MA dissertation: The Imami Ismaili community in South Asia

Laurence Gautier, The evolution of the role and status of the Imam within the Imami Ismaili community in South Asia (1947-1993), M.A. thesis, ENS/EHESS (Paris), 2009.

“This dissertation examines the evolution of the concept of Imama after 1947, in a context of communal tensions and rising Islamic fundamentalism in South Asia. It puts the emphasis on the efforts of Sultan Muhammad Shah and of his successor Shah Karim, imams of the Imami Ismailis, to defend their community – a religious minority in both India and Pakistan, and to preserve their own authority – the target of many controversies. To achieve both objectives, they developed privileged relationships with the authorities in the two new independent states, especially in Pakistan. Above all, they reinterpreted their role and status as imams by using the elements of the Ismaili tradition, which would strengthen the Muslim identity of their community and legitimize their own authority. The temporal dimension of the Imama became essential. Shah Karim later created a large network of NGOs, further shifting the focus of attention from religious controversies to development issues. Being the “Imam of the Time”, Shah Karim not only adapted the understanding of faith to the changing times, he also gave a new definition of his role as imam. The Imama, considered as a fundamental of faith, therefore appeared as a concept in constant evolution.”

 


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