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.”

 

Book: South Asian Sufism

Soren Lassen and Hugh Van Skyhaw (ed.), 2008, Sufi Traditions and New Departures. Recent Scholarship on Continuity and Change in South Asian Sufism, Islamabad, Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations, 215 p.

This book is the first one to be published on Sufism by the TIAC in Islamabad. The book gathers nine contributions mostly written by German scholars and other scholars working, or who have worked, in Germany. Noteworthy is a posthumous paper of Annemarie Schimmel she has delivered in 2002 on Muslim culture in the Deccan, which is also available through a CD. Sufi traditions are scrutinized in several provinces of the Indian subcontinent, like Rajasthan, Bengal, Punjab and others. Moreover, the be shar paths of Sufism are the topic of three contributions. A first one by Fateh Muhammad Malik is devoted to the Malâmatiyya in Punjab. A second one by Ute Falash deals with the Madariyya in India. Finally Jürgen Wasim Frembgen’s paper focuses on an enraptured saint of Udaipur. In conclusion, the book mirrors well both the diversity of academic approaches to South Asian Sufism, and the variety of the Sufi expressions in this area.

Michel Boivin

More infos

http://www.tiac.edu.pk

 

PhD thesis: Shia-Ismaili Motifs in the Sufi Architecture of the Indus Valley

Hasan Ali Khan, Shia-Ismaili Motifs in the Sufi Architecture of the Indus Valley, 1200-1500 A.D., PhD thesis in Religious Studies, SOAS, London, 30 April 2009.

“The relationship between Shiism and Sufism is one of the most unexplored areas of Islamic studies. Its study has traditionally been hindered by the lack of primary sources. This is especially so in the case of Ismailism in the medieval Islamic Era, which is more easily associable to Sufism.

Ismaili associations with early Sufism go back to the Fatimid Era in Egypt of which the Indus Valley was a part. This is in the tenth century when dominant Ismaili and Twelver states ruled the Middle East. After the destruction of these Shia states by the incoming Sunni Turkic dynasties, Ismailism went underground in Iran and its ideas reappeared in the shape of Sufi Orders in Iraq, most prominently the Suhrawardi Order. In this period, Ismailism flourished again in the Indus Valley under missionaries sent from neighboring Iran, who freely worked on the metaphysical commonality between Indian and Iranian cultures for their proselytism. Its zenith was reached under the Ismaili missionary Shams in the thirteenth century, who after a long spate of problems in his host country, perfected a system of metaphysical interlacing called the Satpanth, or true path, setting up ceremonies which tied him to the Suhrawardi Sufi Order which preexisted here. This association led to the falling out of the court patronised order with the Imperial Authorities in Delhi. The Satpanth worked through an astrological framework based on the Persian New Year, and the vice-regency of the first Shia Imam Ali, which is the basis of the Shia faith. The astrological resonances of Ali’s succession or vice-regency to Muhammad were known to Muslim scholars in the Iranian Shia-Ismaili tradition before Shams’s time, but are historically first interlaced by Shams with the local calendar for the benefit of his followers. The Satpanth later found its way as astrological symbolism on the monuments of the Suhrawardi Order. In addition, an unorthodox monument archetype which accommodates Satpanth ideals is common to the buildings associated with Shams, his descendants and Suhrawardi Sufis over three centuries. Evidence suggest that Shams may have been responsible this archetype.

A comparison between extant religious ceremony, iconography and the common monument archetype in the latter chapters shows the covert Shia-Ismaili beliefs of the Suhrawardi Order in the Indus Valley. This complements the critical reexamination of historical sources for the purpose in the first half of the thesis.”

Keywords: Shiism, Ismailism, Suhrawardi Sufi Order, Satpanth, Shams, Indus valley, Pakistan

Book: The Nath Yogis in Contemporary India

Véronique Bouillier, 2008, Itinérance et vie monastique. Les ascètes Nath Yogis en Inde contemporaine, Paris, Editions de la MSH, 310 p.

In this book, Véronique Bouillier gives a description of an Indian Saivaite sect, the Nath Yogis. Through the example of this sect, the social anthropologist examines the main features of Hindu asceticism i.e. the interweaving of a tradition of personal spiritual and ascetic quest and a collective organisation. She suggests that this collective organisation which relies on monastic institutions has enabled Hindu asceticism to endure and innovate. This volume, which draws on detailed ethnographic fieldworks as well as various historical sources to portray a vivid sect, is divided into three parts. The first part is a general presentation of the Nath Yogis, the second and the third parts describe the double configuration of the sect through the collective and personal monasteries. The author builds step by step her argument and her rich and detailed book can be read as an in-depth journey within the Nath Yogi world which leads us to Nepal, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Haryana.

Frédérique Pagani

More infos

http://www.editions-msh.fr

 

PhD thesis in 2008

Julie Baujard, Refugee identity, transversal identity. Refugees in Delhi within the institutional, community and associative dynamics. [Identité “réfugié”, identité transversale. Les réfugiés à Delhi au sein des dynamiques institutionnelles, communautaires et associatives.] PhD thesis in Anthropology, University of Provence, Aix-Marseille I, 2008.

“This thesis examines the category of people known as “refugees” and the impact this categorization has on the creation of an identity in the limited framework, Delhi, a space of convergence, and dispersion. The category of refugees includes people of different ethnic groups, religions, and nationalities. I attempt to determine whether their image of themselves and the types of action they engage in are common to them all, which would indicate that their identity is based on their situation as  refugees. The category of refugee is broken down into: the regulatory bodies that give substance to the refugee “label”; the people who support refugees politically and socially; and religious groups (Christian groups) who are also key players in the “refugee system”. A transversal approach leads to the conclusion that as civil society emerges, carrying with it expression of a heterogeneous identity along with community dynamic, one can define the refugee identity.”

Delphine Ortis, Ethnography of an Indian Islam. Religious and Social Organization of a Muslim Institution: The Dargâh of the Martyr Ghâzî Miyân (Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh, North India). [Ethnographie d’un islam indien. Organisation culturelle et sociale d’une institution musulmane: la dargâh du martyr Ghâzî Miyân (Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh, Inde du Nord).] PhD thesis in Anthropology, CEIAS-EHESS, Paris, 2008.

“This thesis deals with a dargâh, the most representative institution of Islam on the Indian subcontinent. The study of the dargâh of the martyr Ghâzî Miyân in Bahraich (Uttar Pradesh) raises issues concerning the role of Islamic values in local Hindu society. These have been studied from three different perspectives: organization of worship, social organization, and the martyr’s acts. Both daily and festive worship, analysed on the basis of notions of time and space, reveals the distinctive roles played by Muslim and Hindu inhabitants of a territory defined by the worship of Ghâzî Miyân. He appears to be a kind of local power who reacts in function of human events. The social organisation of the sanctuary as an institution, comparable to the ancient landownership system, is based on relations of service and the sharing of wealth between several beneficiaries. The hagiography of the martyr describing him as a Jihad conqueror seems at first sight to be in contradiction with his veneration. His story is interwoven with hagiography, local legends and ballads and reveals itself to be a reconfiguration based on a universe of shared Islamic and Hindu values of the classic young warrior hero who dies a martyr’s death.”

Anna Poujeau, Churches, Monasticism and Holiness. Construction of the Christian Community in Syria. [Églises, Monachisme et Sainteté. Construction de la communauté chrétienne en Syrie.] PhD thesis in Anthropology, Paris X-Nanterre, 2008.

“This thesis focuses on the social, political and symbolic inscriptions of the Christian minority in the Syrian national territory, more specifically, on the monastic revival which has been taking place in this country over the last three decades. It is indeed a revival, in spite of its late manifestation, as this contemporary process, including its local representations, falls within the scope of a history which goes back to the origins of Christianity. What then are the motives of this phenomenon? How and why did monasticism reappear in Syria today? How must this “return of the monks”, who had been saintly considered during the first centuries of Christianity, be interpreted? What kind of relation may be established between monasticism and holiness? This thesis attempts to answer these broad questions which place it, at the same time, in the field of the anthropology of Christianity and that of the study of monasticism. They refer to the contemporary modalities of construction of the Christian community of Syria, where its three dimensions, the Churches, monasticism and holiness are closely related and seem to structure its universe. Christian monasticism in Syria is analysed through its historical, symbolic, religious, social, economic and political dimensions.”

Audrey Peli, Coins, Metal and Power: Mints and Minting Techniques in Yemen (2th- 6th/8th-12th centuries). [Monnaies, métal et pouvoir. Frappes et techniques monétaires au Yémen (IIe-VIe/VIIIe-XIIe siècles).] PhD thesis in Archaeology, University of Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne, 2008.

“The study of Yemeni coins, from the foundation in Ṣanâ’ of the first mint during Hârûn al-Rashîd’s reign (170-193/786-809) until the conquest of the Yemen by Tûrânshâh in 569/1173, explores History, Economy and metallurgical techniques. Comparing textual and numismatic sources allows one to fix the dates of historical events, to establish dynastic lists, to identify local troubles and, through titles, political allegiance between Yemeni rulers and the sovereigns of the Islamic world. Chronicles, geographical works, archives and hoards testify to the circulation and to the monetary uses in the Yemen where currencies were minted with different weights. They show the place of the Yemen in international trade between India and Egypt and shed light on the role coins played. Finally, the metallurgical treatise al-Hamdânî wrote in the 4th/10th century allows us to reconstruct the process of refining metal. Coins compared with textual and archaeological data reveal a political and economic history of Yemen during the first centuries of Islam. It shows the evolution of this country, at first neglected and then flourishing at the eve of the Ayyûbid conquest.”

Manan Ahmed, The Many Histories of Muhammad b. Qasim: Narrating the Muslim conquest of Sindh, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, December 2008.

“This study focuses on the history and representation of Muhammad b. Qasim, the commander of the Muslim forces, which conquered the region of Sindh (present day Pakistan) in the eighth century. The history of Muhammad b. Qasim emerged as a central origin myth for the postcolonial state of Pakistan. It formed a piece of the nationalist struggle against the British, and remains a contested historical symbol. To understand the many social and political functions of the history of Muhammad b. Qasim, the study begins with the earliest extant accounts of the conquest and attempt to delineate “what happened” from “what is said to have happened.” It argues for the recasting of these histories outside of nationalist/postcolonial paradigms, in order to situate them as regional histories, produced within the “frontier of Sindh” – a liminal perspective mediating between the global and the local. This perspective allows examining the production of such histories, and the afterlives of the texts, in political and cultural memory, within their historiographical, literary and political contexts across the longue durée.”

Book: Sindh. Past Glory, Present Nostalgia

Pratapaditya Pal (ed.), 2008, Sindh. Past Glory, Present Nostalgia, Mumbai, Marg Publications, vol. 60, n° 1, 180 p.

This collective book aims at making the public aware of the long and rich cultural heritage of Sindh, at the crossroads of Iranian, Central Asiatic and Indian Rajasthani-Gujarati worlds, and open on the Arabian Sea. From the remains of the protohistoric Mohenjodaro to the history of the modern Karachi and its inhabitants; from Budhhist and Hindu art and architecture, Islamic conquest and the development of Islamic architecture, to contemporary art, traditional crafts, and regional cookery; from history, political and cultural encounters through coinages to British production of representations on the region. It also points out some crucial studies that should be undertaken, for example about Buddhist sculptures, Hindu art and architecture, the medieval port of Banbhore which needs a new survey, etc. In sum, it highlights a composite Sindhi culture and identity, spoiled with the Indo-Pakistan Partition, in 1947.

Johanna Blayac

 

More infos

http://www.marg-art.org

 

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

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