Sunteți pe pagina 1din 16


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 cen- turies, 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 pro- portion 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. Aware- ness of this minority status has been an influential factor af- fecting their history, particularly in contemporary times. In the early decades of the twentieth century, the rise of nation- alist movements to free India from British colonial rule was marked by a growing anxiety among some Muslim intellec- tuals and leaders about the status of Muslim minorities in an independent postcolonial India ruled by a Hindu majori- ty. Many feared that Muslims would not be able to practice

their faith and nurture their cultural traditions freely in a na- tion governed by a non-Muslim majority. As prominent Hindu and Muslim leaders began to conceptualize their re- spective 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, Hin- dus 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 spir- itual blessing. During worship, they may sing devotional songs composed by Muslim mystics. In a more secular con- text, they attend poetry recitals where audiences enjoy listen- ing 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 Mus- lim culture demonstrates that in South Asia peoples of differ- ent religious affiliations could and did come together in pro- found ways.





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 im- migrants were Arab traders who, as early as the eighth centu- ry, settled in many of the seaports along the western and southern coasts of India. Later, the descendants of these mer- chant 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 Muh: ammad ibn Qa¯sim, was sent to the Arabian Sea to sub- jugate 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 sur- vived 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 var- ious 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, howev- er, they established kingdoms in North India, Bengal, the Deccan, and western India. The most famous of these Cen- tral Asian dynasties were the Mughals, founded in 1526 by the Emperor Ba¯bur. 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 renais- sance 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 ad- ministrative positions in the newly established states, while others looked for appointments to legal positions such that of qa¯d: ¯ı (“judge”). Poets and artists also flocked to the sub- continent from Central Asia and Iran in search of royal pa- tronage, especially after they experienced difficulties in secur- ing patronage in their homelands. Religious scholars ( Eulama¯ D) and preachers, both Sunn¯ı and Sh¯ı E¯ı, as well as S: u¯f¯ı 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 frac- tion of the entire Muslim population. The vast majority of Muslims in South Asia are clearly of indigenous origin, al- though 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. Colo-


nial, religious, nationalist, and communitarian agendas have so influenced perspectives on this subject that, as British his- torian 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 pa- tronage, or to escape the evils of the Indian caste system. Var- ious S: u¯f¯ıs 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 sociologi- cal evidence. In addition, scholars have disagreed about the processes involved. For instance, Carl Ernst in Eternal Gar- den: Mysticism, History, and Politics at a South Asian Sufi Cen- ter (1992) questions the idea that S: u¯f¯ı folk poetry was explic- itly 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 im- part 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 in- termediaries 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 phe- nomenon should not be construed as “conversion” in the sense of a “self-conscious turning around in religious convic- tion and belief.” Nor should the authors be considered mis- sionaries or “self-conscious propagators,” even though this is the general context in which S: u¯f¯ıs 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 reli- gious belief, is derived from a Protestant missionary model, and has been projected unconsciously on the historical con- text of premodern South Asia. As he convincingly demon- strates, 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 concep- tual and social framework of indigenous cultures. Intrinsic to this approach was the acceptance of both indigenous be- liefs 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 appro- priate 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 expla-

nations. In view of the historical, social, and cultural com- plexities 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 identi- fy 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 Paki- stan and its underlying premise of Muslims comprising a sin- gle 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, ethnici- ty, 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 di- versity stems, on the one hand, from the different ethnic and linguistic groups to which they belong. It is a cultural diversi- ty that is reflected, for example, in the many Indic languages and literary genres used in Muslim devotional literatures, in musical genres such as the qawwa¯l¯ı that are rooted in North Indian musical traditions, and in the mosques that incorpo- rate local traditions of design. Diversity may also be theologi- cal, stemming from the many ways Muslims understand and interpret their faith. Even within overarching categories,


such as Sunn¯ı, Sh¯ı Eah, or S: u¯f¯ı, there exist several subgroups and divisions with significant differences. A Sunn¯ı may be Deobandi or a Brelvi; a Sh¯ı Eah may be Ithna¯ Eashar¯ı (Twelver) or Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı, either Niza¯r¯ı or MustaEl¯ı (Bohra); a S: u¯f¯ı may belong to one of the major orders such as the Chisht¯ıyah or Naqshband¯ıyah, or not belong to an order at all. In this way, the Islamic tradition in South Asia is com- prised of multiple communities of interpretation. Each com- munity 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 QurDa¯n is the embodiment of divine rev- elation or that the Prophet Muh: ammad is God’s final mes- senger.

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.


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 sub- continent. The dynamic interaction between these two fac- ets, manifest in the thoughts and attitudes of Muslim think- ers, statesmen, poets, and artists through the centuries, provides a useful lens through which to view the complex in- teraction 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 shar¯ı Eah 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 ashra¯f (“nobility”). In northern India, the ashra¯f were Per- sianized 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. Favor-




ing 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 transna- tional 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 cul- tural links to Arabia. Among Muslims communities, such as the Ma¯ppil: l: as of Kerala, the category of ashra¯f included say- yids, those who claimed descent from the Prophet Muh: ammad, as well as populations of Arab origin whose an- cestors 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 eth- nic and cultural difference from the subcontinent’s indige- nous populations, the ashra¯f were anxious to prevent their religious and cultural identity from being absorbed and over- whelmed by an environment they considered to be alien and antithetical to their values. In their desire to maintain the pu- rity 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 ajla¯f (“mean, ignoble wretches”). Al-Baran¯ı (d. c. 1360), a medieval historian, refers, in his chronicle Fata¯wa¯ Jaha¯nda¯r¯ı, 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 surpris- ing 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 ashra¯f have lost effective political power.

To preserve and protect their religio-cultural identity from encroachment by “idolatrous” Indian customs and be- liefs, the ashra¯f 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 extrater- ritorial ethos in the works of many of the subcontinent’s in- fluential Muslim thinkers, scholars, and theologians. Thus, the fourteenth-century Suhrawardi S: u¯f¯ı Makhdu¯m-i Jaha¯niya¯n Jaha¯ngasht (d. 1385) insisted that his followers use Arabic terms such as Alla¯h to refer to God, rather than Indic vernacular terms (such as niran˙jan, “the one without attri- butes”). Similar sentiments were echoed several centuries later by Sha¯h Wal¯ı Alla¯h (1703–1762), one of the great re- formers of South Asian Islam, who writes in his treatise Taf- himat al-ila¯hiyya: “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 adopt- ed. These foreign customs, he felt, were not compatible with their Islamic identity. The twentieth-century poet- philosopher Muh: ammad Iqba¯l (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 car- avan of the Prophet Muh: ammad, calling the Muslim com- munity 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 gen- erally 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. Consequent- ly, they not only were more open to, and tolerant of, the South Asian cultural milieu, they also actively fostered inter- pretations of Islam that could be more readily understood within the contexts of indigenous religion and culture.

The shaykhs of the Chisht¯ı S: u¯f¯ı order, for instance, ac- tively 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 S: u¯f¯ıs also adapted the Indian disciplines of Yoga and meditation to practices inherited from the classical Arabo-Persian S: u¯f¯ı tradition. In an identical spirit, the au- thors of the extensive pu¯th¯ı religious literature from medieval Bengal attempted to incorporate various figures of Hindu mythology, particularly Kr: s: n: a (Krishna), an avata¯ra of the Hindu deity Vis: n: u (Vishnu), into the historical line of prophets that ends with the Prophet Muh: ammad. In Tamil Nadu, Muslim authors such as Umaru Pulavar (d. 1703), used the genre of the pura¯na, conventionally employed to re- count the deeds of various Hindu deities, to narrate in poetic form the biography of the Prophet Muh: ammad, using tradi- tional Tamil literary conventions and customs to create a dis- tinctively Tamil flavor. In Sind and Punjab, S: u¯f¯ı poets ap- propriated to an Islamic context the theme of viraha (love-in- separation) and the symbol of the virahin¯ı (the woman longing for her beloved), both associated in the Hindu devo- tional traditions with the longing of the gop¯ıs (cow-maids), particularly Radha, for the deity Kr: s: n: a. Following the con- ventions of Indic devotional poetry, these S: u¯f¯ı poets repre- sented the human soul as a longing wife, or bride, pining for her beloved husband or bridegroom, who may be God, the Prophet Muh: ammad, or the S: u¯f¯ı 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 QurDa¯n. For instance, Sindhi- speaking Muslims in southern Pakistan consider Sha¯h EAbdul Lat: ¯ıf’s poetic masterpiece in the Sindhi language, the Risa¯lo, to be a revered book that contains within it the es- sence of the spiritual teachings of the QurDa¯n. Through his exegetical remarks on dramatic moments and events in pop- ular Sindhi folk romances, Sha¯h EAbdul Lat: ¯ıf is perceived to be conveying in the Sindhi vernacular QurDa¯nic ideas on the spiritual significance of the human situation. In the Punjab, poems attributed to Punjabi S: u¯f¯ı poets such as Bullhe Sha¯h (d. 1754) and Va¯ris: Sha¯h are also commonly regarded as spiritual commentaries on QurDa¯nic verses, particularly those associated with Sufism or Islamic mysticism. Similarly, the gina¯ns of the Khoja Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı communities of western India and Pakistan, composed in various vernacular languages such as Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, and Sindhi and embodying the teaching of Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı preacher-saints, have also been regarded as secondary texts embodying the inner signification of the QurDa¯n.

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 iden- tity in a predominantly non-Muslim environment, it was in- evitable that representatives of the two strands would come into conflict with one another. Indeed, one approach to in- terpreting the history of Islam in South Asia is through an analysis of the constant interplay and interaction of these two facets. SUNN ¯ I ISLAM. The vast majority of Muslims in South Asia are Sunn¯ı, relying on Sunn¯ı Eulama¯ D, or religious scholars, for guidance on matters of faith. Generally speaking, the Sha¯fi E¯ı school of jurisprudence prevails among Sunn¯ı com- munities in southern and southwestern India and Sri Lanka, whereas the Hanaf¯ı school is widespread elsewhere in the subcontinent. Little is known of the coming of Sunn¯ı Eulama¯ D to the early Muslim settlements established by Arab traders on the southwest coast of India. Although the six- teenth-century Malayali author Zayn al-D¯ın al-MaEbar¯ı sug- gests in his Tuh: fat al-muja¯hid¯ın (Gift of the holy warriors) that preachers from Arabia founded the first mosques in Ker- ala, he does not indicate specific dates. In 1342 the Moroc- can Arab traveler Ibn Bat: t: u¯t: ah found in the region mosques and qa¯d: ¯ıs of the Sha¯fi E¯ı school of law being supported by Muslim seamen and merchants. There are several indications that Sunn¯ı Eulama¯ D were already established in northern India in the eleventh and twelfth centuries: the presence of


the scholar-S: u¯f¯ı Shaykh EAl¯ı al-Hujw¯ır¯ı in Lahore, where he died between 1072 and 1077; the travels of Fakhr al-D¯ın al-Ra¯z¯ı (1149–1209), the theologian and exegete, in the Punjab; and the praise heaped by Muslim historians on vari- ous 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 Sunn¯ı scholars to India, making easier the task of appointing qa¯d: ¯ıs for the growing number of Muslim-ruled states in northern India. This new influx may partially explain why the Hanaf¯ı school of law supplanted the Sha¯fiE¯ı school as the dominant Sunn¯ı rite in northern India.

During the earlier periods of Muslim history in North India, the teaching centers of Sunn¯ı Eulama¯ D appear to have been informal schools attached to mosques rather than sepa- rate madrasahs, or religious colleges. The same can be said of Bengal, where inscriptions from the thirteenth to the fif- teenth centuries also refer to madrasahs being attached to mosques. Although the first independent madrasah was es- tablished in 1472 at the city of Bidar in the Bahmanid state in the Deccan by the Persian minister Mah: mu¯d Ga¯wa¯n, it is only in the eighteenth century that institutions such as the Farang¯ı Mahal in Lucknow and the Madrasa-i Rah: ¯ımiyya in Delhi began to enjoy widespread fame as centers of Sunn¯ı scholarship. The Farang¯ı Mahal developed into a leading re- ligious college after it received substantial financial support in 1691 from the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (d. 1707). Its curriculum, the dars-i Niz: a¯m¯ı, heavily emphasized theology and philosophy as opposed to colleges in Delhi, such the Ma- drasa-i Rah: ¯ımiyya, founded by Sha¯h Wal¯ı Alla¯h’s father Sha¯h EAbd ar-Rah: ¯ım, which were repositories of h: ad¯ıth studies. The nineteenth century was the age of the madrasah in South Asia, because Sunn¯ı Eulama¯ D responded to British colonialism and the spread of Western-style education by set- ting up a network of colleges to provide an alternative Islamic education to Muslim youth. Most significant among these was the Da¯r ul-EUlu¯m at Deoband, created to train Eulama¯ D who could promote and uphold “correct” Islamic belief and practice within Muslim communities. A bastion of Sunn¯ı learning to this day, Deoband continues to attract students from all over the world. Historically, it had a network of affil- iate branches established at places such as Muradabad, Saha- ranpur, and Darbhanga. Later, colleges founded in such widely separated centers as Madras, Peshawar, and Chitta- gong regarded themselves at Deobandi. An alternative cur- riculum to that of Deoband was offered at Nadwat al-Eulama¯ D, founded in Lucknow by Shibl¯ı NuEma¯n¯ı (d. 1914), allowing its students to combine traditional Islam- ic subjects with secular “Western” subjects, including En- glish. However, this institution was not successful in meeting its educational goals, for its curriculum soon reverted to the traditional dars-i Niz: a¯m¯ı model.

Sunn¯ı Islam in South Asia has evolved into several strands so that Sunn¯ı Muslims are often categorized accord-




ing to the particular Eulama¯ D group they follow: the Deo- bandis uphold the interpretation of the four classical schools of Sunn¯ı jurisprudence, developed in the late ninth and tenth centuries, as constituting orthodox Islam; the Barelw¯ıs are more accepting of popular practices, such as visiting tomb shrines, and other S: u¯f¯ı rituals that the Deobandis would disapprove of; the Ahl-i H: ad¯ıth, particularly strong in certain regions of Pakistan, are more right wing and puri- tanical in their interpretation, which is strongly influenced by the Wahha¯b¯ıs.

The Sunn¯ı Eulama¯ D obtained material support from a variety of sources. All Muslim rulers in South Asia appointed qa¯d: ¯ıs, royal tutors, khat: ¯ıbs (mosque preachers), and ima¯ms (mosque prayer leaders) and paid them in cash or by income from tax exempt land. Others received income from waqfs, or endowments. EUlama¯ D 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 in- come 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 Eulama¯ D of the Da¯r ul-EUlu¯m at Deoband broke new ground under Brit- ish rule: they opened subscription lists and drew voluntary contributions from Muslims at all social levels, though chief- ly from the well-to-do.

The social status of the Eulama¯ D 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 Ara- bia. Some openly despised Muslims with indigenous roots. To maintain their social status, Eulama¯ D married within ex- tended families, or at least within the elite circles of the ashra¯f. 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 Eulama¯ D. Such social mobility is more fully documented in modern than in medieval times:

for example, the family of Sayyid H: usayn Ah: mad Madan¯ı of Deoband was thought to have been weavers; Mawla¯na¯ EUbayd Alla¯h Sindh¯ı, also a prominent Deobandi Eal¯ım, was born a Sikh. Of course, the high status of an Eal¯ım might have very local recognition: the rural mulla¯ and maulaw¯ı 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.

SH ¯ I E ¯ I ISLAM. Sh¯ı E¯ı communities, of both Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı and Ithna¯ Eashar¯ı (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 con- centrated within certain urban neighborhoods and cities, thus forming local majorities. Although reverence for the family of the Prophet Muh: ammad has been strong in South


Asia, the public articulation of a Sh¯ı E¯ı identity waited on fa- vorable political and social developments, both in the larger Muslim world as well as in parts of South Asia.

Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı communities. The earliest Sh¯ı E¯ı communities in South Asia were Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı. Regarded as subversive by the Abbasids of Baghdad and by Sunn¯ı warlords who took effec- tive control of the eastern Muslim world by the middle of the ninth century CE, Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ıs nevertheless managed in the tenth century to establish strongholds in Sind, the area around Multan, as well as Gujarat. There is evidence that the Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı dynasty that ruled Sind during this period had con- nections with the Fatimids in Egypt, a dynasty that claimed the Sh¯ı E¯ı imamate and caliphate on the basis of its direct de- scent from the Prophet. Judging by information from histor- ical chronicles, these early Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı communities were perse- cuted by Turko-Persian Sunn¯ı warlords who began to invade South Asia from the tenth century onwards. In 1094 the Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ıs split into two branches, the MustaEl¯ıs and the Niza¯r¯ıs, over the issue of succession to the Fatimid imamate. In South Asia, the MustaEl¯ıs are popularly known as the Bohras, a term probably derived from the Gujarati vohora (“trader”), while the Niza¯r¯ıs 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 honor- ific title used by their living ima¯ms. Both Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı communi- ties, 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 Guja- rat 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 MustaEl¯ı history. Because Bohras believe that their ima¯m is in occlusion, the affairs of the community are run by his rep- resentative, the da¯ E¯ı mut: laq, who controls all activities of the community. He is assisted by shaykhs, mulla¯s, and Ea¯mils (“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 head- quarters of the da¯ E¯ı mut: laq was in Yemen. In the sixteenth century, however, as a result of a major dispute over the issue of succession to the office of da¯ E¯ı mut: laq, the Bohras split into two factions: the Sulaiman¯ı and the Da¯ Du¯d¯ı. The former owe allegiance to a da¯ E¯ı still based in Yemen, whereas the lat- ter pledge loyalty to a da¯ E¯ı, often called syedna¯ (“our mas- ter”), whose headquarter is in Mumbai.

The history of Khoja communities can be traced at least to the eleventh and twelfth centuries when, according to tra- dition, Niza¯r¯ı Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı ima¯ms, then resident in Iran, sent da¯ E¯ıs to Punjab, Sind, Gujarat, and possibly Rajasthan, to preach the Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı faith. Also known as p¯ırs, these preacher- saints composed gina¯ns, hymn-like songs in various vernacu- lar languages through which they elaborated a highly devo- tional and mystical understanding of the Sh¯ı E¯ı concept of

ima¯m. Particularly interesting was the attempt to explain the concept of the ima¯m within the framework of Vaisnavite Hindu thought. The gina¯ns continue to be the mainstay of Khoja devotional life today. In the 1840s the living ima¯m of the Niza¯r¯ıs, H: asan EAl¯ı Sha¯h, Aga Khan I, moved from Iran to India and asserted his leadership over the Khoja commu- nity. 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 Sh¯ı E¯ı ima¯ms, have absolute power of decision over belief and prac- tice. Sultan Muh: ammad Sha¯h, Aga Khan III (d. 1957), uti- lized 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 Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı women. His successor, Kar¯ım Al-H: usaini, Aga Khan IV, has continued the transformation of the com- munity in South Asia by making it part of a transnational network of social, economic, and educational institutions that links it with Niza¯r¯ı Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı communities in other parts of the world. Known as the Aga Khan Development Net- work, it seeks to improve the standard of living of Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı and non-Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı communities in the countries in which it operates.

Twelver or Ithna¯ Eashar¯ı communities. Unlike Isma¯- E¯ıl¯ı 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 Sh¯ı Eahs from Iran to the court of the Bahmanid Sultanate in the Dec- can, the Bahmani sultan Ah: mad I (1422–1436) declared himself to be Sh¯ı E¯ı, though the dynasty’s public position continued to be ambiguous. Of the successor states to the Bahmanis, Bijapur supported the Twelver Sh¯ı E¯ı position from 1510 to 1534 and again between 1558 and 1580; Golkonda’s Qut: b Sha¯hi dynasty was Sh¯ı E¯ı from its founda- tion under Qul¯ı Qut: b al-Mulk (1496–1543); and the king- dom of Ahmadnagar supported Twelver Shiism from the reign of Burha¯n I (1509–1553). The establishment of Mug- hal rule made northern India a safer place for Sh¯ı E¯ı scholars. The Sh¯ı E¯ı Safavid Sha¯h of Iran, T: ahma¯sp I (1524–1576), as- sisted the emperor, Huma¯yu¯n (d. 1556), in reestablishing the Mughal position in eastern Afghanistan by 1550, and Sh¯ı E¯ı Persians formed an important element of the Muslim elite of the Mughal Empire. They became particularly prom- inent during the reign of the Mughal emperor Jaha¯ng¯ır (d. 1627) when many Twelver Sh¯ı E¯ı poets and scholars emi- grated from Iran seeking positions at the Mughal courts. In 1611 Jaha¯ng¯ır married Mihrunnisa¯, also called Nu¯r Jaha¯n, the daughter of an Iranian nobleman. Because the emperor was not too interested in matters of state, Nu¯r Jaha¯n became the de facto ruler of the empire. Her father and brother were appointed to positions of great influence while her niece, Mumta¯z Mahal, was married to the emperor’s son Sha¯hjaha¯n. The most famous monument of Indo-Muslim architecture, the Taj Mahal, was erected in Mumta¯z 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 nawa¯bs of Awadh, Lucknow became the Twelver Sh¯ı E¯ı cultural and educational capital in South Asia.

While the official acceptance of Sh¯ı E¯ı Islam in court cir- cles attracted prominent Sh¯ı E¯ı scholars and theologians to India, there was always the danger that they could be perse-

cuted when there were shifts in the political climate at courts. Sha¯h Fat: hulla¯h Shira¯z¯ı (d. 1589) and Qa¯d: ¯ı Nu¯rulla¯h Shustar¯ı (d. 1610) rank among two prominent Twelver Sh¯ı E¯ı scholars who experienced mixed fortunes in India. Sha¯h Fat: hulla¯h Shira¯z¯ı, an important Iranian scholar who

was invited to Bijapur by the Sh¯ı E¯ı ruler EAl¯ı EA dil Sha¯h I

(d. 1580), initially enjoyed great respect at the court. EAl¯ı

dil Sha¯h’s successor, however, was not favorably disposed




to Shiism. Consequently, Sha¯h Fat: hulla¯h found himself im- prisoned. Shortly thereafter he was invited to join the more tolerant court of the Mughal emperor Akbar where he be- came one of the leading intellectuals. He played an influen- tial role within the emperor’s inner circle, being appointed to several significant administrative and political posts. Qa¯d: ¯ı Nu¯rulla¯h Shustar¯ı, 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 ex- cellent knowledge of Arabic and command over both Sh¯ı E¯ı and Sunn¯ı jurisprudence, he was appointed qa¯d: ¯ı of Lahore, earning for himself the reputation of being an impartial and honest judge even in cases involving Sunn¯ı law. His fame ap- parently incited the jealousy and anger of some of his Sunn¯ı rivals who instigated the Mughal emperor, Jaha¯ng¯ır, to have him flogged to death. He is thus sometimes called the “third martyr” of Twelver Sh¯ı E¯ı Islam.

THE S: U F ¯ I ORDERS. Religious authority in post-Prophetic Islam is legitimized by appealing to different sources. The au- thority of the Eulama¯ D, of whatever persuasion, as interpreters of Islam flows from recognition of their learning. The au- thority of the Sh¯ı E¯ı ima¯ms is based on esoteric knowledge ac- quired on the basis of physical descent from the Prophet Muh: ammad. The authority of the S: u¯f¯ı masters flows from the recognition that they have had (or are preparing them- selves and others to have) direct, intuitive experience of di- vine realities and that divine grace might endow them with special spiritual powers. These powers, often believed to con- tinue after physical death, are seen as evidence of them hav- ing attained the status of awliya¯ D (“friends [of God]”). By the twelfth century CE, seekers on the mystical path had devel- oped distinct spiritual disciplines and methods and formed themselves into fraternities organized around kha¯nqa¯hs (“hospices”). Each fraternity was headed by a shaykh, or p¯ır, 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 S: u¯f¯ı orders. Although Shaykh EAl¯ı al-Hujw¯ır¯ı, the author of the famous S: u¯f¯ı manual Kashf al-mah: ju¯b (The disclosure of the veiled) settled and died in





Lahore in 1071, the arrival of members of S: u¯f¯ı orders in South Asia was broadly contemporary with the Ghurid inva- sions at the end of the twelfth century. One of the earliest was the Chisht¯ı order from Afghanistan, introduced by Khwa¯jah MuE¯ın ad-D¯ın who settled in Ajmer (Rajasthan) in the 1290s. His successor, Qut: b ad-D¯ın Bakhtiya¯r Ka¯k¯ı (d. 1235), spread Chisht¯ı influence to Delhi. Bakhtiya¯r Ka¯k¯ı’s chief disciple, Far¯ıd ad-D¯ın, called Ganj-i Shakar (“the treasury of sugar”; d. 1265), settled in Pakpattan by the Sutlej, thus consolidating a Chisht¯ı position in the Punjab. During the lifetimes of the two great shaykhs of fourteenth-

century Delhi, Niz: a¯m al-D¯ın Awliya¯ D (1238–1325) and Na¯s: ir ad-D¯ın Mah: mu¯d, Chira¯gh-i Dihl¯ı (“the lamp of Delhi,” 1276–1356), branches of the Chisht¯ı order were es- tablished in other regions: in Bengal by Shaykh Sira¯j ad-D¯ın (d. 1357), in Daulatabad by Burha¯n ad-D¯ın (d. 1340), and in Gulbarga by Sayyid Muh: ammad Gisu¯ Dara¯z (“of long locks,” 1321–1422). Other Chisht¯ı mystics settled in Malwa and Gujarat. The Suhraward¯ıyah were the other principal group of S: u¯f¯ıs active in sultanate South Asia, antithetical in their rituals and practices to the Chisht¯ıyah. Their spiritual headquarters were in the southwest Punjab: at Multan where Shaykh Baha¯ D ad-D¯ın Zakar¯ıya¯ D (1182–1262) resided, and at Uchch where Sayyid Jala¯l ad-D¯ın Surkhpush (“red- dressed”) Bukha¯r¯ı (d. 1292) and his grandson Jala¯l ad-D¯ın Makhdu¯m-i Jaha¯niya¯n (“lord of the mortals,” 1308–1384) lived. In Bengal, a leading Suhrawardi master was Shaykh Jala¯l ad-D¯ın Tabr¯ız¯ı (thirteenth century). In Kashmir, the intellectually influential Kubraw¯ıyah order gained a foothold through a visit by Sayyid EAl¯ı Hamada¯n¯ı between 1381 and 1384. An offshoot of this order, the Firdaws¯ıyah, attained fame in Bihar through Sharaf ad-D¯ın ibn Yah: ya¯ Maner¯ı


From about the middle of the fifteenth century on- wards, other S: u¯f¯ı orders made their appearance in South Asia, notably the Qa¯dir¯ıyah, the Shat: t: a¯r¯ıyah, and the Naqshband¯ıyah. Muh: ammad Ghawth (d. 1517), claiming to be tenth in succession to the founder of the Qa¯dir¯ıyah, EAbd al-Qa¯dir al-J¯ıla¯n¯ı (1077–1176), settled at Uchch, but before that Qadiri S: u¯f¯ıs 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 Qa¯dir¯ıyah. The Shat: t: a¯r¯ıyah was another order that became influential in the Deccan as well as North India. Introduced from Iran by Shaykh EAbd Alla¯h al-Shat: t: a¯r (d. 1485), the order spread to Gujarat under the guidance of Muh: ammad Ghawth of Gwalior (1485–1562/3), attracting the attention of the Mughal emperors Huma¯yu¯n and Akbar. The Naqshband¯ıyah, a conservative Central Asian S: u¯f¯ı order, be- came 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 Khwa¯jah Muh: ammad al-Ba¯q¯ı Billa¯h (1563/4–1603), who initiated, in his last years, the most influential member of the order in South Asia, Shaykh Ah: mad Sirhind¯ı (1564–1624).


Qalanda¯rs. Another important category of Muslim holy men consisted of a variety of wandering mendicants, who were distinguished from “respectable” S: u¯f¯ıs by scanti- ness of dress and the wearing of bizarre iron insignia, and who oftentimes exhibited aggressive attitudes toward S: u¯f¯ıs belonging to the mainstream orders. They went by a variety of names—qalanda¯rs, H: aydar¯ıs, Mada¯r¯ıs. Because they seemed to be indifferent or antagonistic to the observance of prescribed religious and social norms, they have been termed be-shar E, that is, those who are outside religious law. Some of them, like the Mada¯r¯ıs (so called after a Jewish convert, Sha¯h Mada¯r, who migrated to South Asia from Syria), smearing their naked bodies with ashes, using hashish, and ignoring Muslim religious duties, seemed to be indistin- guishable from Hindu ascetics and yogis. Yet certain great shaykhs of the orders, notably the Chisht¯ı, 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 communicat- ing some identifiable Islamic religious beliefs and practices among Muslims and non-Muslim populations in rural and urban areas. The most famous of these qalanda¯rs was La El Shahba¯z (“Red Falcon,” d. 1325), the subject of one of the most popular S: u¯f¯ı praise songs in South Asia. His tomb shrine at Sehwan in Sind still attracts thousands of pilgrims, including many be-shar E dervishes, although many of the im- moral and illegal activities that historically gave this shrine notoriety have now been purged.

Religious and social roles of S: u¯f¯ıs. As a mystical phi- losophy, 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 so- cial, economic, cultural, and even political dimensions of ev- eryday life. The development of literary and musical tradi- tions in many South Asian languages bears the deep impress of Sufism. Not surprisingly, members of S: u¯f¯ı orders have been regarded, by some scholars, to be “bridge-people,” in- terpreting and adjusting Islamic concepts and practices to the psychology of different populations. They have also been re- sponsible for introducing new emphases and rites into the Islamic tradition. By the time that S: u¯f¯ı orders came to the Subcontinent, Sufism had become more of a devotional than a mystical movement, embracing a collection of cult associa- tions that centered on the shaykh, or p¯ır, who was more ap- proachable to the masses than the Eal¯ım, 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 cir- cles of disciples. At a popular level, a shaykh/p¯ır 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 Muh: ammad. 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 charis-

matic figure with special spiritual powers and energies. The darga¯h, or tomb-shrine, began to supplant the kha¯nqa¯h (“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, MuE¯ın ad-D¯ın Chisht¯ı is repre- sented as having gained many followers after promoting the use of music in his kha¯nqa¯h. No doubt, too, willingness to use the local vernacular for devotional poetry would enhance a shaykh’s appeal. S: u¯f¯ıs belonging to larger S: u¯f¯ı orders ap- pear to have been more willing than the Eulama¯ D to found kha¯nqa¯hs 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 or- ders, notably the Qa¯dir¯ıyah and the Shat: t: a¯r¯ıyah in Bijapur, were more urban-based.

Rulers of the day quickly recognized the popular appeal of shaykhs/p¯ırs among Muslim populations and wished to turn that appeal to their own advantage. Shaykhs were offered pensions and tax-free lands. Most S: u¯f¯ı orders were willing to accept royal largesse. For example, the Suhraward¯ıyah in the Punjab have always enjoyed state patronage, while the Qa¯dir¯ıyah and Shat: t: a¯r¯ıyah accepted land grants in seven- teenth-century Bijapur. The Chisht¯ı order, in particular, at- tracted a great deal of royal patronage. Ironically, the early Chisht¯ıs 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 subcon- tinent, they associated their own personal fortunes and those of their dynasty with that of the Chisht¯ı order. A ruling dynasty’s patronage of Chisht¯ı darga¯hs could strengthen its claims of legitimacy in the eyes of the local population and also bestow upon it spiritual blessings for continued prosper- ity and success. As a consequence, a pattern of growing polit- ical patronage of Chisht¯ı shrines emerged in many parts of northern India, from Gujarat to Bengal. Naturally, the “mother” darga¯h at Ajmer where Mu E¯ın ad-D¯ın Chisht¯ı, 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 Chisht¯ıyah were members of the Mughal dynasty who were firmly con- vinced their worldly success was due to the blessings of the Chisht¯ı shaykhs. As a result, not only did Mughal emperors bestow lavish endowments for the support of the Ajmer darga¯h and sponsor several construction projects, they also actively involved themselves in its management by appoint- ing 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, re- spectively, victories he attributed to the blessings of MuE¯ın ad-D¯ın Chisht¯ı. Akbar’s reverence for and devotion to the Chisht¯ıs increased significantly when Shaykh Sal¯ım Chisht¯ı,

a descendant of MuE¯ın ad-D¯ın, 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 Sal¯ım

Chisht¯ı’s kha¯nqa¯h as a tangible way of symbolizing the close Mughal-Chisht¯ı alliance that continued for the next two generations. In the seventeenth century the Naqshband¯ıyah,

a Central Asian S: u¯f¯ı order, vied against the Chisht¯ıyah for

the attention of the Mughals, for they had great political am- bitions to influence aspects of state policy. Clearly, it is diffi- cult to accept fully the contention that S: u¯f¯ı orders represent- ed an organized religious establishment in medieval India independent of different political establishments.


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 Muh: ammad. Not only is the Mila¯d an-nab¯ı, his birthday, widely celebrated, but shrines housing relics, such as his footprint or his hair (e.g., Hazratba¯l 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 mono- theism. The poems often reveal a Prophet who has been ac- culturated to specific regional contexts and perceived through lenses that have been influenced by a variety of liter- ary conventions. Thus, epics in medieval Bengali pu¯th¯ı litera- ture see him as an avata¯ra, 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 be- come the hallmark of a Muslim identity, defining the bound- ary 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 T: ar¯ıqah-i- Muh: ammad¯ıyah (“the Muh: ammadan 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, particu- larly his grandson H: usayn, tragically martyred at Karbala in 680 CE, have come to be widely venerated in South Asia, es- pecially during the month of Muharram, not only by Sh¯ı E¯ı




communities but by Sunn¯ı Muslims as well. In many locali- ties, Hindus, too, have participated in the commemorative Muharram processions. H: usayn and some of the martyred Sh¯ı E¯ı ima¯ms and the family of the Prophet have been the sub- ject of many elegies composed in several languages, including Urdu, Sindhi, and Gujarati.

Most ubiquitous in South Asia is the devotion to the S: u¯f¯ı shaykh/p¯ır. Belief in the supernatural powers of S: u¯f¯ı shaykhs/p¯ırs, deceased or living, has led to the proliferation of darga¯hs and maza¯rs (“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 Khwa¯jah Khiz: r or the Nau Gaz [“Nine Yard”] p¯ır). So strong is the shrine tradition in South Asia that even a leg- endary S: u¯f¯ı such as EAbd al-Qa¯dir al-J¯ıla¯n¯ı (d. 1166), who is actually buried in Baghdad, has many shrines dedicated to him all over southern India. Interestingly, the darga¯h in South Asia has not remained an exclusively Muslim institu- tion; 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 wor- ship 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 reli- gious authority on the basis of claims to a prophet-like status. Because these movements pose a challenge to the central au- thority of the Prophet Muh: ammad, they have often been controversial. Many of these movements have been millenar- ian in nature. For instance, in the late fifteenth century, Say- yid Muh: ammad of Jaunpur (1443–1505) declared himself to be the Mahd¯ı (“guided one”) of the Sunn¯ı tradition who would lead the world to order and justice before the day of resurrection. His followers, who eventually formed the Mahdaw¯ı community, claimed for him a rank equal to that of the Prophet and clustered around him as though around a p¯ır. Needless to say, the group was intensely persecuted by Sunn¯ı Eulama¯ D, who saw the Mahd¯ı as a threat to their au- thority. Ba¯yaz¯ıd Ans: a¯r¯ı (1525–1572/3), born at Jallandar in the Punjab, was a Pathan who claimed to be a p¯ır-i raushan (“a luminous master”) in direct communication with God, who shone his divine light upon him. Ba¯yaz¯ıd’s followers re- garded 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 shar¯ı Eah. Gathering support from among his fellow Pathans, Ba¯yaz¯ıd Ans: a¯r¯ı became the head of a religio-political move- ment that seriously challenged Mughal authority in north- west 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 ila¯h¯ı (“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 insa¯n-i ka¯mil (“the perfect man”), the din-i ila¯h¯ı eclectically combined lofty ideas from various religious tradi- tions as well as Sunn¯ı 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 Ah: mad Sirhind¯ı (d. 1624)—considered the bastion of religious conservatism during the reign of Akbar’s son, Jaha¯ng¯ır—gave himself pro- phetic airs. Because he arrived in India as the expected reno- vator of Islam at the beginning of the second Islamic millen- nium, Sirhind¯ı was popularly referred to as the mujaddid-i alif-i tha¯n¯ı. He claimed that the “perfections of Prophet- hood,” which had disappeared after the death of the Prophet Muh: ammad, would reappear in deserving persons, such as himself, because they were the Prophet’s heirs. He also re- garded himself as the qayyu¯m, 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 Jaha¯ng¯ır and the Mughal nobility various “un-Islamic” prac- tices that were being tolerated in the realm. These letters, de- scribed by Jaha¯ng¯ır in his memoirs, Tuzuk-i Jaha¯ng¯ır¯ı, as a “bunch of absurdities,” earned Sirhind¯ı a short spell in pris- on 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 Muh: ammad and his com- panions. Yet these types of movements have continued to emerge in South Asia to our day, the most recent being the Ah: mad¯ıyah, founded by M¯ırza¯ Ghula¯m Ah: mad (1835– 1908). Influenced by the mujaddid and mahd¯ı traditions, Ghula¯m Ah: mad claimed that he was a “non-legislative” prophet whose responsibility it was to ensure the correct im- plementation of the message revealed by the “legislative” prophet, that is, Muh: ammad. 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 in- creasingly 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 Ghula¯m Ah: mad 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.


eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed a mushroom- ing of movements for reform and change among Muslim communities in several regions of South Asia. While the na- ture 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. Ex- ternally, 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 disem- powerment 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 ad- vocate sociopolitical reform using Islam as a basis can be traced to Sha¯h Wal¯ı Alla¯h (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 writ- ings, the most important being H: ujjat Alla¯h al-Ba¯lighah (The perfect proof of God), Sha¯h Wal¯ı Alla¯h’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 in- tellectually to reconcile differences between Sunn¯ı schools of jurisprudence and competing philosophies of mysticism (wah: dat al-wuju¯d [“unity of existence”] and wah: dat ash-shuhu¯d [“unity of vision”]), although his ecumenism did not extend to Sh¯ı E¯ı communities. Sha¯h Wal¯ı Alla¯h felt strongly that Muslims would be better able to resolve their sociopolitical problems if they lived in accord with the pre- cepts of their faith. In this regard, they needed to understand the Qur Da¯n 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 invit- ing neighboring Muslim rulers, such as Ah: mad Sha¯h Abdal¯ı, to reestablish Muslim rule in North India. Unfortunately, Sha¯h Wal¯ı Alla¯h’s Afghan friends and religious brethren plundered and looted Delhi after they conquered it!

No doubt inspired by Sha¯h Wal¯ı Alla¯h’s activism, his grandson, Isma¯ E¯ıl Shah¯ıd (d. 1831), became the theoretician for the energetic muja¯hid¯ın reformist movement of the early nineteenth century initiated by Ah: mad Bare¯l¯ı (Ah: mad of Rai Bareilly; d. 1831), a charismatic preacher who wanted to purge Islam of its accretions and corruptions. Isma¯ E¯ıl


Shah¯ıd’s work Taqwiyat al-ima¯n (Strengthening of faith) calls Muslims to righteous action in accord with God’s com- mand in order to improve their situation in this world and the next. Preaching a type of reformed Sufism, purged of “polytheistic” practices, the muja¯hid¯ın movement, in keep- ing with the ideology of the T: ar¯ıqah-i-Muh: ammad¯ıyah, em- phasized the importance of the Prophet Muh: ammad as a paradigm. Following the example of the Prophet’s hijrah (“emigration”) from Mecca to Medina, in 1826 Ah: mad Bare¯l¯ı led a group of muja¯hid¯ın from British India to Pathan borderlands, from where they waged jiha¯d 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 Muh: ammad’s hijrah over Muslim senti- ment was to be further demonstrated in 1920 when, on the urging of mosque ima¯ms and p¯ırs, about thirty thousand Muslims from the province of Sind and the Frontier Prov- ince migrated to Afghanistan as their da¯r al-Isla¯m, 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, Hajj¯ı Shar¯ı Eat Alla¯h (1781–1840) initiated the Fara¯ Did: ¯ı 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 (fara¯ Did: ) of Islam, to abandon reverence for p¯ırs, and to forsake “Hind- uized” life ceremonies. On the grounds that there were no properly constituted Muslim rulers and qa¯d: ¯ıs in nineteenth- century India, the Fara¯ Did: ¯ıs abandoned Friday and E¯ıd (“festival”) prayers. Under Hajj¯ı Shar¯ı Eat Alla¯h’s son Dudu¯ Miya¯n (1819–1862) violence broke out between the move- ment’s largely peasant following and their landlords. Throughout the nineteenth century, a variety of Sunn¯ı scholars and teachers, including Kara¯mat EAl¯ı Jawnpur¯ı

(d. 1873), a follower of Ah: mad Bare¯l¯ı willing to accept Brit-

ish rule, devoted themselves to trying to get rid of polytheis- tic attitudes and practices among Muslims in Bengal, while disagreeing among themselves about the acceptability of Su- fism or about which school of Sunn¯ı jurisprudence should be followed.

In the far south, among the Ma¯ppil: l: as, as the Muslims of Kerala are called, Eulama¯ D such as Sayyid EAlaw¯ı

(d. 1843/4) and his son Sayyid Fad: l (d. 1900), though creat-

ing no formal organization, perpetuated among Ma¯ppil: l: a peasant farmers a tradition of resistance to Hindu landlords. Among Ma¯ppil: l: a urban classes who had lost employment and suffered a decline in trading because of European colo- nial rule, the movement became anti-British. Throughout the nineteenth century, Ma¯ppil: l: a grievances were expressed through riots, culminating in the Ma¯ppil: l: a rebellion of 1921, which was brutally squashed by the British. In demanding




the formation of Moplastan, a separate state for Ma¯ppil: l: a Muslims in south Kerala, these leaders, like the muja¯hid¯ın in the north, employed an idiom that invoked the first Mus- lim community created in Medina by the Prophet Muh: ammad 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 Naqshband¯ı S: u¯f¯ı 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” S: u¯f¯ı groups. Miya¯n Abu¯ D1 H: asan (d. 1711) composed the Muqaddimat as-S: ala¯t, a long didactic poem on Islamic ritual prayer. Another Naqshband¯ı, Makhdu¯m Muh: ammad Ha¯shim (d. 1761) was

a prolific author of several works that explained the essentials

of Islam in didactic Sindhi verse. His principal works includ- ed: the Fara¯ Did: al-Isla¯m (The obligations of Islam), dealing with Islamic law and correct behavior; Ta¯fsir Ha¯shim¯ı, a rhymed commentary on the last part of the QurDa¯n; and Qu¯t

al- EA shiq¯ın (The nourishment of the lovers), which describes

the virtues and miracles of the Prophet Muh: ammad.


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 institu- tions, particularly churches, schools, and colleges. Their reac- tions took various forms, the principle division being be- tween 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 Ah: mad Kha¯n (d. 1898). As a young man, Sir Say-

yid was well trained in theology in the tradition of Sha¯h Wal¯ı Alla¯h as well as in Mu Etazilah rationalism. In keeping with the spirit of the T: ar¯ıqah-i-Muh: ammad¯ıyah, with which he was affiliated, the book he wrote to help Muslims examine the life and exemplary of the Prophet Muh: ammad 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. Further-

more, 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 demon- strate 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 ap- peared 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 QurDa¯nic account of the natural world and that of Western



scientists are, in fact, attributable to misunderstandings of the language of the QurDa¯n. He also advocated a rational ap- proach to the QurDa¯n based on fresh ijtiha¯d, since Islam, in his interpretation, is a religion that accommodates historical change. The mandates of the shar¯ı Eah, as interpreted by gen- erations of religious scholars, needed to be reexamined to de- termine 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 even- tually founded the Anglo-Muhammadan College, which later became Aligarh Muslim University.

Sayyid Ah: mad Kha¯n’s approach enjoyed the support of several important personalities who formed the basis of the so-called Aligarh movement. Among its members were sever- al prominent literati who wrote Urdu poetry and prose to disseminate its ideas. Most prominent among these was Alt: a¯f H: usayn H: a¯l¯ı (d. 1914), the author of Madd wa gazr-i Isla¯m (The ebb and flow of Islam), a epic poem considered to the Aligarh movement’s most enduring literary monument. Pop- ularly known as the Musaddas, after its six-line stanzas, it contrasts the past glories and achievements of Islamic civili- zation with the miserable status of Muslims of H: a¯l¯ı’s time. Among the other notable members of the Aligarh circle were:

Naz: ¯ır Ah: mad (d. 1912), a pioneer in the development of the Urdu novel, who highlighted the need to educate Muslim women in his fiction; Mumta¯z EAl¯ı, the publisher of Tahz¯ıb al-niswa¯n, a journal dedicated to women’s issues; Ameer EAl¯ı (d. 1928), the author of The Spirit of Islam, a book intended primarily for British readers, emphasizing the essential com- patibility between Islam and Western liberalism; and Chira¯gh EAl¯ı (d. 1895), a modernist interpreter of the QurDa¯n, who, among other things, demonstrated that the Is- lamic scripture was actually intended to ameliorate the posi- tion of women and implicitly prohibited polygamy. Chira¯gh EAl¯ı’s most controversial stand was in regards to the h: ad¯ıth literature, which he considered entirely fabricated and there- fore unworthy as a basis of Islamic jurisprudence.

Sir Muh: ammad Iqba¯l. The poet-philosopher Sir Muh: ammad Iqba¯l 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 per- ceived as the spiritual founder of Pakistan. He has became such a towering figure that every religious, political, and so- cial movement in contemporary Indo-Muslim thought has turned to his writings in order to find justification for its po- sition. In addition to receiving training in Islamic studies (he was influenced by Sir Sayyid Ah: mad Kha¯n and Shibl¯ı, two significant figures in the Aligarh movement), he studied phi- losophy 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 intel- lectual and literary tools. He offered a conception of the God-human relationship through which he intended to in- spire 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. Hu- mans, 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 Eulama¯ D, and the demand for ijtiha¯d, were typical of Islamic reformers. His claim that human beings can actively partici- pate within a dynamic creation, his call for individual action and responsibility, and his conception of the QurDa¯n as reve- lation 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 in- tellectual and political vision.

Conservatives: The Deobandi Eulama¯ D. The theologi- cal school of Deoband, founded in 1867 by Rash¯ıd Ah: mad Gangoh¯ı (d. 1905) and Muh: ammad Qa¯sim Nanawtaw¯ı

(d. 1880), represented a conservative response among Sunn¯ı Eulama¯ D 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 main- tain a correct standard of Islamic practice for (Sunn¯ı) Mus- lims 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 Sunn¯ı jurisprudence, and in time, their school ac- quired an outstanding reputation, enrolling students from many parts of the Islamic world. Deobandi leaders assumed the status of S: u¯f¯ı shaykhs and initiated disciples, but the spe- cial 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 op- posed to anything that was not in keeping with Prophetic tradition, such as worship at S: u¯f¯ı shrines, belief in the inter- cession of p¯ırs, or elaborate birth, marriage, and death rituals. Deobandi theologians vigorously defended the need to ac- cept the interpretations and consensus of earlier Sunn¯ı schol- ars and jurists and attacked all dissenting voices. Rash¯ıd

Ah: mad Gangoh¯ı, for example, dismissed Sir Sayyid’s pro-

Western and neorationalist approach as “deadly poison.”

Muh: ammad Qa¯sim acquired a stellar reputation for his po- lemical disputations with Hindu and Christian missionaries.

A later Deobandi scholar, Ashra¯f EAl¯ı Thanw¯ı (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 Sunn¯ı Islam was enhanced in the late nineteenth and early twenti- eth centuries when its scholars played a leading role in refut-

ing the claims of Ghula¯m Ah: mad, the founder of the

Ah: mad¯ıyah movement, particularly his challenge to the fi-

nality of Muh: ammad’s prophethood.

Other groups. The emphasis on the Prophetic para- digm as a source of guidance for Muslims facing change


formed the focal point of another reformist group, Ahl-i H: ad¯ıth, led by Siddiq H: asan Kha¯n (d. 1890), a religious scholar who had married, in the midst of much controversy, the widowed princess of Bhopal. Though the Ahl-i H: ad¯ıth stressed the exclusive primacy of the QurDa¯n and the h: ad¯ıth as fundamental guides in life, they rejected the interpretive authority of the founders of the four Sunn¯ı schools. Their treatment of the h: ad¯ıth as a form of implicit revelation that elaborated authoritatively the explicit revelation of the QurDa¯n 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 h: ad¯ıth; not surprisingly, they dubbed Sayyid Ah: mad Kha¯n “the modern prophet of nature-worshippers,” and the latest insti- gator of evils in Muslim society. On the other hand, they en- gaged in a vitriolic polemical war with a counter-group led by EAbdulla¯h Chakralav¯ı and called the Ahl-i QurDa¯n. As its name suggests, this movement advocated total reliance on the Qur Da¯n as the most perfect source of guidance; the QurDa¯n 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 perfor- mance of E¯ıd and funerary prayers as not essential Islamic ob- ligations because they are not mentioned in the QurDa¯n. A third important group was comprised of those Eulama¯ D who did not see the need to change or modify the various customs and practices that had developed among Sunn¯ı Muslim communities in South Asia. Led by Ah: mad Rid: a¯ Kha¯n (d. 1921), with their major centers at Bareilly and BadaDun, they accepted a variety of intercessory figures in Islam, from the Prophet Muh: ammad to the shaykhs and p¯ırs of the darga¯hs. The Barelw¯ıs, as they came to be called, observed the birthdays of the Prophet and of the S: u¯f¯ı p¯ırs—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-jama¯ Eat, founded in the 1920s by Mawla¯na¯ Muh: ammad Ilya¯s (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.


the nineteenth century, during the establishment of British colonial rule over South Asia, that we witness a gradual evo- lution of cultural distancing and alienation between Muslim and non-Muslim. The very “idiom” of British rule was com- munalist, 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 det- riment of others, forcing people to identify themselves pri-




marily in religious terms. Through such colonial instru- ments, 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 dis- cussed 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 con- cerning Islamic identity. These definitions sought to differ- entiate more sharply the Muslim from the non-Muslim by turning for guidance to scriptural sources such as the QurDa¯n, the sunnah of the Prophet Muh: ammad, 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,” com- bined 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 lan- guage came to be viewed through religious lenses they be- came politicized within the realms of colonial and nationalist discourse. For instance, Muslims with personal names de- rived 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 ori- gin and using the Perso-Arabic script to write them. Urdu, written in the Perso-Arabic script and with a highly Persian- ized vocabulary, was increasingly perceived as a symbol of Is- lamic 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 be- came 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 dis- tinctiveness from Hindu groups and vice versa. As sociologist Imtiaz Ah: mad correctly observes in “Exclusion and Assimila-


tion in Indian Islam” (1976) the ultimate result of this vari- ety of Islamicization was disjunction; it had profound signifi- cance in shaping interaction among Muslims and Hindus by sharpening cultural differences between them. Ultimately, cultural distancing facilitated the rise of the two-nation theo- ry—the idea that Muslims and Hindus constitute two sepa- rate cultures and nations—and the demand for partition. It also partially explains why the lack of a shared common cul- ture 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 Muh: ammad EAl¯ı Jinna¯h: (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 Ah: mad Kha¯n’s advocacy for separate political rights for Muslims; Sayyid Ah: mad Shah¯ıd’s muja¯hid¯ın movement and the quest for a da¯r al-Isla¯m; the Khila¯fat movement of the 1920s and its fu- tile attempt to preserve the Sunn¯ı caliphate and the ideal of Muslim political sovereignty; Sir Muh: ammad Iqba¯l’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 Eulama¯ D, including a signifi- cant number of Deobandis, were opposed to the idea of Paki- stan on two grounds: firstly, they did not trust the western- ized 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,

H: usayn Ah: mad Madan¯ı, a leader of the Deoband Eulama¯ D,

issued a fatwa¯ forbidding Muslims to support the idea of Pa- kistan and declared Jinna¯h: , who was popularly called Quaid-i A Ez: am (“The Great Leader”), to be Ka¯fir-i A Ez: am (“The Great Infidel”). Among other opponents were Abu¯ Dl Kala¯m Aza¯d (d. 1958), a scholar and commentator on the Qur Da¯n and an ardent proponent of a composite Hindu- Muslim nationalism; and Maula¯na¯ Mawdu¯d¯ı (d. 1979), who founded the Jama¯ Eat-i Isla¯m¯ı to counter the Muslim League and the drive for a Muslim homeland. Ironically, the Jama¯ Eat-i Isla¯m¯ı was able to fully express its political program only after it became actively involved in Pakistan, the very state whose creation Mawdu¯d¯ı 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, Paki- stan has, since its foundation, grappled with the problem of defining the role of Islam in the organization of the state. Muh: ammad EAl¯ı Jinna¯h: , the founding father, had a vision of a “Muslim” state that was secular and liberal. It was “Is- lamic” in that it was to be devoted to nurturing and protect- ing the cultural, social, and political interests of Muslims. In this vision, the state did not interfere with the religious be- liefs and practices of its Muslim (and non-Muslim) popula- tion. In contrast, groups such as Mawdu¯d¯ı’s Jama¯ Eat-i Isla¯m¯ı envisioned an “Islamic” state whose underlying political ide- ology 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 battle- ground for struggles between secularists, modernists, and Is- lamists, 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 suffi- cient to hold Muslim communities together. Ethnic and lan- guage loyalties are much stronger forces than faith in foster- ing community. Today, ethno-nationalist tensions between Sindhis, Muhajirs, and Punjabis continue to plague Pakistan.

In the 1980s General Z: ia¯ ul-H: aqq, with the support of the Jama¯ Eat-i Isla¯m¯ı, was able to implement programs of Is- lamicization, 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 con- sensus in Pakistani society on basic questions such as what is “true” Islam, who is a Muslim, or even who is, in fact, re- sponsible for the enforcement of religious codes. As a result of Islamicization policies, tensions between Sh¯ı Eah and Sunn¯ı have intensified, frequently leading to violence. Dis- cord between different groups, even within the majority Sunn¯ı community, has heightened because it has been im- possible 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 Islamiciza- tion program, have been detrimental to the status of Muslim women, leading to opposition from women’s rights organiza- tions. Groups such as the Ah: mad¯ıyah, who claim to be Mus- lim, 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 ex- pression of Bengali ethnonationalism—the majority of Bangladeshis being speakers of Bengali—not common reli- gion. 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 secu- lar 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 re- ligious ones, eventually resulting in the declaration of Islam as a state religion in 1988. Religious political parties, princi- pally the Jama¯ Eat-i Isla¯m¯ı, 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 elector- al 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. Con- sequently, many Muslims have experienced a steady margi- nalization 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 situa- tion of Muslim minorities has been precarious as they have been victimized by bloody pogroms provoked by Hindu ex- tremist groups. The demolition of the Babri mosque in De- cember 1992 and the riots that followed, as well as the massa- cres 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 atmo- sphere created by the rise of religious right-wing political par- ties in India and Pakistan, and to a limited extent in Bangla- desh, 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 in- crease in the dehumanization of the “other”—whether Mus- lim or Hindu, Sh¯ı E¯ı or Sunn¯ı.

SEE ALSO Ah: madiyah; Jama¯ Eat-i Isla¯m¯ı; T: ar¯ıqah.


The most comprehensive and scholarly handbook is Annemarie Schimmel’s Islam in the Indian Subcontinent (Leiden, Neth- erlands, 1980), which has full bibliographies. Muh: ammad Mujeeb’s The Indian Muslims (London, 1967) is a sensitive interpretation of Muslim responses to the South Asian set- ting. India’s Islamic Tradition, 711–1750, edited by Richard Eaton (New Delhi, 2003), and Beyond Turk and Hindu: Re- thinking Religious Identities in Islamicate South Asia, edited by David Gilmartin and Bruce Lawrence (Gainesville, Fla., 2000), contain important essays on Muslim and Hindu in- teractions in premodern South Asia in regional contexts, the dynamic overlapping of religious cultures, and the fluid na- ture of constructions of religious identity. These essays are a marvelous antidote to the strictly communalist and nation- alist readings of history favored in some circles. Finally, Tony Stewart’s “In Search of Equivalence: Conceiving the Mus- lim-Hindu Encounter through Translation Theory,” History of Religions 40, no. 3 (2001): 260–287, represents a signifi- cant 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 Sirhind¯ı: 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 EAshari

Shi Eis in India, 2 vols. (Delhi, 1986); Azim Nanji’s The N¯ızar¯ı Isma¯ E¯ıl¯ı Tradition in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent

(Delmar, N.Y., 1978); Juan Cole’s Roots of North Indian Shi Eism in Iran and Iraq: Religion and State in Awadh, 1722– 1859 (Berkeley, Calif., 1988); Yohanan Friedmann’s Prophe- cy Continuous: Aspects of Ahmadi Religious Thought and Its Medieval Background (Berkeley, Calif., 1989); Vernon Schu- bel’s Religious Performance in Contemporary Islam: Shi’i Devo- tional Rituals in South Asia (Columbia, S.C., 1993); and Jonah Blank’s Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Moderni- ty 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 Tradi- tion in Bengal (Princeton, N.J., 1983); David Gilmartin’s Empire and Islam: Punjab and the Making of Pakistan (Berke- ley, 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 Az¯ız Ah: mad’s Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan, 1857–1964 (Lon- don, 1967); dated but still a classic is Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s Modern Islam in India: A Social Analysis, rev. ed. (New York, 1972). Imtiaz Ah: mad discusses in detail the im- pact of Islamicization on Muslim-Hindu relations in his “Ex- clusion 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 indi- vidual 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 Muh: ammad Iqba¯l (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 Re-

vivalism (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 (Colum- bia, 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 Ritu- al: Devotional Practices of Pakistan and India (Austin, Tex.,


ALI S. ASANI (2005)


Southeast Asia is in some respects a forgotten world of Islam, for much the same reasons as its counterparts in West and East Africa. Neither its arrival nor its development there was spectacular, and the languages of the local Muslim commu- nities did not become vehicles for works of universal and commanding stature as had Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and some of the vernaculars of the Indian subcontinent. Yet, Islam in Southeast Asia has its own styles and its own temper and intellectual traditions. It merits full recognition as a major cultural zone of the domain of Islam in its own right. Its sacral practices and folk beliefs that color and live along- side the profession of Islam no more invalidate that basic al- legiance than do the sacral practices and folk beliefs of Mus- lims elsewhere, including those in the Middle East. Indeed, Southeast Asia is the home of at least one-fifth of the world’s Muslims. Indonesia alone, with over 130 million Muslims, is the largest such community in the world. HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY. Southeast Asia is best described as a great archipelago, a huge land mass that juts southward between the Indian subcontinent and China and then frag- ments at its extremity into a complex of thousands of islands, the largest of which are Sumatra, Borneo (Kalimantan), Java, and Mindanao, while the smallest hardly registers on the map. Today this region is identified with the modern nation- states of Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Kampuchea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, and the Philippines. All of these nation-states have Muslim communities. In Myanmar, Kampuchea, and Vietnam they are insignificant minorities. In Thailand, the Muslim community, though still a minority, has a distinct profile. In Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, on the other hand, Islam has an imposing posi- tion. Farther to the east, in the Philippines, it constitutes a significant cultural minority that is in some respects a part of the Philippine nation, but in others, the nucleus of a na- tional entity attempting in various ways to establish its au- tonomy, if not independence.

Structures in transition. In seeking to understand the historical evolution and contemporary significance of these communities, it is necessary to distinguish between the mod- ern nation-states of the contemporary world, and the tradi- tional distribution of centers of power in Southeast Asia. These new nation-states, emerging in the wake of decolon- ization, were largely set within the borders established by the colonial powers that had created them. The capital cities of such states, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta for example, are a focus of the national personality of the political entities in which they are set. They are the gateway, the immediate point of identification, the seat of government, to which

their inhabitants turn. They have a status that defines the other parts of the nation as provinces.

Nevertheless, and although it might seem, from a con- temporary perspective, that these nations have always existed in some form or another and that their present role derives simply from the expulsion of colonial powers and the recov- ery of a national sovereignty that has been lost, the reality is far more complex and the results of decolonization more radical. In fact, the creation of such states has turned the tra- ditional world of Southeast Asia on its head. The role of such capital cities with a strong central authority dominating the political, economic, and religious life of the region is very recent.

Traditionally, centers of political power in Southeast Asia were distributed among a wide range of focal points that served as harbors for the exchange and transshipment of goods; these points became the sites of port cities, which from time to time grew strong enough to wield an extensive political authority. Such sites were diverse, discrete, numer- ous, scattered, and largely unstable centers of activity; they had relations with each other on the basis of rivalry and self- interest, without the direct hegemony of a central authority or any stable and continuing point of reference. Unlike the great cities of the Middle East and South Asia, which enjoyed stability over centuries, if not millennia (one need only men- tion Cairo, Alexandria, Damascus, Baghdad, or Delhi), cen- ters of power in traditional Southeast Asia rarely maintained their position for more than a century, and the authority they enjoyed was very different from that of the modern capital cities in the region. The historiography of the region, in its many languages, reflects this character in the emphasis that it lays on genealogy of founders and traditional rulers in its accounts of the origins of settlements.

These circumstances have important implications for an understanding of Islam and the processes of Islamization in the region. On the one hand, its origins need to be seen in the planting of numerous local traditions of Islam at focal points in the archipelago. In the course of time, these tradi- tions coalesced and emerged for a while as Islamic city-states or fissiparated and disappeared as significant entities, to be succeeded by new ones. On the other hand, the establish- ment of modern nation-states with single centers of authority has laid the foundation for a new kind of Islamic tradition with a national character, and these centers in turn have exer- cised a normative influence on the development of such tra- ditions.

The diversity of Southeast Asia. From earliest times, Southeast Asia has been a region with a variety of peoples, social structures, means of livelihood, cultures, and religions. Denys Lombard, admittedly writing of the modern period, puts it this way:

We are in fact dealing with several levels of mentali- The thought processes of fringe societies in which “potlatch” is a prevailing custom (the Toraja); those of concentric agrarian societies (the Javanese