Islam: Islam in South Asia
ISLAM: ISLAM IN SOUTH ASIA
One in three Muslims today is of South Asian origin. With a Muslim population of over 300 million, South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) is home to the largest concentration of Muslims in the world. The significance of the region's vast and diverse Muslim communities extends far beyond the present-day political boundaries of South Asia. Over the centuries, Muslims from the region have also emigrated, mostly for economic reasons, to other parts of the world such as Southeast Asia, East and South Africa, the Gulf states, Fiji, and the Caribbean. In more recent decades, Muslims of South Asian origin have come to constitute a substantial proportion of immigrant populations in Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.
Notwithstanding their impressive numerical strength, South Asia's Muslims are a minority when considered within the context of the subcontinent's total population. Awareness of this minority status has been an influential factor affecting their history, particularly in contemporary times. In the early decades of the twentieth century, the rise of nationalist movements to free India from British colonial rule was marked by a growing anxiety among some Muslim intellectuals and leaders about the status of Muslim minorities in an independent postcolonial India ruled by a Hindu majority. Many feared that Muslims would not be able to practice their faith and nurture their cultural traditions freely in a nation governed by a non-Muslim majority. As prominent Hindu and Muslim leaders began to conceptualize their respective communities as constituting two separate nations, demands increased for the partition of the subcontinent and the creation of two states, India and Pakistan. The birth of Pakistan in 1947, an independent nation-state in which Muslims would form a majority, marked the first time in modern history that a nation-state was founded to protect a religious community.
Indo-Muslim civilization, contrary to the discourse of some contemporary politicians and religious leaders, has not been exclusively Muslim; adherents of other faiths as well have played an important role in its formation and have been deeply affected by it. In premodern India, for instance, Hindus were well represented in the imperial bureaucracy of Muslim rulers, holding coveted positions at courts such as chief secretary, chief minister, treasurer, and commander of the royal armies. Muslim royal patronage of Hindu poets, writers, musicians, and artists was also quite common. At present, Hindus and Sikhs in some parts of India still visit the shrines of Muslim holy men in the hope of receiving spiritual blessing. During worship, they may sing devotional songs composed by Muslim mystics. In a more secular context, they attend poetry recitals where audiences enjoy listening to the ghazal, a form of Arabo-Persian mystical poetry that enjoys widespread popularity all over the subcontinent. The participation of non-Muslims in many aspects of Muslim culture demonstrates that in South Asia peoples of different religious affiliations could and did come together in profound ways.
The Emergence of Muslim Communities in South Asia and the Problem of "Conversion"
The earliest Muslim presence in the subcontinent can be traced to immigrants who came to earn a living, to conquer, to teach religion, and to seek refuge. According to tradition, the first Muslim immigrants were Arab traders who, as early as the eighth century, settled in many of the seaports along the western and southern coasts of India. Later, the descendants of these merchant communities moved to major cities inland as well as farther south to Sri Lanka. In 711 a small Arab expedition, under the command of the seventeen-year-old general Muḥammad ibn Qāsim, was sent to the Arabian Sea to subjugate pirates who had been pillaging Arab trading ships. The expedition conquered parts of Sind (southern Pakistan) and, with the assistance of local allies, founded a state that survived for nearly three centuries. These early Arab mercantile and political connections laid the basis for the strong affinity of later Muslim communities in southern and southwestern India with the Arab world and Arabian culture. In contrast, in other regions of the subcontinent, especially the north and northwest, the first contacts with Muslims were through various Central Asian tribes and clans, mostly consisting of Turks who had been culturally "Persianized." As a result of political turmoil in Central Asia and Afghanistan in the tenth century, groups of Turks and Afghans crossed the Himalayas and entered India from the northwest. Initially, these groups seem to have been interested in acquiring booty rather than settling in the region. Over the next several centuries, however, they established kingdoms in North India, Bengal, the Deccan, and western India. The most famous of these Central Asian dynasties were the Mughals, founded in 1526 by the Emperor Bābur. With the strong support of local Hindu allies such as the Rajputs, the Mughals were eventually able to consolidate control over a vast portion of India, creating an empire under whose auspices there was a veritable renaissance in Indo-Muslim literature, art, and architecture.
The establishment of sultanates and empires led to an influx of a variety of classes of individuals. Some sought administrative positions in the newly established states, while others looked for appointments to legal positions such that of qāḍī ("judge"). Poets and artists also flocked to the subcontinent from Central Asia and Iran in search of royal patronage, especially after they experienced difficulties in securing patronage in their homelands. Religious scholars (ʿulamāʾ) and preachers, both Sunnī and Shīʿī, as well as Ṣūfī shaykhs and their disciples, were also attracted to the new land.
While immigrant Muslims and their descendants played a significant role in the development of the Islamic tradition in the region, historically they constituted only a small fraction of the entire Muslim population. The vast majority of Muslims in South Asia are clearly of indigenous origin, although some, for reasons of social prestige, may still claim Arab or Persian descent. Unfortunately, the processes by which they became Muslim are not well understood. Colonial, religious, nationalist, and communitarian agendas have so influenced perspectives on this subject that, as British historian Peter Hardy comments, "to attempt to penetrate the field of the study of the growth of Muslim populations in South Asia is to attempt to penetrate a political minefield" (Hardy, 1979, p. 70). Traditionally, various theories have been advanced: that people converted under duress at the point of the sword, or to acquire political and economic patronage, or to escape the evils of the Indian caste system. Various Ṣūfīs have also been regarded as "missionaries" who were responsible for the peaceful spread of Islam through their charismatic personalities, the miracles they performed, and the religious folk songs and poems they composed.
Recent scholarship has raised important questions on the issue of conversion to Islam. All the theories mentioned above have been criticized for either being flawed or being inadequately supported by convincing historical or sociological evidence. In addition, scholars have disagreed about the processes involved. For instance, Carl Ernst in Eternal Garden: Mysticism, History, and Politics at a South Asian Sufi Center (1992) questions the idea that Ṣūfī folk poetry was explicitly composed to convert people to Islam, observing that some of these compositions are so heavily laden with Islamic material that "it is difficult to imagine them as devices to impart knowledge of Islam to non-Muslims" (pp. 166–168). He argues that the verses could only have been directed at an audience already familiar with the Islamic tradition. On the other hand, Richard Eaton, in Sufis of Bijapur, 1300–1700 (1978), contends that the authors of Dakkani folk songs, whose lyrics contained Islamic teachings, primarily desired to secure for themselves the role of mediators or intermediaries between God and the people (Muslim and non-Muslim) who recited these songs. If, he writes, in the process of singing these songs local populations became familiar with or acculturated to popular forms of Islamic practice, the phenomenon should not be construed as "conversion" in the sense of a "self-conscious turning around in religious conviction and belief." Nor should the authors be considered missionaries or "self-conscious propagators," even though this is the general context in which Ṣūfīs tend to be viewed (pp. 172–173).
Complicating the discussion of why and how so many South Asians became Muslim is the inadequacy of the term conversion itself. In his book The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760 (1993), Richard Eaton correctly points out that the notion of conversion, with its presumption of conscious intentionality and individual choice regarding religious belief, is derived from a Protestant missionary model, and has been projected unconsciously on the historical context of premodern South Asia. As he convincingly demonstrates, the diffusion of Islamic ideas in premodern Bengal took place at a mass level and was as much associated with the clearing of forests and the spread of agrarian civilization as with changes in doctrine and practice. The inadequacy of the term "conversion" is further apparent when we observe that, in many regions of South Asia, Islamic beliefs were often expressed in ways that did not totally reject the conceptual and social framework of indigenous cultures. Intrinsic to this approach was the acceptance of both indigenous beliefs and newer Islamic ones in an integrated manner. If an individual retained previous beliefs and practices and saw continuities between the old and the new, could this process be called "conversion," a term that usually implies complete abandonment of the old in favor of the new? Given that the religious identity of a community is fluid, is it more appropriate to view the process as one of acculturation, rather than conversion, involving not a sudden act but rather a slow and gradual process, perhaps over several generations, during which adherents respond to changing contexts? Obviously, these and many other unanswered questions concerning the evolution of Muslim communities in South Asia will require a great deal more research before we have satisfactory explanations. In view of the historical, social, and cultural complexities involved, what is clear is that a mono-dimensional approach that limits explanations to a single factor is far too simplistic to explain why so many South Asians today identify themselves as Muslim.
Diversity of Traditions
Much contemporary political, religious, and academic discourse on the Islamic tradition in South Asia is dominated by the conception that Muslims of South Asia form a single homogeneous Muslim community. Typically in such discourses, the political fortunes of the great Turko-Persian Muslim dynasties, such as the Mughals, and the experiences of North Indian Persian- and Urdu-speaking Muslim elite communities, have come to be the only lenses through which Muslim experiences throughout the subcontinent are perceived. Historically, the concept of a single undifferentiated Muslim community is a relatively recent development and its emergence is clearly a result of the religiously based idiom of British colonial rule, the growth of religious nationalism, and the politics of electoral representation. Thus, the demand for the creation of Pakistan and its underlying premise of Muslims comprising a single unified nation should not mislead us into thinking that common religion (Islam) has always been a strong unifying bond among diverse Muslim groups in South Asia.
Historically, socioeconomic status, class, caste, ethnicity, and sectarian affiliation have been far more significant identity-markers among South Asian communities, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, than religious affiliation. Indeed Muslims in South Asia are characterized by a rich diversity that mirrors the diversity of the subcontinent itself. This diversity stems, on the one hand, from the different ethnic and linguistic groups to which they belong. It is a cultural diversity that is reflected, for example, in the many Indic languages and literary genres used in Muslim devotional literatures, in musical genres such as the qawwālī that are rooted in North Indian musical traditions, and in the mosques that incorporate local traditions of design. Diversity may also be theological, stemming from the many ways Muslims understand and interpret their faith. Even within overarching categories, such as Sunnī, Shīʿah, or Ṣūfī, there exist several subgroups and divisions with significant differences. A Sunnī may be Deobandi or a Brelvi; a Shīʿah may be Ithnāʿasharī (Twelver) or Ismāʿīlī, either Nizārī or Mustaʿlī (Bohra); a Ṣūfī may belong to one of the major orders such as the Chishtīyah or Naqshbandīyah, or not belong to an order at all. In this way, the Islamic tradition in South Asia is comprised of multiple communities of interpretation. Each community has its particular way of conceiving Islam. Each is shaped by its specific sociopolitical and cultural context in the way it understands universally held Islamic beliefs, such as the belief that the Qurʾān is the embodiment of divine revelation or that the Prophet Muḥammad is God's final messenger.
The plurality of traditions that characterizes Islam in South Asia can best be explored within a framework that takes into account the role of both cultural and doctrinal/theological elements in creating competing definitions of what is considered "Islamic" and "non-Islamic." Historically, the relationship between culture and religious doctrine among Muslim communities has been such that in many cases, as we shall see below, cultural and religious identities are conflated. Frequently, socioeconomic factors such as class and caste have played a significant role in this interaction.
Defining Islam: The Role of Culture
Several studies of the Islamic tradition in South Asia have remarked on a dichotomy within the tradition between two contradictory facets. Frequently at odds which each other, the two facets or strands represent radically different perspectives on what it means to be a Muslim in the South Asian environment. One facet looks to what are perceived to be universal norms observed in the worldwide Muslim community, particularly those represented by Arabo-Persian culture, for guidance and inspiration. The other facet seeks to acculturate and root the practice of Islam within the many local cultures of the subcontinent. The dynamic interaction between these two facets, manifest in the thoughts and attitudes of Muslim thinkers, statesmen, poets, and artists through the centuries, provides a useful lens through which to view the complex interaction between culture and religion in the determining of identity.
The first facet, under the influence of a strictly legalistic interpretation of Islam based on the classic traditions of sharīʿah and religious jurisprudence, appealed to Arabian and Persian traditions to determine the religious and cultural norms and mores for Muslim communities in South Asia. On account of its extraterritorial ethos and legalistic outlook, Annemarie Schimmel, the renowned scholar of South Asian Islam, has characterized this facet as being "Mecca-oriented" or "prophetic." Historically, this facet was associated mostly with the ruling and intellectual elite, often referred to as the ashrāf ("nobility"). In northern India, the ashrāf were Persianized Turks and Iranians who had come to South Asia from Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran as soldiers, rulers, traders, religious scholars, artists, poets, and refugees. Favoring Persian as the official language of administration, as well as of literary culture, they lived mostly in or near an axis stretching from Lahore to Delhi to the Deccan, an axis that Richard Eaton has aptly termed South Asia's "central Perso-Islamic axis." They also participated in an extensive transnational and cosmopolitan nexus of Turko-Persianate culture that, at least until the eighteenth century, connected them with the elites of Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, and even the Ottoman Empire. Beyond the Perso-Islamic axis, we find, along the western and southwestern coasts of India, a more Arab-centered tradition with closer historical and cultural links to Arabia. Among Muslims communities, such as the Māppiḷḷas of Kerala, the category of ashrāf included sayyids, those who claimed descent from the Prophet Muḥammad, as well as populations of Arab origin whose ancestors had come to the regions as traders and merchants at least as early as the eighth century, making them some of the first Muslim immigrants to South Asia.
Conscious of their privileged status, as well as their ethnic and cultural difference from the subcontinent's indigenous populations, the ashrāf were anxious to prevent their religious and cultural identity from being absorbed and overwhelmed by an environment they considered to be alien and antithetical to their values. In their desire to maintain the purity of their identity, they disparaged and rejected all Indian cultural manifestations—from Indian languages, which they considered unworthy of recording any Islamic literature, to indigenous Indian Muslims, whom they contemptuously called the ajlāf ("mean, ignoble wretches"). Al-Baranī (d. c. 1360), a medieval historian, refers, in his chronicle Fatāwā Jahāndārī, to local converts as "pigs, boars, and dogs" who ought not to be given too much education lest "it bring honor to their mean souls." Even today, it is hardly surprising that many South Asian families continue to assert their superior social status by proudly claiming a Central Asian, Iranian, or Arab ancestry and refusing to marry Muslims with indigenous family roots, even though the ashrāf have lost effective political power.
To preserve and protect their religio-cultural identity from encroachment by "idolatrous" Indian customs and beliefs, the ashrāf cultivated a strong extraterritorial ethos, one that appealed to the Islamic heartlands as a source of cultural and religious norms and mores. We can discern this extraterritorial ethos in the works of many of the subcontinent's influential Muslim thinkers, scholars, and theologians. Thus, the fourteenth-century Suhrawardi Ṣūfī Makhdūm-i Jahāniyān Jahāngasht (d. 1385) insisted that his followers use Arabic terms such as Allāh to refer to God, rather than Indic vernacular terms (such as niraṅjan, "the one without attributes"). Similar sentiments were echoed several centuries later by Shāh Walī Allāh (1703–1762), one of the great reformers of South Asian Islam, who writes in his treatise Tafhimat al-ilāhiyya: "We are an Arab people whose fathers have fallen into exile in the country of Hindustan; Arab genealogy and the Arabic language are our pride" (vol. 2, p. 246). He further demanded that the Muslims of India substitute the customs of the Arabs for the foreign customs they had adopted. These foreign customs, he felt, were not compatible with their Islamic identity. The twentieth-century poet-philosopher Muḥammad Iqbāl (1877–1938) also reflects this ethos in his Urdu work, Bang-i dara, in which he sees himself as a bell around the neck of the lead camel in the caravan of the Prophet Muḥammad, calling the Muslim community of India to return to its true homeland in Mecca. The conflation of an Islamic identity with Arabo-Persian culture is also apparent in the emergence of such linguistic forms as Arwi, a form of Tamil that is heavily influenced by Arabic.
Intensely at odds with this extraterritorial Arabo-Persian facet is an assimilative and adaptationist aspect that may be described as being local, or South Asia–focused, as well as more mystically oriented. Representatives of this strand generally espoused an esoteric or mystical vision of Islam in which external manifestations of culture, such as language, were not seen as fundamental to being Muslim. Consequently, they not only were more open to, and tolerant of, the South Asian cultural milieu, they also actively fostered interpretations of Islam that could be more readily understood within the contexts of indigenous religion and culture.
The shaykh s of the Chishtī Ṣūfī order, for instance, actively promoted the creation of devotional poetry on Islamic mystical themes in local languages. In its ethos, expressions, and similes, this poetry is strikingly similar to Hindu bhakti (devotional) poetry. Beyond developing a common poetical language, some Ṣūfīs also adapted the Indian disciplines of Yoga and meditation to practices inherited from the classical Arabo-Persian Ṣūfī tradition. In an identical spirit, the authors of the extensive pūthī religious literature from medieval Bengal attempted to incorporate various figures of Hindu mythology, particularly Kṛṣṇa (Krishna), an avatāra of the Hindu deity Viṣṇu (Vishnu), into the historical line of prophets that ends with the Prophet Muḥammad. In Tamil Nadu, Muslim authors such as Umaru Pulavar (d. 1703), used the genre of the purāna, conventionally employed to recount the deeds of various Hindu deities, to narrate in poetic form the biography of the Prophet Muḥammad, using traditional Tamil literary conventions and customs to create a distinctively Tamil flavor. In Sind and Punjab, Ṣūfī poets appropriated to an Islamic context the theme of viraha (love-in-separation) and the symbol of the virahinī (the woman longing for her beloved), both associated in the Hindu devotional traditions with the longing of the gopīs (cow-maids), particularly Radha, for the deity Kṛṣṇa. Following the conventions of Indic devotional poetry, these Ṣūfī poets represented the human soul as a longing wife, or bride, pining for her beloved husband or bridegroom, who may be God, the Prophet Muḥammad, or the Ṣūfī shaykh.
Although such localized or acculturated understandings of Islam have frequently been characterized as syncretistic, mixed, or heterodox, they are perhaps better understood as attempts to "translate" universal Islamic teachings within "local" contexts. The validity of approaching vernacular Muslim poetry through the lens of "translation theory," as articulated by Tony Stewart (2001), is confirmed by the fact that communities who recite and sing vernacular religious poems frequently regard them as texts that encapsulate the teachings of the Arabic Qurʾān. For instance, Sindhi-speaking Muslims in southern Pakistan consider Shāh ʿAbdul Laṭīf's poetic masterpiece in the Sindhi language, the Risālo, to be a revered book that contains within it the essence of the spiritual teachings of the Qurʾān. Through his exegetical remarks on dramatic moments and events in popular Sindhi folk romances, Shāh ʿAbdul Laṭīf is perceived to be conveying in the Sindhi vernacular Qurʾānic ideas on the spiritual significance of the human situation. In the Punjab, poems attributed to Punjabi Ṣūfī poets such as Bullhe Shāh (d. 1754) and Vāriṣ Shāh are also commonly regarded as spiritual commentaries on Qurʾānic verses, particularly those associated with Sufism or Islamic mysticism. Similarly, the gināns of the Khoja Ismāʿīlī communities of western India and Pakistan, composed in various vernacular languages such as Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, and Sindhi and embodying the teaching of Ismāʿīlī preacher-saints, have also been regarded as secondary texts embodying the inner signification of the Qurʾān.
Of the two facets, "the prophetic and Mecca-oriented" and "the mystical and South Asia–centered," it is the latter, by advocating that there was no contradiction between being a Muslim and fully embracing indigenous cultures, that has always stressed the common cultural links that South Asian Muslims share with their non-Muslim compatriots. With their contradictory attitudes toward the South Asian milieu and differing definitions of what constitutes an Islamic identity in a predominantly non-Muslim environment, it was inevitable that representatives of the two strands would come into conflict with one another. Indeed, one approach to interpreting the history of Islam in South Asia is through an analysis of the constant interplay and interaction of these two facets.
The vast majority of Muslims in South Asia are Sunnī, relying on Sunnī ʿulamāʾ, or religious scholars, for guidance on matters of faith. Generally speaking, the Shāfiʿī school of jurisprudence prevails among Sunnī communities in southern and southwestern India and Sri Lanka, whereas the Hanafī school is widespread elsewhere in the subcontinent. Little is known of the coming of Sunnī ʿulamāʾ to the early Muslim settlements established by Arab traders on the southwest coast of India. Although the sixteenth-century Malayali author Zayn al-Dīn al-Maʿbarī suggests in his Tuḥfat al-mujāhidīn (Gift of the holy warriors) that preachers from Arabia founded the first mosques in Kerala, he does not indicate specific dates. In 1342 the Moroccan Arab traveler Ibn Baṭṭūṭah found in the region mosques and qāḍīs of the Shāfiʿī school of law being supported by Muslim seamen and merchants. There are several indications that Sunnī ʿulamāʾ were already established in northern India in the eleventh and twelfth centuries: the presence of the scholar-Ṣūfī Shaykh ʿAlī al-Hujwīrī in Lahore, where he died between 1072 and 1077; the travels of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (1149–1209), the theologian and exegete, in the Punjab; and the praise heaped by Muslim historians on various rulers for establishing mosques and encouraging scholars to move to India. The Mongol devastation of cities in the Middle East and Central Asia in the mid-thirteenth century triggered a further migration of Sunnī scholars to India, making easier the task of appointing qāḍīs for the growing number of Muslim-ruled states in northern India. This new influx may partially explain why the Hanafī school of law supplanted the Shāfiʿī school as the dominant Sunnī rite in northern India.
During the earlier periods of Muslim history in North India, the teaching centers of Sunnī ʿulamāʾ appear to have been informal schools attached to mosques rather than separate madrasahs, or religious colleges. The same can be said of Bengal, where inscriptions from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries also refer to madrasahs being attached to mosques. Although the first independent madrasah was established in 1472 at the city of Bidar in the Bahmanid state in the Deccan by the Persian minister Maḥmūd Gāwān, it is only in the eighteenth century that institutions such as the Farangī Mahal in Lucknow and the Madrasa-i Raḥīmiyya in Delhi began to enjoy widespread fame as centers of Sunnī scholarship. The Farangī Mahal developed into a leading religious college after it received substantial financial support in 1691 from the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (d. 1707). Its curriculum, the dars-i Niẓāmī, heavily emphasized theology and philosophy as opposed to colleges in Delhi, such the Madrasa-i Raḥīmiyya, founded by Shāh Walī Allāh's father Shāh ʿAbd ar-Raḥīm, which were repositories of ḥadīth studies. The nineteenth century was the age of the madrasah in South Asia, because Sunnī ʿulamāʾ responded to British colonialism and the spread of Western-style education by setting up a network of colleges to provide an alternative Islamic education to Muslim youth. Most significant among these was the Dār ul-ʿUlūm at Deoband, created to train ʿulamāʾ who could promote and uphold "correct" Islamic belief and practice within Muslim communities. A bastion of Sunnī learning to this day, Deoband continues to attract students from all over the world. Historically, it had a network of affiliate branches established at places such as Muradabad, Saharanpur, and Darbhanga. Later, colleges founded in such widely separated centers as Madras, Peshawar, and Chittagong regarded themselves at Deobandi. An alternative curriculum to that of Deoband was offered at Nadwat al-ʿulamāʾ, founded in Lucknow by Shiblī Nuʿmānī (d. 1914), allowing its students to combine traditional Islamic subjects with secular "Western" subjects, including English. However, this institution was not successful in meeting its educational goals, for its curriculum soon reverted to the traditional dars-i Niẓāmī model.
Sunnī Islam in South Asia has evolved into several strands so that Sunnī Muslims are often categorized according to the particular ʿulamāʾ group they follow: the Deobandis uphold the interpretation of the four classical schools of Sunnī jurisprudence, developed in the late ninth and tenth centuries, as constituting orthodox Islam; the Barelwīs are more accepting of popular practices, such as visiting tomb shrines, and other Ṣūfī rituals that the Deobandis would disapprove of; the Ahl-i Ḥadīth, particularly strong in certain regions of Pakistan, are more right wing and puritanical in their interpretation, which is strongly influenced by the Wahhābīs.
The Sunnī ʿulamāʾ obtained material support from a variety of sources. All Muslim rulers in South Asia appointed qāḍīs, royal tutors, khaṭībs (mosque preachers), and imām s (mosque prayer leaders) and paid them in cash or by income from tax exempt land. Others received income from waqfs, or endowments. ʿUlamāʾ who did not enter service (for which they were often more respected) relied on gifts from the faithful, fees in money or kind for private tuition, or income from cultivation or trade, though this latter case was uncommon. Sometimes a noted scholar would accept a royal pension or subvention from a government official, without the obligation to perform a public function. The ʿulamāʾ of the Dār ul-ʿUlūm at Deoband broke new ground under British rule: they opened subscription lists and drew voluntary contributions from Muslims at all social levels, though chiefly from the well-to-do.
The social status of the ʿulamāʾ was high. Indeed, at all times, though not at all places, a good proportion of them belonged to families with a history of being appointed to prominent political and religious positions. As sayyids and shaykhs, many took pride in claiming an ancestry outside South Asia, reaching back to seventh- or eighth-century Arabia. Some openly despised Muslims with indigenous roots. To maintain their social status, ʿulamāʾ married within extended families, or at least within the elite circles of the ashrāf. Sometimes the pursuit of a recognized course of study according to recognized methods could enable a Muslim from a lower social class or even a convert to gain acceptance among the general body of the ʿulamāʾ. Such social mobility is more fully documented in modern than in medieval times: for example, the family of Sayyid Ḥusayn Aḥmad Madanī of Deoband was thought to have been weavers; Mawlānā ʿUbayd Allāh Sindhī, also a prominent Deobandi ʿalīm, was born a Sikh. Of course, the high status of an ʿalīm might have very local recognition: the rural mullā and maulawī in many parts of South Asia is often not learned in Arabic and would not be recognized outside his neighborhood as an equal of scholars fluent in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu.
Shīʿī communities, of both Ismāʿīlī and Ithnāʿasharī (Twelver) varieties, are a minority comprising approximately ten percent of the total Muslim population in South Asia. It is not, however, unusual to find them concentrated within certain urban neighborhoods and cities, thus forming local majorities. Although reverence for the family of the Prophet Muḥammad has been strong in South Asia, the public articulation of a Shīʿī identity waited on favorable political and social developments, both in the larger Muslim world as well as in parts of South Asia.
The earliest Shīʿī communities in South Asia were Ismāʿīlī. Regarded as subversive by the Abbasids of Baghdad and by Sunnī warlords who took effective control of the eastern Muslim world by the middle of the ninth century ce, Ismāʿīlīs nevertheless managed in the tenth century to establish strongholds in Sind, the area around Multan, as well as Gujarat. There is evidence that the Ismāʿīlī dynasty that ruled Sind during this period had connections with the Fatimids in Egypt, a dynasty that claimed the Shīʿī imamate and caliphate on the basis of its direct descent from the Prophet. Judging by information from historical chronicles, these early Ismāʿīlī communities were persecuted by Turko-Persian Sunnī warlords who began to invade South Asia from the tenth century onwards. In 1094 the Ismāʿīlīs split into two branches, the Mustaʿlīs and the Nizārīs, over the issue of succession to the Fatimid imamate. In South Asia, the Mustaʿlīs are popularly known as the Bohras, a term probably derived from the Gujarati vohora ("trader"), while the Nizārīs are often called Khojas, from the Persian khwaja ("lord, master"), or Aga Khanis, based on the fact that they follow the guidance of the Aga Khan, a honorific title used by their living imāms. Both Ismāʿīlī communities, concentrated mostly in Gujarat and Sind as well as in some of the major urban centers of South Asia, have been heavily involved in trade, commerce, and the professions.
Bohra communities were probably in existence in Gujarat by the middle of the twelfth century and certainly before the conquest of Gujarat by the Delhi sultan that began in 1299. Their origins can be traced to a series of preachers who came to the region from Yemen, an important center of Mustaʿlī history. Because Bohras believe that their imām is in occlusion, the affairs of the community are run by his representative, the dāʿī muṭlaq, who controls all activities of the community. He is assisted by shaykh s, mullās, and ʿāmils ("agents") who are, however, only executive functionaries and do not participate in the formulation of doctrine and principles of right conduct. For several centuries, the headquarters of the dāʿī muṭlaq was in Yemen. In the sixteenth century, however, as a result of a major dispute over the issue of succession to the office of dāʿī muṭlaq, the Bohras split into two factions: the Sulaimanī and the Dāʾūdī. The former owe allegiance to a dāʿī still based in Yemen, whereas the latter pledge loyalty to a dāʿī, often called syednā ("our master"), whose headquarter is in Mumbai.
The history of Khoja communities can be traced at least to the eleventh and twelfth centuries when, according to tradition, Nizārī Ismāʿīlī imāms, then resident in Iran, sent dāʿīs to Punjab, Sind, Gujarat, and possibly Rajasthan, to preach the Ismāʿīlī faith. Also known as pīrs, these preacher-saints composed gināns, hymn-like songs in various vernacular languages through which they elaborated a highly devotional and mystical understanding of the Shīʿī concept of imām. Particularly interesting was the attempt to explain the concept of the imām within the framework of Vaisnavite Hindu thought. The gināns continue to be the mainstay of Khoja devotional life today. In the 1840s the living imām of the Nizārīs, Ḥasan ʿAlī Shāh, Aga Khan I, moved from Iran to India and asserted his leadership over the Khoja community. This resulted in some schisms among the Khojas, but the majority continued to pledge their allegiance to the Aga Khan and, after him, his descendants who, as living Shīʿī imāms, have absolute power of decision over belief and practice. Sultan Muḥammad Shāh, Aga Khan III (d. 1957), utilized this authority to institute a wide range of religious and social reforms, some of which, such as abolishing the veil and promoting female education, were aimed at improving the status of Ismāʿīlī women. His successor, Karīm Al-Ḥusaini, Aga Khan IV, has continued the transformation of the community in South Asia by making it part of a transnational network of social, economic, and educational institutions that links it with Nizārī Ismāʿīlī communities in other parts of the world. Known as the Aga Khan Development Network, it seeks to improve the standard of living of Ismāʿīlī and non-Ismāʿīlī communities in the countries in which it operates.
Twelver or Ithnāʿasharī communities
Unlike Ismā-ʿīlī Shiism, Twelver Shiism in South Asia has often enjoyed official patronage by certain rulers and states. In the fifteenth century, following a substantial migration of Twelver Shīʿahs from Iran to the court of the Bahmanid Sultanate in the Deccan, the Bahmani sultan Aḥmad I (1422–1436) declared himself to be Shīʿī, though the dynasty's public position continued to be ambiguous. Of the successor states to the Bahmanis, Bijapur supported the Twelver Shīʿī position from 1510 to 1534 and again between 1558 and 1580; Golkonda's Quṭb Shāhi dynasty was Shīʿī from its foundation under Qulī Quṭb al-Mulk (1496–1543); and the kingdom of Ahmadnagar supported Twelver Shiism from the reign of Burhān I (1509–1553). The establishment of Mughal rule made northern India a safer place for Shīʿī scholars. The Shīʿī Safavid Shāh of Iran, Ṭahmāsp I (1524–1576), assisted the emperor, Humāyūn (d. 1556), in reestablishing the Mughal position in eastern Afghanistan by 1550, and Shīʿī Persians formed an important element of the Muslim elite of the Mughal Empire. They became particularly prominent during the reign of the Mughal emperor Jahāngīr (d. 1627) when many Twelver Shīʿī poets and scholars emigrated from Iran seeking positions at the Mughal courts. In 1611 Jahāngīr married Mihrunnisā, also called Nūr Jahān, the daughter of an Iranian nobleman. Because the emperor was not too interested in matters of state, Nūr Jahān became the de facto ruler of the empire. Her father and brother were appointed to positions of great influence while her niece, Mumtāz Mahal, was married to the emperor's son Shāhjahān. The most famous monument of Indo-Muslim architecture, the Taj Mahal, was erected in Mumtāz Mahal's memory. After the collapse of the Mughal empire, Twelver Shiism continued to be favored by certain regional dynasties. In the eighteenth century, under the nawābs of Awadh, Lucknow became the Twelver Shīʿī cultural and educational capital in South Asia.
While the official acceptance of Shīʿī Islam in court circles attracted prominent Shīʿī scholars and theologians to India, there was always the danger that they could be persecuted when there were shifts in the political climate at courts. Shāh Faṭhullāh Shirāzī (d. 1589) and Qāḍī Nūrullāh Shustarī (d. 1610) rank among two prominent Twelver Shīʿī scholars who experienced mixed fortunes in India. Shāh Faṭhullāh Shirāzī, an important Iranian scholar who was invited to Bijapur by the Shīʿī ruler ʿAlī ʿĀdil Shāh I (d. 1580), initially enjoyed great respect at the court. ʿAlī ʿĀdil Shāh's successor, however, was not favorably disposed to Shiism. Consequently, Shāh Faṭhullāh found himself imprisoned. Shortly thereafter he was invited to join the more tolerant court of the Mughal emperor Akbar where he became one of the leading intellectuals. He played an influential role within the emperor's inner circle, being appointed to several significant administrative and political posts. Qāḍī Nūrullāh Shustarī, one of the greatest scholars of Twelver Shiism in his time, came to India in 1584 seeking a position at the court of Akbar. Two years later, on the basis of his excellent knowledge of Arabic and command over both Shīʿī and Sunnī jurisprudence, he was appointed qāḍī of Lahore, earning for himself the reputation of being an impartial and honest judge even in cases involving Sunnī law. His fame apparently incited the jealousy and anger of some of his Sunnī rivals who instigated the Mughal emperor, Jahāngīr, to have him flogged to death. He is thus sometimes called the "third martyr" of Twelver Shīʿī Islam.
The ṢŪfĪ Orders
Religious authority in post-Prophetic Islam is legitimized by appealing to different sources. The authority of the ʿulamāʾ, of whatever persuasion, as interpreters of Islam flows from recognition of their learning. The authority of the Shīʿī imāms is based on esoteric knowledge acquired on the basis of physical descent from the Prophet Muḥammad. The authority of the Ṣūfī masters flows from the recognition that they have had (or are preparing themselves and others to have) direct, intuitive experience of divine realities and that divine grace might endow them with special spiritual powers. These powers, often believed to continue after physical death, are seen as evidence of them having attained the status of awliyāʾ ("friends [of God]"). By the twelfth century ce, seekers on the mystical path had developed distinct spiritual disciplines and methods and formed themselves into fraternities organized around khānqāh s ("hospices"). Each fraternity was headed by a shaykh, or pīr, responsible for guiding disciples on the path, appointing deputies, admitting novices to full discipleship, training and investing a successor, and possibly controlling a network of centers.
The arrival of Ṣūfī orders
Although Shaykh ʿAlī al-Hujwīrī, the author of the famous Ṣūfī manual Kashf al-maḥjūb (The disclosure of the veiled) settled and died in Lahore in 1071, the arrival of members of Ṣūfī orders in South Asia was broadly contemporary with the Ghurid invasions at the end of the twelfth century. One of the earliest was the Chishtī order from Afghanistan, introduced by Khwājah Muʿīn ad-Dīn who settled in Ajmer (Rajasthan) in the 1290s. His successor, Quṭb ad-Dīn Bakhtiyār Kākī (d. 1235), spread Chishtī influence to Delhi. Bakhtiyār Kākī's chief disciple, Farīd ad-Dīn, called Ganj-i Shakar ("the treasury of sugar"; d. 1265), settled in Pakpattan by the Sutlej, thus consolidating a Chishtī position in the Punjab. During the lifetimes of the two great shaykh s of fourteenth-century Delhi, Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyāʾ (1238–1325) and Nāṣir ad-Dīn Maḥmūd, Chirāgh-i Dihlī ("the lamp of Delhi," 1276–1356), branches of the Chishtī order were established in other regions: in Bengal by Shaykh Sirāj ad-Dīn (d. 1357), in Daulatabad by Burhān ad-Dīn (d. 1340), and in Gulbarga by Sayyid Muḥammad Gisū Darāz ("of long locks," 1321–1422). Other Chishtī mystics settled in Malwa and Gujarat. The Suhrawardīyah were the other principal group of Ṣūfīs active in sultanate South Asia, antithetical in their rituals and practices to the Chishtīyah. Their spiritual headquarters were in the southwest Punjab: at Multan where Shaykh Bahāʾ ad-Dīn Zakarīyāʾ (1182–1262) resided, and at Uchch where Sayyid Jalāl ad-Dīn Surkhpush ("red-dressed") Bukhārī (d. 1292) and his grandson Jalāl ad-Dīn Makhdūm-i Jahāniyān ("lord of the mortals," 1308–1384) lived. In Bengal, a leading Suhrawardi master was Shaykh Jalāl ad-Dīn Tabrīzī (thirteenth century). In Kashmir, the intellectually influential Kubrawīyah order gained a foothold through a visit by Sayyid ʿAlī Hamadānī between 1381 and 1384. An offshoot of this order, the Firdawsīyah, attained fame in Bihar through Sharaf ad-Dīn ibn Yaḥyā Manerī (1263–1381).
From about the middle of the fifteenth century onwards, other Ṣūfī orders made their appearance in South Asia, notably the Qādirīyah, the Shaṭṭārīyah, and the Naqshbandīyah. Muḥammad Ghawth (d. 1517), claiming to be tenth in succession to the founder of the Qādirīyah, ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī (1077–1176), settled at Uchch, but before that Qadiri Ṣūfīs had settled at Bidar about the time it became the capital of the Bahmani sultanate in 1422. The Bijapur sultanate also became a major center for the Qādirīyah. The Shaṭṭārīyah was another order that became influential in the Deccan as well as North India. Introduced from Iran by Shaykh ʿAbd Allāh al-Shaṭṭār (d. 1485), the order spread to Gujarat under the guidance of Muḥammad Ghawth of Gwalior (1485–1562/3), attracting the attention of the Mughal emperors Humāyūn and Akbar. The Naqshbandīyah, a conservative Central Asian Ṣūfī order, became prominent from the seventeenth century onwards when its members began to challenge the established forms and practice of Sufism in South Asia. It was introduced by Khwājah Muḥammad al-Bāqī Billāh (1563/4–1603), who initiated, in his last years, the most influential member of the order in South Asia, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī (1564–1624).
Another important category of Muslim holy men consisted of a variety of wandering mendicants, who were distinguished from "respectable" Ṣūfīs by scantiness of dress and the wearing of bizarre iron insignia, and who oftentimes exhibited aggressive attitudes toward Ṣūfīs belonging to the mainstream orders. They went by a variety of names—qalandār s, Ḥaydarīs, Madārīs. Because they seemed to be indifferent or antagonistic to the observance of prescribed religious and social norms, they have been termed be-sharʿ, that is, those who are outside religious law. Some of them, like the Madārīs (so called after a Jewish convert, Shāh Madār, who migrated to South Asia from Syria), smearing their naked bodies with ashes, using hashish, and ignoring Muslim religious duties, seemed to be indistinguishable from Hindu ascetics and yogis. Yet certain great shaykhs of the orders, notably the Chishtī, recognized some of them as men of genuine intuitive experience. Although so evidently outside the Muslim "religious establishment," it is possible to regard them as being important in communicating some identifiable Islamic religious beliefs and practices among Muslims and non-Muslim populations in rural and urban areas. The most famous of these qalandārs was Laʿl Shahbāz ("Red Falcon," d. 1325), the subject of one of the most popular Ṣūfī praise songs in South Asia. His tomb shrine at Sehwan in Sind still attracts thousands of pilgrims, including many be-sharʿ dervishes, although many of the immoral and illegal activities that historically gave this shrine notoriety have now been purged.
Religious and social roles of Ṣūfīs
As a mystical philosophy, Sufism has deeply impacted the lives of Muslims as well as non-Muslims in the Subcontinent. Beyond the realm of religious thought and practice, Sufism has influenced social, economic, cultural, and even political dimensions of everyday life. The development of literary and musical traditions in many South Asian languages bears the deep impress of Sufism. Not surprisingly, members of Ṣūfī orders have been regarded, by some scholars, to be "bridge-people," interpreting and adjusting Islamic concepts and practices to the psychology of different populations. They have also been responsible for introducing new emphases and rites into the Islamic tradition. By the time that Ṣūfī orders came to the Subcontinent, Sufism had become more of a devotional than a mystical movement, embracing a collection of cult associations that centered on the shaykh, or pīr, who was more approachable to the masses than the ʿalīm, or religious scholar. To be sure, discussions of more speculative and philosophical formulations of Sufism were taken up toward the end of the fourteenth century, yet these were limited to elite inner circles of disciples. At a popular level, a shaykh/pīr was seen as playing an intercessory role between humans and the divine. This role was often understood to be a physical manifestation of their special charisma, inherited through a silsilah ("spiritual chain") going back to the Prophet Muḥammad. Rather than adhering to the classical conception of his role as that of as a teacher and guide along the path to personal experience of divine truths, the shaykh had became a charismatic figure with special spiritual powers and energies. The dargāh, or tomb-shrine, began to supplant the khānqāh ("hospice," "retreat") in the popular imagination. Exclusive membership in, or allegiance to, particular orders became less important—indeed some adepts now belonged to more than one order. Some orders gained appeal; others fell from favor. Perhaps these responses were related to the way in which members of particular orders responded to the local cultural environment. Traditionally, Muʿīn ad-Dīn Chishtī is represented as having gained many followers after promoting the use of music in his khānqāh. No doubt, too, willingness to use the local vernacular for devotional poetry would enhance a shaykh 's appeal. Ṣūfīs belonging to larger Ṣūfī orders appear to have been more willing than the ʿulamāʾ to found khānqāhs away from the principal centers of political power and thus seem to have drawn more of the allegiance of the rural and small-town populations to themselves. Certain orders, notably the Qādirīyah and the Shaṭṭārīyah in Bijapur, were more urban-based.
Rulers of the day quickly recognized the popular appeal of shaykhs/pīrs among Muslim populations and wished to turn that appeal to their own advantage. Shaykhs were offered pensions and tax-free lands. Most Ṣūfī orders were willing to accept royal largesse. For example, the Suhrawardīyah in the Punjab have always enjoyed state patronage, while the Qādirīyah and Shaṭṭārīyah accepted land grants in seventeenth-century Bijapur. The Chishtī order, in particular, attracted a great deal of royal patronage. Ironically, the early Chishtīs were vehemently against any close association with those in political power, for they considered such contact to be detrimental to a person's moral and spiritual well-being. By the early fourteenth century, however, the order began to rise in prominence precisely on account of the enormous royal patronage it was attracting. As Muslim rulers of Turko-Persian ancestry began to establish kingdoms in the subcontinent, they associated their own personal fortunes and those of their dynasty with that of the Chishtī order. A ruling dynasty's patronage of Chishtī dargāhs could strengthen its claims of legitimacy in the eyes of the local population and also bestow upon it spiritual blessings for continued prosperity and success. As a consequence, a pattern of growing political patronage of Chishtī shrines emerged in many parts of northern India, from Gujarat to Bengal. Naturally, the "mother" dargāh at Ajmer where Muʿīn ad-Dīn Chishtī, the founder of the order, is buried, received a great deal of royal attention, all the more so due to its frontier location.
The most generous and loyal patrons of the Chishtīyah were members of the Mughal dynasty who were firmly convinced their worldly success was due to the blessings of the Chishtī shaykhs. As a result, not only did Mughal emperors bestow lavish endowments for the support of the Ajmer dargāh and sponsor several construction projects, they also actively involved themselves in its management by appointing its administrators and titular heads. The emperor Akbar (d. 1605) was a particularly ardent devotee, undertaking fourteen pilgrimages to the shrine, several of them on foot. Two of these pilgrimages, those of 1568 and 1574, were made immediately after conquering Chittor and Bengal, respectively, victories he attributed to the blessings of Muʿīn ad-Dīn Chishtī. Akbar's reverence for and devotion to the Chishtīs increased significantly when Shaykh Salīm Chishtī, a descendant of Muʿīn ad-Dīn, correctly predicted the birth of the emperor's son. In gratitude, he performed a pilgrimage to Ajmer, walking on foot all the way from Agra. He also had his new capital city, Fatehpur Sikri, built near Salīm Chishtī's khānqāh as a tangible way of symbolizing the close Mughal-Chishtī alliance that continued for the next two generations. In the seventeenth century the Naqshbandīyah, a Central Asian Ṣūfī order, vied against the Chishtīyah for the attention of the Mughals, for they had great political ambitions to influence aspects of state policy. Clearly, it is difficult to accept fully the contention that Ṣūfī orders represented an organized religious establishment in medieval India independent of different political establishments.
Muslim Religious Life in South Asia: The Cults of Personality
The character of Muslim piety in South Asia has been predominantly "person"-centered. As in other parts of the Muslim world, a central focus of "person"-centered piety has been the figure of the Prophet Muḥammad. Not only is the Milād an-nabī, his birthday, widely celebrated, but shrines housing relics, such as his footprint or his hair (e.g., Hazratbāl in Kashmir), attract many pilgrims. The Prophet has commonly been venerated through an extensive corpus of poems and songs in major South Asian languages, some even composed by Hindu poets. Although love for him and appeals for his intercession are common themes, many of these poems accord him a superhuman, or mystical status that at times appears to compromise strict notions of monotheism. The poems often reveal a Prophet who has been acculturated to specific regional contexts and perceived through lenses that have been influenced by a variety of literary conventions. Thus, epics in medieval Bengali pūthī literature see him as an avatāra, and poems in Tamil address him as a baby, while Sindhi poems beseech him as a bridegroom for whom the bride lovingly longs. Devotion to him has become the hallmark of a Muslim identity, defining the boundary between Muslim and non-Muslim, so that attacks on his character and personality have frequently sparked riots. It is hardly surprising that revivalists who sought to strengthen Muslim identity in the eighteenth and nineteenth century identified themselves as members of the Ṭarīqah-i-Muḥammadīyah ("the Muḥammadan Path") and appealed for a renewed commitment among Muslims to the Prophetic paradigm.
Several religious figures and personalities have been heirs to the Prophet's authority and/or charisma, giving rise to different types of "person"-centered devotionalism. For example, the Prophet's immediate family members, particularly his grandson Ḥusayn, tragically martyred at Karbala in 680 ce, have come to be widely venerated in South Asia, especially during the month of Muharram, not only by Shīʿī communities but by Sunnī Muslims as well. In many localities, Hindus, too, have participated in the commemorative Muharram processions. Ḥusayn and some of the martyred Shīʿī imāms and the family of the Prophet have been the subject of many elegies composed in several languages, including Urdu, Sindhi, and Gujarati.
Most ubiquitous in South Asia is the devotion to the Ṣūfī shaykh/pīr. Belief in the supernatural powers of Ṣūfī shaykh s/pīrs, deceased or living, has led to the proliferation of dargāh s and mazār s ("tomb-shrines") all over South Asia, frequented by devotees seeking to cure illnesses, ward off evil, fulfill desires, or gain admission to paradise. In some cases, these tomb shrines are associated with mythical figures (such as Khwājah Khiẓr or the Nau Gaz ["Nine Yard"] pīr ). So strong is the shrine tradition in South Asia that even a legendary Ṣūfī such as ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī (d. 1166), who is actually buried in Baghdad, has many shrines dedicated to him all over southern India. Interestingly, the dargāh in South Asia has not remained an exclusively Muslim institution; Muslim and non-Muslim alike participate in common rituals and ceremonies—such as kissing or touching the tomb, offering flowers, and lighting incense—in the hope of receiving spiritual blessing. It has also provided the only space where Muslim women can participate in public worship because as a rule in South Asia they do not attend mosques.
Of a different character and nature are a variety of movements centered around persons who have acquired religious authority on the basis of claims to a prophet-like status. Because these movements pose a challenge to the central authority of the Prophet Muḥammad, they have often been controversial. Many of these movements have been millenarian in nature. For instance, in the late fifteenth century, Sayyid Muḥammad of Jaunpur (1443–1505) declared himself to be the Mahdī ("guided one") of the Sunnī tradition who would lead the world to order and justice before the day of resurrection. His followers, who eventually formed the Mahdawī community, claimed for him a rank equal to that of the Prophet and clustered around him as though around a pīr. Needless to say, the group was intensely persecuted by Sunnī ʿulamāʾ, who saw the Mahdī as a threat to their authority. Bāyazīd Anṣārī (1525–1572/3), born at Jallandar in the Punjab, was a Pathan who claimed to be a pīr-i raushan ("a luminous master") in direct communication with God, who shone his divine light upon him. Bāyazīd's followers regarded him as combining perfections of the paths of law, mysticism, and wisdom attained through gnosis. In the last stage of their spiritual ascent, these disciples were allowed to exempt themselves from some of the obligations of the sharīʿah. Gathering support from among his fellow Pathans, Bāyazīd Anṣārī became the head of a religio-political movement that seriously challenged Mughal authority in northwest India. In 1581 the Mughal court itself was the setting of a personality cult around the figure of the Emperor Akbar, the so-called din-i ilāhī ("divine religion"), which some have declared to be an apostasy from Islam. More of a mystical order with limited membership in which the emperor was viewed as insān-i kāmil ("the perfect man"), the din-i ilāhī eclectically combined lofty ideas from various religious traditions as well as Sunnī ideas of the caliph and the just ruler to present Akbar as the earthly homologue and symbol of God's truth and justice. Interestingly, Akbar himself seems never to have directly made any claims to prophecy or divinity.
Even a figure such as Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī (d. 1624)—considered the bastion of religious conservatism during the reign of Akbar's son, Jahāngīr—gave himself prophetic airs. Because he arrived in India as the expected renovator of Islam at the beginning of the second Islamic millennium, Sirhindī was popularly referred to as the mujaddid-i alif-i thānī. He claimed that the "perfections of Prophethood," which had disappeared after the death of the Prophet Muḥammad, would reappear in deserving persons, such as himself, because they were the Prophet's heirs. He also regarded himself as the qayyūm, an intermediary between man and God through whom flowed all spiritual and material benefits. On account of his elevated status, he considered it his duty to point out in his many letters to the Emperor Jahāngīr and the Mughal nobility various "un-Islamic" practices that were being tolerated in the realm. These letters, described by Jahāngīr in his memoirs, Tuzuk-i Jahāngīrī, as a "bunch of absurdities," earned Sirhindī a short spell in prison so that, as the emperor puts it, "his disturbed disposition and confused mind would calm down a little."
The reaction to the emergence of these personality cults has often been in the form of a call for the reassertion of the paradigmatic role of the Prophet Muḥammad and his companions. Yet these types of movements have continued to emerge in South Asia to our day, the most recent being the Aḥmadīyah, founded by Mīrzā Ghulām Aḥmad (1835–1908). Influenced by the mujaddid and mahdī traditions, Ghulām Aḥmad claimed that he was a "non-legislative" prophet whose responsibility it was to ensure the correct implementation of the message revealed by the "legislative" prophet, that is, Muḥammad. Viewed within the historical context of other movements, his ideas were not so strange or idiosyncratic. However, when his followers expressed them within the context of a Pakistani nation that was increasingly moving to an Islamist political ideology, they stirred a violent backlash from religious conservatives. In 1974 the Pakistani legislature passed a bill that declared the followers of Ghulām Aḥmad to be non-Muslim. It believed that a line had been crossed and that the state had to take on the role of defining legitimate religious identity.
Movements of Islamic Renewal and Reform
The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed a mushrooming of movements for reform and change among Muslim communities in several regions of South Asia. While the nature and character of these movements varied according to regional contexts, they were, broadly speaking, in response to factors that were internal and external to the communities concerned. Internally, there seems to have been a widespread need to cure a spiritual and religious malaise that some felt had affected the way in which Islam was being practiced. Externally, the establishment of European, particularly British, colonialism and the emergence of nationalism presented a whole new set of challenges: new lifestyles, new educational systems, and new economic, social, and political structures. The arrival of Christian missionaries intent on converting Muslims (and Hindus) posed another kind of threat. For Muslim elites in North India, the collapse of Mughal rule in the face of onslaughts from the Marathas, Sikhs, and the British was also traumatic for it meant a loss of political and economic power. Many among the elite interpreted disempowerment as a sign of God's displeasure and a sign that Muslims needed to reinvigorate their relationship with Islam in the face of rapid change.
Early revivalist movements
The first attempts to advocate sociopolitical reform using Islam as a basis can be traced to Shāh Walī Allāh (d.1762), the great theologian of Delhi, who believed himself to be a renovator (mujaddid) of Islam. As mujaddid, he was the Prophet's vice-regent with the special duty of purifying religion from infidel practices such as visiting tomb-shrines. Through his numerous writings, the most important being Ḥujjat Allāh al-Bālighah (The perfect proof of God), Shāh Walī Allāh's ideas had a deep impact on later generations of reformists, ranging from conservatives to modernists. He believed himself to be called upon by God to demonstrate that a harmony of apparently different views existed or could be achieved among a whole range of religious sciences. A strong advocate of Muslim unity in the face of loss of political power, he attempted intellectually to reconcile differences between Sunnī schools of jurisprudence and competing philosophies of mysticism (waḥdat al-wujūd ["unity of existence"] and waḥdat ash-shuhūd ["unity of vision"]), although his ecumenism did not extend to Shīʿī communities. Shāh Walī Allāh felt strongly that Muslims would be better able to resolve their sociopolitical problems if they lived in accord with the precepts of their faith. In this regard, they needed to understand the Qurʾān for themselves without relying on the secondary interpretations of commentaries. To make the scripture more accessible, he translated it into Persian, paving the way for a later translation into Urdu by his sons. To deal with the loss of political power, he wrote a number of letters inviting neighboring Muslim rulers, such as Aḥmad Shāh Abdalī, to reestablish Muslim rule in North India. Unfortunately, Shāh Walī Allāh's Afghan friends and religious brethren plundered and looted Delhi after they conquered it!
No doubt inspired by Shāh Walī Allāh's activism, his grandson, Ismāʿīl Shahīd (d. 1831), became the theoretician for the energetic mujāhidīn reformist movement of the early nineteenth century initiated by Aḥmad Barēlī (Aḥmad of Rai Bareilly; d. 1831), a charismatic preacher who wanted to purge Islam of its accretions and corruptions. Ismāʿīl Shahīd's work Taqwiyat al-imān (Strengthening of faith) calls Muslims to righteous action in accord with God's command in order to improve their situation in this world and the next. Preaching a type of reformed Sufism, purged of "polytheistic" practices, the mujāhidīn movement, in keeping with the ideology of the Ṭarīqah-i-Muḥammadīyah, emphasized the importance of the Prophet Muḥammad as a paradigm. Following the example of the Prophet's hijrah ("emigration") from Mecca to Medina, in 1826 Aḥmad Barēlī led a group of mujāhidīn from British India to Pathan borderlands, from where they waged jihād against the Sikhs in a futile attempt to create an Islamic state in the Punjab modeled after the Prophet's Medina. Both reformers were killed by Sikh forces at the battle of Balakot in 1831. (The hold of the Prophet Muḥammad's hijrah over Muslim sentiment was to be further demonstrated in 1920 when, on the urging of mosque imāms and pīrs, about thirty thousand Muslims from the province of Sind and the Frontier Province migrated to Afghanistan as their dār al-Islām, or "abode of Islam.")
Regional revivalist movements
Reform and revivalist movements were not simply confined to areas traditionally associated with Muslim political power in North India. There were significant ones in regional contexts as well. By way of illustration, we will cite three cases.
In Bengal, Hajjī Sharīʿat Allāh (1781–1840) initiated the Farāʾiḍī movement. Having lived in the Hejaz in Arabia for about eighteen years, he sought to teach Bengali Muslims the correct way to observe the obligatory duties (farāʾiḍ) of Islam, to abandon reverence for pīrs, and to forsake "Hinduized" life ceremonies. On the grounds that there were no properly constituted Muslim rulers and qāḍīs in nineteenth-century India, the Farāʾiḍīs abandoned Friday and ʿīd ("festival") prayers. Under Hajjī Sharīʿat Allāh's son Dudū Miyān (1819–1862) violence broke out between the movement's largely peasant following and their landlords. Throughout the nineteenth century, a variety of Sunnī scholars and teachers, including Karāmat ʿAlī Jawnpurī (d. 1873), a follower of Aḥmad Barēlī willing to accept British rule, devoted themselves to trying to get rid of polytheistic attitudes and practices among Muslims in Bengal, while disagreeing among themselves about the acceptability of Sufism or about which school of Sunnī jurisprudence should be followed.
In the far south, among the Māppiḷḷas, as the Muslims of Kerala are called, ʿulamāʾ such as Sayyid ʿAlawī (d. 1843/4) and his son Sayyid Faḍl (d. 1900), though creating no formal organization, perpetuated among Māppiḷḷa peasant farmers a tradition of resistance to Hindu landlords. Among Māppiḷḷa urban classes who had lost employment and suffered a decline in trading because of European colonial rule, the movement became anti-British. Throughout the nineteenth century, Māppiḷḷa grievances were expressed through riots, culminating in the Māppiḷḷa rebellion of 1921, which was brutally squashed by the British. In demanding the formation of Moplastan, a separate state for Māppiḷḷa Muslims in south Kerala, these leaders, like the mujāhidīn in the north, employed an idiom that invoked the first Muslim community created in Medina by the Prophet Muḥammad in 622 ce.
In the west, in Sind, the nature of the revival movement took on a less overtly political and more spiritual and literary hue. Under the influence of a reformist movement initiated by members belonging to the conservative Naqshbandī Ṣūfī order, various poets undertook to instruct people about the basic duties of Islam using simple verse forms. In doing so, they sought to avoid the emotional expressions of piety found among more "intoxicated" Ṣūfī groups. Miyān Abūʾ1 Ḥasan (d. 1711) composed the Muqaddimat as-Ṣalāt, a long didactic poem on Islamic ritual prayer. Another Naqshbandī, Makhdūm Muḥammad Hāshim (d. 1761) was a prolific author of several works that explained the essentials of Islam in didactic Sindhi verse. His principal works included: the Farāʾiḍ al-Islām (The obligations of Islam), dealing with Islamic law and correct behavior; Tāfsir Hāshimī, a rhymed commentary on the last part of the Qurʾān; and Qūt al-ʿĀshiqīn (The nourishment of the lovers), which describes the virtues and miracles of the Prophet Muḥammad.
Responses to British Colonial Rule
In the aftermath of the 1857 rebellion and the failed attempt to overthrow British control, Muslim elites in North India were forced to come to terms not only with British political supremacy, but also with the growing presence of Western cultural institutions, particularly churches, schools, and colleges. Their reactions took various forms, the principle division being between modernists and conservatives.
Modernists: The Aligarh movement
The first major figure to argue that the changes Muslims were experiencing in the nineteenth century were compatible with Islam was Sir Sayyid Aḥmad Khān (d. 1898). As a young man, Sir Sayyid was well trained in theology in the tradition of Shāh Walī Allāh as well as in Muʿtazilah rationalism. In keeping with the spirit of the Ṭarīqah-i-Muḥammadīyah, with which he was affiliated, the book he wrote to help Muslims examine the life and exemplary of the Prophet Muḥammad lacked the customary hagiographic elements. He was convinced that in order to progress under colonial rule, Muslims must accept a future shaped by absolute loyalty to British power. Furthermore, he felt that Muslims should participate fully in the Western-style educational system being established by the British in India so that they would not become a social and economic underclass. As a Muslim, he wished to demonstrate that God was not being mocked when young Muslims, attending British-influenced schools and colleges in hope of advancement, were being taught a natural science that appeared to contradict divine revelation. He argued that the word of God and the work of God, revelation and nature as understood by nineteenth-century Western science, are wholly in harmony. Apparent discrepancies between the Qurʾānic account of the natural world and that of Western scientists are, in fact, attributable to misunderstandings of the language of the Qurʾān. He also advocated a rational approach to the Qurʾān based on fresh ijtihād, since Islam, in his interpretation, is a religion that accommodates historical change. The mandates of the sharīʿah, as interpreted by generations of religious scholars, needed to be reexamined to determine whether they were, in fact, the essential mandates of faith. To promote his ideas and provide young Muslims with Western-style higher education, he fought for and eventually founded the Anglo-Muhammadan College, which later became Aligarh Muslim University.
Sayyid Aḥmad Khān's approach enjoyed the support of several important personalities who formed the basis of the so-called Aligarh movement. Among its members were several prominent literati who wrote Urdu poetry and prose to disseminate its ideas. Most prominent among these was Alṭāf Ḥusayn Ḥālī (d. 1914), the author of Madd wa gazr-i Islām (The ebb and flow of Islam), a epic poem considered to the Aligarh movement's most enduring literary monument. Popularly known as the Musaddas, after its six-line stanzas, it contrasts the past glories and achievements of Islamic civilization with the miserable status of Muslims of Ḥālī's time. Among the other notable members of the Aligarh circle were: Naẓīr Aḥmad (d. 1912), a pioneer in the development of the Urdu novel, who highlighted the need to educate Muslim women in his fiction; Mumtāz ʿAlī, the publisher of Tahzīb al-niswān, a journal dedicated to women's issues; Ameer ʿAlī (d. 1928), the author of The Spirit of Islam, a book intended primarily for British readers, emphasizing the essential compatibility between Islam and Western liberalism; and Chirāgh ʿAlī (d. 1895), a modernist interpreter of the Qurʾān, who, among other things, demonstrated that the Islamic scripture was actually intended to ameliorate the position of women and implicitly prohibited polygamy. Chirāgh ʿAlī's most controversial stand was in regards to the ḥadīth literature, which he considered entirely fabricated and therefore unworthy as a basis of Islamic jurisprudence.
Sir Muḥammad Iqbāl
The poet-philosopher Sir Muḥammad Iqbāl ranks among the most significant thinkers of modern Islam. Because he was the first to advocate the idea of a separate Muslim homeland, he is also widely perceived as the spiritual founder of Pakistan. He has became such a towering figure that every religious, political, and social movement in contemporary Indo-Muslim thought has turned to his writings in order to find justification for its position. In addition to receiving training in Islamic studies (he was influenced by Sir Sayyid Aḥmad Khān and Shiblī, two significant figures in the Aligarh movement), he studied philosophy at the Universities of Cambridge and Munich. Through his prose and poetic works, he reveals a unique way of interpreting and expressing Islamic concepts and ideas through a skillful combination of Western and Eastern intellectual and literary tools. He offered a conception of the God-human relationship through which he intended to inspire Muslims to action. The life goal of the individual ego, he believed, should be that of actualizing in thought and deed the infinite possibilities of the divine imagination. Humans, he believed, as vicegerents of God on earth, have an active duty to develop themselves to the highest potential. Some of his ideas, such as the call to free the interpretation of Islam from the fetters of tradition and the scholarship of ʿulamāʾ, and the demand for ijtihād, were typical of Islamic reformers. His claim that human beings can actively participate within a dynamic creation, his call for individual action and responsibility, and his conception of the Qurʾān as revelation that unfolds in time and eternity were unusual and for some controversial. Yet his thought had a tremendous appeal for those Muslims who were searching for leaders with an intellectual and political vision.
Conservatives: The Deobandi ʿulamāʾ
The theological school of Deoband, founded in 1867 by Rashīd Aḥmad Gangohī (d. 1905) and Muḥammad Qāsim Nanawtawī (d. 1880), represented a conservative response among Sunnī ʿulamāʾ to the establishment of British rule and the spread of Western culture. Although the theologians of Deoband accepted the British as rulers, they found Western culture to be wanting and inappropriate for the faithful to emulate. The objective of the school was thus to establish and maintain a correct standard of Islamic practice for (Sunnī) Muslims to follow at a time when they were exposed to many non-Islamic influences. The theologians of Deoband prided themselves in upholding the authority of the four traditional schools of Sunnī jurisprudence, and in time, their school acquired an outstanding reputation, enrolling students from many parts of the Islamic world. Deobandi leaders assumed the status of Ṣūfī shaykhs and initiated disciples, but the special miracles that were attributed to them were depicted as being exercised to influence people to follow the sunnah, the custom of the Prophet. In this regard, they were strongly opposed to anything that was not in keeping with Prophetic tradition, such as worship at Ṣūfī shrines, belief in the intercession of pīrs, or elaborate birth, marriage, and death rituals. Deobandi theologians vigorously defended the need to accept the interpretations and consensus of earlier Sunnī scholars and jurists and attacked all dissenting voices. Rashīd Aḥmad Gangohī, for example, dismissed Sir Sayyid's pro-Western and neorationalist approach as "deadly poison." Muḥammad Qāsim acquired a stellar reputation for his polemical disputations with Hindu and Christian missionaries. A later Deobandi scholar, Ashrāf ʿAlī Thanwī (d. 1943) achieved fame for his work Bihisti zevar (Heavenly jewelry), a conservative guidebook for the education of Muslim women. The prestige of Deoband as the guardian of Sunnī Islam was enhanced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when its scholars played a leading role in refuting the claims of Ghulām Aḥmad, the founder of the Aḥmadīyah movement, particularly his challenge to the finality of Muḥammad's prophethood.
The emphasis on the Prophetic paradigm as a source of guidance for Muslims facing change formed the focal point of another reformist group, Ahl-i Ḥadīth, led by Siddiq Ḥasan Khān (d. 1890), a religious scholar who had married, in the midst of much controversy, the widowed princess of Bhopal. Though the Ahl-i Ḥadīth stressed the exclusive primacy of the Qurʾān and the ḥadīth as fundamental guides in life, they rejected the interpretive authority of the founders of the four Sunnī schools. Their treatment of the ḥadīth as a form of implicit revelation that elaborated authoritatively the explicit revelation of the Qurʾān led them into conflicts with two groups. On the one hand they opposed members of the Aligarh movement who exhibited skepticism toward the authenticity of the ḥadīth; not surprisingly, they dubbed Sayyid Aḥmad Khān "the modern prophet of nature-worshippers," and the latest instigator of evils in Muslim society. On the other hand, they engaged in a vitriolic polemical war with a counter-group led by ʿAbdullāh Chakralavī and called the Ahl-i Qurʾān. As its name suggests, this movement advocated total reliance on the Qurʾān as the most perfect source of guidance; the Qurʾān according to them contained all the basic injunctions for Muslims and left them free to decide on other matters. For example, they regarded the call to prayer and the performance of ʿīd and funerary prayers as not essential Islamic obligations because they are not mentioned in the Qurʾān. A third important group was comprised of those ʿulamāʾ who did not see the need to change or modify the various customs and practices that had developed among Sunnī Muslim communities in South Asia. Led by Aḥmad Riḍā Khān (d. 1921), with their major centers at Bareilly and Badaʾun, they accepted a variety of intercessory figures in Islam, from the Prophet Muḥammad to the shaykhs and pīrs of the dargāhs. The Barelwīs, as they came to be called, observed the birthdays of the Prophet and of the Ṣūfī pīrs —a practice that the Deobandis and others found objectionable on the grounds that such celebrations implied that the dead were present. An important offshoot of the Deobandi movement is the Tablighi-jamāʿat, founded in the 1920s by Mawlānā Muḥammad Ilyās (d. 1944). Its principal objective is to reach out to ordinary Muslims individually and provide guidance on matters of faith through a network of self-taught teachers traveling from house to house. Initially conceived as a response to the efforts of Hindu movements such as the Shuddhi and Sangathan to forcibly convert Muslims, it has become one of the most influential grassroots religious movements in South Asia, with considerable influence at the international level as well.
Defining Muslim Identity in Colonial India
It is in the nineteenth century, during the establishment of British colonial rule over South Asia, that we witness a gradual evolution of cultural distancing and alienation between Muslim and non-Muslim. The very "idiom" of British rule was communalist, systematically institutionalizing South Asia into a nation of communities defined along religious lines. The census and ethnographic surveys conducted under British auspices highlighted religious markers of identity to the detriment of others, forcing people to identify themselves primarily in religious terms. Through such colonial instruments, South Asian Muslims from diverse socioeconomic, ethnic, and sectarian backgrounds, began, for the first time, to perceive themselves as belonging to a distinct community and, eventually, to a nation distinct from the subcontinent's non-Muslim population.
As the variety of revivalist and reform movements discussed above began to clarify their respective positions as to what it meant to be a Muslim under the circumstances of colonial rule, they offered a wide spectrum of definition concerning Islamic identity. These definitions sought to differentiate more sharply the Muslim from the non-Muslim by turning for guidance to scriptural sources such as the Qurʾān, the sunnah of the Prophet Muḥammad, and the tradition of the historical past. In the process, any practices considered to be syncretistic and accommodating to local custom were suspect. Significantly, none of the definitions allowed for Muslims to observe customs or rituals that were part of the South Asian cultural environment. Practices, customs, and ideas that were prevalent among Muslims and recognized as local or indigenous were deemed to be "un-Islamic." This was contrasted to the "Islamic" values represented by Perso-Arabic culture.
A suspicion of the local as "un-Islamic," or "Hindu," and a privileging of the "Arabo-Persian" as "Islamic," combined with a conception of Islam and Hinduism as closed systems of thought, couched in communalist and nationalist terms, radically changed perceptions of different elements of South Asian culture. As literature, music, dance, and language came to be viewed through religious lenses they became politicized within the realms of colonial and nationalist discourse. For instance, Muslims with personal names derived from local Indian systems of nomenclature began changing them in favor of Arabic or Persian ones to reflect their Muslim identity. Dramatic changes occurred in how languages were perceived: there were attempts to "Islamicize" Indic vernacular languages and literatures, such as Bengali, by injecting into them more words of Arabic and Persian origin and using the Perso-Arabic script to write them. Urdu, written in the Perso-Arabic script and with a highly Persianized vocabulary, was increasingly perceived as a symbol of Islamic identity, while Hindi, written in the Devanagari script and with a highly Sanskritic vocabulary, became a symbol of Hinduism. In this emotionally charged atmosphere, it became politically and culturally difficult, if not impossible, for many Hindu writers to continue writing in Urdu, or for Muslim writers to cultivate Hindi.
The twin processes of Islamicization—defined in this case as the adoption of Perso-Arabic cultural elements and mores—among Muslims and Sanskritization among Hindus resulted in a cultural distancing between Muslim and Hindu in many regions of the subcontinent. Muslim groups realized that their status as Muslims depended on their cultural distinctiveness from Hindu groups and vice versa. As sociologist Imtiaz Aḥmad correctly observes in "Exclusion and Assimilation in Indian Islam" (1976) the ultimate result of this variety of Islamicization was disjunction; it had profound significance in shaping interaction among Muslims and Hindus by sharpening cultural differences between them. Ultimately, cultural distancing facilitated the rise of the two-nation theory—the idea that Muslims and Hindus constitute two separate cultures and nations—and the demand for partition. It also partially explains why the lack of a shared common culture has intensified the Muslim-Hindu violence that has marked the history of contemporary South Asia.
Post-Partition South Asia
The emergence of the two-nation theory as the political platform on which Muḥammad ʿAlī Jinnāḥ (d. 1948) and the Muslim League were able to garner support for the idea of Pakistan was not unexpected, for it had historical roots. The seeds for its germination had already been sown decades earlier. Sir Sayyid Aḥmad Khān's advocacy for separate political rights for Muslims; Sayyid Aḥmad Shahīd's mujāhidīn movement and the quest for a dār al-Islām; the Khilāfat movement of the 1920s and its futile attempt to preserve the Sunnī caliphate and the ideal of Muslim political sovereignty; Sir Muḥammad Iqbāl's call for a consolidated Muslim state within a federal India—all can be seen, retrospectively, as paving the way for the creation of Pakistan. Nevertheless, many ʿulamāʾ, including a significant number of Deobandis, were opposed to the idea of Pakistan on two grounds: firstly, they did not trust the westernized elite who led the Pakistan movement and secondly, they considered nationalism to be a Western ideology that was detrimental to transnational Muslim unity. Not surprisingly, Ḥusayn Aḥmad Madanī, a leader of the Deoband ʿulamāʾ, issued a fatwā forbidding Muslims to support the idea of Pakistan and declared Jinnāḥ, who was popularly called Quaid-i Aʿẓam ("The Great Leader"), to be Kāfir-i Aʿẓam ("The Great Infidel"). Among other opponents were Abūʾl Kalām Azād (d. 1958), a scholar and commentator on the Qurʾān and an ardent proponent of a composite Hindu-Muslim nationalism; and Maulānā Mawdūdī (d. 1979), who founded the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī to counter the Muslim League and the drive for a Muslim homeland. Ironically, the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī was able to fully express its political program only after it became actively involved in Pakistan, the very state whose creation Mawdūdī had opposed.
Ostensibly founded to allow Muslims a safe haven in which to practice their religion and nourish their cultures without fearing the tyranny of a non-Muslim majority, Pakistan has, since its foundation, grappled with the problem of defining the role of Islam in the organization of the state. Muḥammad ʿAlī Jinnāḥ, the founding father, had a vision of a "Muslim" state that was secular and liberal. It was "Islamic" in that it was to be devoted to nurturing and protecting the cultural, social, and political interests of Muslims. In this vision, the state did not interfere with the religious beliefs and practices of its Muslim (and non-Muslim) population. In contrast, groups such as Mawdūdī's Jamāʿat-i Islāmī envisioned an "Islamic" state whose underlying political ideology was religious and whose function it was to ensure that Islam (meaning, of course, their interpretation of it) was being correctly followed and implemented. Over its fifty odd years of existence, the Pakistani polity has become the battleground for struggles between secularists, modernists, and Islamists, and has oscillated between different visions of the role of Islam in public life. To promote national unity, the state had at its foundation appealed to religion as a binding ideology to hold together different ethnic groups. Yet, as the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan in the bloody civil war of 1971 demonstrates, religious ideology alone is not sufficient to hold Muslim communities together. Ethnic and language loyalties are much stronger forces than faith in fostering community. Today, ethno-nationalist tensions between Sindhis, Muhajirs, and Punjabis continue to plague Pakistan.
In the 1980s General Ẓiā ul-Ḥaqq, with the support of the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī, was able to implement programs of Islamicization, in which the government enforced religious practices that it determined as being "Islamically" correct and proscribed those that it considered incorrect. Although instituted to promote national unity through uniformity, these programs have proven to be divisive as there is no consensus in Pakistani society on basic questions such as what is "true" Islam, who is a Muslim, or even who is, in fact, responsible for the enforcement of religious codes. As a result of Islamicization policies, tensions between Shīʿah and Sunnī have intensified, frequently leading to violence. Discord between different groups, even within the majority Sunnī community, has heightened because it has been impossible to reach agreement over which interpretation of Islam should be the basis for state policy. Many changes in personal and family law, introduced as part of the Islamicization program, have been detrimental to the status of Muslim women, leading to opposition from women's rights organizations. Groups such as the Aḥmadīyah, who claim to be Muslim, have been proclaimed a non-Muslim minority by the state and subjected to persecution. Although constitutionally protected, Christian and Hindu minority communities in Pakistan live apprehensively in a nation that has yet to come to terms with ethnic and religious pluralism.
The situation in Bangladesh has been different from that of Pakistan, mainly because the state emerged as an expression of Bengali ethnonationalism—the majority of Bangladeshis being speakers of Bengali—not common religion. Nevertheless, since its foundation, the role of Islam in this Muslim-majority state has become a topic of debate and contention. The first constitution in 1972 affirmed the secular character of the state and prohibited political parties founded on the basis of religious affiliation. Three years later, after a military coup, the government of Ziaur Rahman (1975–1981) began to replace secularist ideals with more religious ones, eventually resulting in the declaration of Islam as a state religion in 1988. Religious political parties, principally the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī, following the pattern in Pakistan, have campaigned for Islam to become the ideology of the state. So far they have been unable to win widespread electoral support for their cause.
As for India, in the aftermath of the partition Muslim communities there have been consistently perceived as the "other," especially as the nation-state of India was itself formed in opposition to the Islamic "other"—Pakistan. Consequently, many Muslims have experienced a steady marginalization economically, socially, and politically, especially as the nation's politics have come to be increasingly influenced by right-wing Hindu ideologies. At various times, the situation of Muslim minorities has been precarious as they have been victimized by bloody pogroms provoked by Hindu extremist groups. The demolition of the Babri mosque in December 1992 and the riots that followed, as well as the massacres of Muslims in Gujarat in 2003, have severely shaken the self-confidence of many of India's Muslims in the supposedly secular nature of the state.
Surveying the history of Muslim communities in South Asia, it is clear that religiously based nationalisms and the politics of communalism in the contemporary period have been detrimental to the composite culture that Muslims have shared for many centuries with other religious groups. As previously shared cultural elements have become increasingly politicized along religious lines, the divide between Muslims and Hindus has widened. In the politically charged atmosphere created by the rise of religious right-wing political parties in India and Pakistan, and to a limited extent in Bangladesh, traditions of inter-religious and intra-religious pluralism have been jeopardized. Religious intolerance and stereotyping are on the rise. As a result, the history of Islam in South Asia has been grossly misrepresented. Perpetuated by Muslim and non-Muslim groups alike, these stereotypes and distorted interpretations of history and doctrine have had the unfortunate consequence of creating a marked increase in the dehumanization of the "other"—whether Muslim or Hindu, Shīʿī or Sunnī.
The most comprehensive and scholarly handbook is Annemarie Schimmel's Islam in the Indian Subcontinent (Leiden, Netherlands, 1980), which has full bibliographies. Muḥammad Mujeeb's The Indian Muslims (London, 1967) is a sensitive interpretation of Muslim responses to the South Asian setting. India's Islamic Tradition, 711–1750, edited by Richard Eaton (New Delhi, 2003), and Beyond Turk and Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities in Islamicate South Asia, edited by David Gilmartin and Bruce Lawrence (Gainesville, Fla., 2000), contain important essays on Muslim and Hindu interactions in premodern South Asia in regional contexts, the dynamic overlapping of religious cultures, and the fluid nature of constructions of religious identity. These essays are a marvelous antidote to the strictly communalist and nationalist readings of history favored in some circles. Finally, Tony Stewart's "In Search of Equivalence: Conceiving the Muslim-Hindu Encounter through Translation Theory," History of Religions 40, no. 3 (2001): 260–287, represents a significant contribution to the study of vernacular Muslim literature.
Sufism in South Asia has attracted a great deal of attention from scholars, some of whom have axes to grind. Important studies include the various works by Khaliq Ahmad Nizami; Yohanan Friedmann's Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindī: An Outline of His Thought and a Study of His Image in the Eyes of Posterity (Montreal, 1971); Richard Eaton's Sufis of Bijapur, 1300–1700: Social Roles of Sufis in Medieval India (Princeton, N.J., 1978); Muslim Shrines in India: Their Character, History, and Significance, edited by Christian Troll (Delhi, 1989); and Carl Ernst's Eternal Garden: Mysticism, History, and Politics at a South Asian Sufi Center (Albany, N.Y., 1992).
Important studies on minority Muslim communities include S. A. A. Rizvi's A Socio-Intellectual History of the Isna ʿAshari Shiʿis in India, 2 vols. (Delhi, 1986); Azim Nanji's The Nīzarī Ismāʿīlī Tradition in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent (Delmar, N.Y., 1978); Juan Cole's Roots of North Indian Shiʿism in Iran and Iraq: Religion and State in Awadh, 1722–1859 (Berkeley, Calif., 1988); Yohanan Friedmann's Prophecy Continuous: Aspects of Ahmadi Religious Thought and Its Medieval Background (Berkeley, Calif., 1989); Vernon Schubel's Religious Performance in Contemporary Islam: Shi'i Devotional Rituals in South Asia (Columbia, S.C., 1993); and Jonah Blank's Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity among the Daudi Bohras (Chicago, 2001).
Among the growing number of studies that focus on the regional development of Islamic traditions, the most significant are Stephen Dale's Islamic Society on the South Asian Frontier (New York, 1980); Asim Roy's The Islamic Syncretistic Tradition in Bengal (Princeton, N.J., 1983); David Gilmartin's Empire and Islam: Punjab and the Making of Pakistan (Berkeley, Calif., 1988); Rafiuddin Ahmed's The Bengal Muslims 1871–1906: A Quest for Identity (Delhi, 1991); and Richard Eaton's The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760 (Berkeley, Calif., 1993).
For modern developments, the standard survey is Azīz Aḥmad's Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan, 1857–1964 (London, 1967); dated but still a classic is Wilfred Cantwell Smith's Modern Islam in India: A Social Analysis, rev. ed. (New York, 1972). Imtiaz Aḥmad discusses in detail the impact of Islamicization on Muslim-Hindu relations in his "Exclusion and Assimilation in Indian Islam," in Sociocultural Impact of Islam on India, edited by Attar Singh (Chandigarh, India, 1976), pp. 85–105. More specialized studies on individual figures or movements include Christian Troll's Sayyid Ahmad Khan: A Reinterpretation of Muslim Theology (New Delhi, 1978); Annemarie Schimmel's Gabriel's Wing: A Study into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muḥammad Iqbāl (Leiden, Netherlands, 1963); Barbara Metcalf's Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860–1900 (Princeton, N.J., 1982); Gail Minault's The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India (New York, 1982); and S. Vali Reza Nasr's Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism (New York, 1996).
The experiences of Muslim women in South Asia are long overdue for scholarly attention. Among a few pioneering works are Patricia Jeffery's Frogs in a Well: Indian Women in Purdah (London, 1979); Separate Worlds: Studies of Purdah in South Asia, edited by Hannah Papanek and Gail Minault (Columbia, Mo., 1983); Gail Minault's Secluded Scholars: Women's Education and Muslim Social Reform in Colonial India (Delhi, 1998); and Shemeem Abbas's The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual: Devotional Practices of Pakistan and India (Austin, Tex., 2002).
Ali S. Asani (2005)
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