakistani Sufism” (p. 26). It is a pity that his contextualization of Sufism in Pakistan is more or less restricted to the Chishti Sabri tradition. Obviously, it does not include the southern province of Sindh, although it is known as “the land of the Sufis”. What about other major Sufi centres like Multan or Sehwan Sharif?

The most important contribution of this book is to show through a fine analysis how plural the discourses on Islam are in Pakistan today. The author makes it clear that “what is at stake here is the definition of Islamic orthodoxy” (p. 34). One can nevertheless regret that the author’s demonstration is more related to the state than to radical Islam. He argues that “the state’s control of Sufi tradition (…) has never been totalizing or hegemonic” (p. 227). He also states that “Sufi identity is capacious, broader, and deeper than the parochial constructions of religious nationalism” (p. 228). The “alternative modernity” embraced by Chishti Sabri Sufi order is framed within an “alternative geography” that delineates an expansive Indo-Muslim sacred landscape centered on Sufi shrines, an “alternative history” that links the disciples ultimately to Prophet Muhammad through a sacred genealogy (silsilah), an “alternative community” rooted in a teaching network, and an “alternative authority” thanks to the experiential knowledge acquired through the Sufi ritual practices.

Michel Boivin (CNRS-CEIAS-EHESS, Paris)

More publications

“A ‘Proving Ground’ for Spiritual Mastery: The Chishti Sabiri Musical Assembly,” The Muslim World Vol. 97, No.4: October 2007): 657-677.

“Faqir or Faker? The Public Battle Over Sufism in Contemporary Pakistan,” Religion 36 (2006): 29-47.

“Debating Orthodoxy, Contesting Tradition: Islam in Contemporary South Asia,” in Islam in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives, ed. R. Michael Feener (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2004): 103-131.

“From Sufi Practice to Scholarly Praxis: Reflections on the Lessons of Fieldwork for the Study of Islam,” in Items and Issues: Social Science Research Council. Vol.3, No. 1-2 (Spring 2002).

Book: Piety and Politics in the Early Indian Mosque

Finbarr Barry Flood (ed) (2008) Piety and Politics in the Early Indian Mosque. New Delhi, Oxford University Press.

This book is a reader that will be of great interest not only for scholars but also for teachers and students. It brings together the different historical approaches of mosques contructed after North-West India came under control of the Ghurid sultanate originating from Afghanistan in the 1190s. In his long introduction, the author wonderfully articulates the multiple contexts through which the earliest mosques in South Asia were constructed. All this to better understand how different historical approaches and discourses around the category of mosques have been shaped over time. It is not surprising then that this book found a place in the OUP series entitled “Debates in Indian History and Society.

Rémy Delage

More infos

http://www.oup.com

Book: Journey to God. Sufis and Dervishes in Islam

Jürgen Wasim Frembgen (2008) Journey to God. Sufis and Dervishes in Islam, Karachi, Oxford University Press.

Since 1981, the author has been conducting ethnographic fieldwork on Islamic mysticism and Sufi cults in South Asia and more particularly in Pakistan. His latest book is a revised English version translated of the German one by Jane Ripken. Jürgen Wasim Frembgen here focuses on the role played by Sufis and dervishes in shaping social and cultural environments in the whole Muslim world from Africa across the Middle East to South Asia, with special emphasis on India and Pakistan. While describing everyday practices, perceptions and representations, the author intents to show how Sufi cults and saints became popular forms of Islamic religiosity at the local level, as well as components of mass devotional movements in Muslim societies.

Rémy Delage

 

More infos

http://www.oup.com

 

Book: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, le messager du qawwali

Pierre Alain Baud (2008) Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, le messager du qawwali [Nusrat Fath Ali Khan, the mesenger of qawwali], Paris, Editions Demi Lune.

Pierre-Alain Baud has published a number of papers on Sufi music from Pakistan. Although he began by focusing on Shah Latif’s musical tradition at Bhit Shah in Sindh, he was one of the first Westerners to personally meet Nusrat Fath Ali Khan in the 1980s. He accompanied him on several tours in Europe and elsewhere. Since the book is published for a large audience of French-speaking readers, the approach is more journalistic than academic. He nevertheless draws a useful  contextualization regarding Sufism in Pakistan, and the Sufi milieu in which Nusrat grew up. It must be remembered that Nusrat’s most famous hit was Dama dam mast Qalandar, a song devoted to La’l Shahbâz Qalandar of Sehwan Sharif that he converted into a universal hymn of tolerance.

Michel Boivin

More infos

http://www.editionsdemilune.com

 

Book: Ginân. Texts and Contexts

Tazim Kassam and Françoise Mallison (eds) (2007) Ginân. Texts and Contexts. Essays on Ismaili Hymns from South Asia in Honour of Zawahir Moir, New Delhi, Matrix Publishers.

The ginâns are devotional hymns of the Khojas, Nizari Ismailis of South Asia, disciples of Shâh Karîm, better known in Europe as Aga Khan IV. The contributions collected in this volume by Tazim Kassam and Francoise Mallison are offered to Zawahir Moir. Following the foreword by Christopher Shackle, the book offers a bibliography of Zawahir Moir who is without doubt the most knowledgeable expert on ginâns. The fifteen contributions reflect the diversity and dynamism of ginân studies. Among the issues under discussion, are ginâns the devotional heritage shared by the Khojas and other communities in Gujarat and Sindh. Historians also point out the interest of the role of the ginâns in the construction of Khojas identity during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Michel Boivin


Book: The Other Shiites. From the Mediterranean to Central Asia

Alessandro Monsutti, Silvia Naef & Fabian Sabah (eds) (2007) The Other Shiites. From the Mediterranean to Central Asia, Bern, Peter Lang.

This collective volume is the proceedings of an international conference, which took place at the University of Geneva in 2002. The « Other » in the title refers to the fact that none of the articles are devoted to Iran. It provides a general perspective on the diversity and multiplicity of Shiism outside Iran during the past two centuries. The word Shia is used here in a wider sense, since one paper is devoted to the Alevis and another to Ismailis. The book brings together thirteen contributions, five of which are devoted to South Asia, particularly Pakistan. Of particular interest is the contribution of Mariam Abou Zahab on the politicization of Shiites in Pakistan in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and that of Alessandro Monsutti on the social organization and the role of `Ashura’ among the Hazaras of Quetta (Baluchistan) .

Michel Boivin

 

More infos

http://www.peterlang.com

 

Book: Schooling Islam. The Culture and Politics of Modern Muslim Education

Robert W. Hefner & Muhammad Qasim Zaman (eds) (2007) Schooling Islam. The Culture and Politics of Modern Muslim Education, Princeton and Oxford, Princeton University Press.

The topic of religious education of Muslims has become of interest to many researchers for at least two decades. This volume reflects the momentum generated by a gathering of eminent specialists of the Muslim world, including here Morocco, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. In contrast to the image portrayed by Western media of the Muslim educational system, often described as motionless and a vector of militant and radical Islam, contributors here provide a more nuanced vision. While describing the diversity of cultural contexts of educational institutions, they raise the question of the evolving nature and modernity of the relations between Islam and the State.

Rémy Delage

 

More info

http://press.princeton.edu