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Table of contents :
Table of Contents
List of Contributors
1 Muslim Diversity: Local Islam in Global Contexts
2 Global Migrants and Local Shrines:The Shifting Geography of Islam in Sylhet, Bangladesh
3 The Theological Construction of Conflict: Gilgit, Northern Pakistan
4 Jihād in West Africa: A Global Theme in a Regional Setting
5 The Salafiyya Movement in Northwest China: Islamic Fundamentalism among the Muslim Chinese?
6 To Colour, Not Oppose: Spreading Islam in Rural Java
7 Faith and Identity in Northeast Syria
8 The Mosque and the Sacred Mountain: Duality of Religious Beliefs among the Zaghawa of Northwestern Sudan
9 On Becoming Muslim: The Construction of Identities among the Lafofa of the Sudan
10 Afterword: The Comparative Study of Muslim Societies
NORDIC INSTITUTE OF ASIAN STUDIES
NIAS Studies in Asian Topics 15. Renegotiating Local Values Merete Lie and Ragnhild Lund 16. Leadership On Java Hans AntLOv and Sven Cederroth (eds) 17. Vietnam in a Changing WorId Irene N¢rlund, Carolyn Gates and Vu Cao Dam (eds) 18. Asian Perceptions of Nature Ole Bruun and Arne Kalland (eds) 19. Imperial Policy and Southeast Asian Nationalism Hans AntliN and Stein T¢nnesson (eds) 20. The Village Concept in the Transformation of Rural Southeast Asia Mason C. Hoadley and Christer Gunnarsson (eds) 21. Identity in Asian Literature Lisbeth Littrup (ed.) 22. Mongolia in Transition Ole Bruun and Ole Odgaard (eds) 23. Asian Forms of the Nation Stein T¢nnesson and Hans AntLOv (eds) 24. The Eternal Storyteller Vibeke B¢rdahl (ed.) 25. Japanese Influences and Presences in Asia Marie Soderberg and Ian Reader (eds) 26. Muslim Diversity Leif Manger (ed.) 27. Women and Households in Indonesia Juliette Koning, Marleen Nolten, Janet Rodenburg and Ratna Saptari (eds) 28. The House in Southeast Asia Signe Howell and Stephen Sparkes (eds)
MUSLIM DIVERSITY Local Islam in Global Contexts
i~ ~~o~;~~n~~~up LONDON AND NEW YORK
Nordic Institute of Asian Studies NIAS Studies in Asian Topics, No. 26 First published in 1999 by RoutledgeCurzon Press Published 2013 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY, 10017, USA Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business
Typesetting by the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies © Nordic Institute of Asian Studies 1999 While copyright in the volume as a whole is vested in the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, copyright in the individual papers belongs to the authors. No paper may be reproduced in whole or in part without the express permission of author and publisher. This book has been published with the financial support of the Faculty of Social Science, University of Bergen
British Library Catalogue in Publication Data Muslim diversity: local Islam in global contexts. - (NIAS studies in Asian topics ; 26) l.Islam - Cross-cultural studies 2.Muslims - Social conditions 3.Islamic countries LManger, Leif ILNordic Institute of Asian Studies 297.2'6 ISBN 13: 978-0-700-71104-8 (hbk)
Cover illustration: Liz Bramsen
Publisher's Note The publisher has gone to great lengths to ensure the quality of this reprint but points out that some imperfections in the original may be apparent
Contents Acknowledgements List of Contributors
1 2 3 4 5 6
Muslim Diversity: Local Islam in Global Contexts LeifManger Global Migrants and Local Shrines:The Shifting Geography of Islam in Sylhet, Bangladesh Katy Gardner The Theological Construction of Conflict: Gilgit, Northern Pakistan TorH.Aase Jihad in West Africa: A Global Theme in a Regional Setting Knut S. Vik¢r The Salafiyya Movement in Northwest China: Islamic Fundamentalism among the Muslim Chinese? Dru C. Gladney To Colour, Not Oppose: Spreading Islam in Rural Java Eldar Braten Faith and Identity in Northeast Syria AnnikaRabo The Mosque and the Sacred Mountain: Duality of Religious Beliefs among the Zaghawa of Northwestern Sudan Sharif Harir On Becoming Muslim: The Construction of Identities among the Lafofa of the Sudan LeifManger Afterword: The Comparative Study of Muslim Societies William R. Roff
1 37 58 80 102 150 173
200 224 244 257
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Acknowledgements The editor gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Norwegian Research Council for the workshop (11-13 June 1992) that initiated this book project, and for support from the Faculty of Social Science, University of Bergen in the publication of the book. Thanks are also due to Knut Vikj/Sr for valuable assistance in providing a unified system of transcription, and to Liz Bramsen ofNIAS Publishing for giving the manuscript its final shape.
List of contributors Tor H. Aase, Professor, Department of Geography, University of Bergen Eldar Braten, Associate Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen Katy Gardner, Associate Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, School of African and Asian Studies, University of Sussex Dru C. Gladney, Associate Professor, Program for Cultural Studies, East-West Centre, Hawaii Sharif Harir, former Research Fellow at the Centre for Development Studies, University of Bergen. Presently with the Sudan Democratic Alliance in Asmara, Eritrea Leif Manger, Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen Annika Rabo, Associate Professor, Institute of Tema Research, University of Linkoping William Roff, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Columbia University, now St. Andrews Knut S. VIkfjr, Director, Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Bergen
Muslim Diversity: Local Islam in Global Contexts
Introduction The Orientalist perspective, according to Edward Said, has created the notion that 'Islam does not develop, and neither do Muslims; they merely are' (Said 1979: 317), and furthermore, that Islam is seen to be about texts rather than people. A couple of years earlier the anthropologist Abdel Hamid el-Zein raised a similar type of criticism (el-Zein 1977), in which he accused classical contributions on Islam within the particular field of anthropology for leaving out the 'voice of Muslims' . He urges anthropologists to talk more about Muslims, and less about Islam; more about how Muslims speak, not only about how they act. Of course, to describe Islam as a static entity and to see Muslims and the Middle East in essentializing and reifying terms did not start in the 1970s. From the time of the Crusades 'The Islamic Threat', 'The Green Threat' and 'The Sword of Islam' have been established concepts, portraying Muslims as fanatic zealots. But the notions are not only political. The underlying assumptions expressed through such terms are also found among researchers and were also part of the critique raised by Said and el-Zein. In many studies Islam and the Islamic world were portrayed as 'lacking' the institutions that had taken the Western world forward, particularly the civil society that mediates between the ruler and the individual subjects, exemplified by concepts like Wittfogel's 'Oriental Despotism' (Wittfogel 1957). In the same vein Weber argued that Islamic societies lacked a 'spirit of capitalism' and an 'entrepreneurial spirit' . However, in a more specific sense Said and el-Zein also raised the problem of how to study Islam as historical reality; partly a text-based
world religion, i.e. as a decontextualized global reality, and partly as localized, contextualized cases of so-called Islamic beliefs and practices, or as 'practical religion' to paraphrase Leach. Both authors are clear on what they do not like, and illustrate by criticizing classical contributions such as those of Ernest Gellner and Clifford Geertz.l Gellner describes Islam as a distinct historical totality, portraying a correlation of social structure, religious belief and political activity to an extent that makes Islam a blueprint of the social order (Gellner 1982). And Geertz argues for a perspective of 'core symbols' (Geertz 1968, 1983), in which we first analyse the meaning contained in the symbols, and second, relate such systems of meaning embodied in the symbols to socio-structural and psychological processes (Geertz 1973: 125). Arguing against such attempts to reduce Islam and the lives of Muslims to idealized patterns, both Said and el-Zein are less clear on the alternatives. Said's project is clearly to show that certain representations constitute a type of knowledge that also implies subordination of 'the Other'. His field is the one of 'politics of representation', his project was not about conceptualizing alternative views. 2 And el-Zein concludes that in the final analysis there is no such theoretical object as Islam. Looking at the contributions presented in this book, they clearly convey a picture of the Islamic world as dynamic. The authors are also looking for conceptual ways to deal with this dynamism, arguing that the perspectives we are seeking must open up and accommodate descriptions of a wide variety of beliefs and actions labelled Islamic by people themselves; indeed, Muslim diversity must be our starting point. However, the essays also make it clear that it might not be enough only to hear Muslims speak; we also need analyses about how their stories are constructed, how they become real to those who take them to be true, and how they sometimes change. Thus we need perspectives that, in order to be useful, help us focus on contradictory discourses without preconceived notions of cultural and social integration, and they must lead us towards the concerns of real people. The perspectives we seek must not operate as 'straitjackets', providing us
1. Said at first did not include Geertz in his critique of Orientalism, but later changed this. 2. See e.g. Turner (1994) for a broader discussion on this. 2
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with preconceived ideas about Muslim realities. These realities must be discovered and documented, and made sense of (Launay 1992).
Islam as a world system: the reality of dar al-isliim The contributions presented cover Muslim societies in several continents, from West Africa to Southeast Asia, from the Near East to China. The variety of cases, and the variety of beliefs and practices presented, certainly point beyond any simple Orientalist notion of an unchanging world of Islam. Similarly they point beyond a notion of any 'culture core' of Islam, defined by its place of origin, Arabia, and by Arabic language and culture only. Within Islamic studies such assumptions have led researchers studying Islam in Africa and in Asia to believe they were 'on the margins', that the religious beliefs they saw represented 'peripheral Islam' and that the religious practices they encountered were 'syncretist'.3 Such assumptions are shaken by studies from within the Middle East itself, as is well illustrated by Annika Rabo's essay in this volume, which focuses on Raqqa town in Syria. Being within what by most definitions would be considered the heartland of Muslim civilization, the local discourses on Islam look very much like the ones we encounter in the other essays, from different countries, different continents. Rather than unification we see internal pluralism, ethnic diversity and multiple discourses. Indeed, in order to expand on the complexities they reflect, a necessary first step is to introduce a cultural historical approach and to see the Muslim world as a world system. Certainly, Islam is made up of specific texts, the Qur'an, the Sunna, the ShariCa and so forth. But the Muslim religion is also one with a particular history of events, starting with the Prophet MUQammad, followed by the four khalifas. Muslims are part of an imperial history of political expansion, of waves of political rise and decline, but also processes of intellectual development and tides of reformism and of accommodation, not reflecting the sequences of political and economic developments. Rather, what has been termed a dark age of Muslim civilization, i.e. after the fall of the Abbasid Caliphate, represents an extraordinarily rich cultural and intellectual period. The history of the Islamic civili3. See e.g. Stewart and Shaw (1994) for a discussion on 'syncretism'. 3
zation fits into broader schemes of the rise and fall of civilizations, and should be understood in contexts of civilizations and social forms preceding it and those that have followed it, as well as in the context of the ones with which it has coexisted (see e.g. Hodgson 1974). The world system we are seeking is not Wallerstein's capitalist system that led to homo economicus (Wallerstein 1974) but to a system of ideas, informal networks of scholars and saints, organized around the messages of the Qur"an, building a righteous social order; in short, a system of symbolic interaction (Eaton 1990; VoIl1982). It is within such a 'global culture' that Muslims around the world can experience themselves as members of the umma and it is, for instance, the culture that Ibn Ba!!ii!a encountered on his travels. Ibn Ba!!ii!a moved through a cultural universe in which he was very much at home, meeting merchants, scholars and princes, people with whom he could converse in Arabic about intellectual matters as well as about matters happening in distant parts of dar aI-islam. And it is to this world that we can travel via the cases studied in this book, to see how that prophetic incident in Arabia in the seventh century helped shape individual lives in civilizations as different as the Irano-Semitic, Sanskritic, Malay-Javanese, Chinese and the Sudanic World of Africa. In this general history lie hidden many foci that should inform our views of how Islam has developed in its many local forms. The emergence of the faith itself; political conquests as well as defeats; trade routes which provided contacts across culture areas; the confinement of Muslims within nation states; Muslims in control of that state; being discriminated against by the state or being victims of outright persecution; Muslim reaction to Western and Eastern domination, secularism and consumerism but also Muslim dependence on Western labour markets; modes of information and travelling - all these factors produced complexities that hardly can be explained away by sets of idealized processes. The above perspectives, of cultural history and world system, allow specific histories to come more clearly to the surface whereby the lives of Muslims can be portrayed in the context of that history, i.e. lives not only shaped by living in integrated localities organized according to Islamic principles, but as lives lived in arenas in which complex historical processes have taken place and indeed continue to take place. 4
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It is beyond the scope of this introduction to detail this history, and the essays themselves deal with their relevant contexts; so here it will suffice to give some historical sketches of the early spread of Islam as part of a general global history. People and groups presented in the essays all came into contact with Islam at different points of this history and are affected by specific lines of development. Rabo's Syrian case represents an area that was among the first to be Islamized, after the Muslims expanded outside Arabia itself. Syria also became the centre of the first Muslim empire, the Ummayads, Damascus being the imperial centre. In later centuries Syria and Palestine also represented the western starting point of a middle route of trade and communication towards the east, passing through the Abbasid capital of Baghdad before diverting in two directions. One route went over land through Persia, again splitting either towards Central Asia or towards India. The second diversion was southwards, down the Tigris to the Persian Gulf and eventually the Indian Ocean. Further north, another major overland route developed, linking Turkey, the Black Sea and Caspian Sea areas, Central Asia and China. By 712 Arab armies had seized strategic towns of Central Asia like Balkh, Samarkand, Bukhara and Ferghana and were later invited by Turkish tribes to engage the Chinese armies. Although never dominating China, Muslims gained access to the Silk Route, which provided trade possibilities, but also intellectual contact and the spread of new ideas. All this represents a basic historical context for the cases of Aase and Gladney. To the south Muslim navies sailed to India, starting Islam's encounter with the Indic civilizations in Sind and Punjab in the west, the Bengal in the east, the Bengali Islam being the context for Gardner's Bangladesh paper. The decline of the Mongol empire in Central and West Asia constrained developments and allowed the Indian Ocean to become an important arena for travelling, trade and learning. The western part of the Indian Ocean was dominated by Muslim merchants and shipowners operating from the Arabian coastal towns; a middle region connected the Indian coast with the 'Hinduized' southeast Asian regions of Sumatra and Malaya; and an eastern circuit, linking Java to China, thus bringing Muslims into the realm of Buddhism and Confucianism. 5
By the end of the thirteenth century, city-states appeared in Malayspeaking Southeast Asia, spreading Islam and at the same time providing Europe with spices. Two centuries later Islam started to penetrate the interior of Java, encountering not European traders as competitors as they did in the coastal towns, but a Hindu-Buddhist civilization, a historical development that Braten's chapter reflects. Similar processes brought Islam to Africa, via the trans-Saharan trade between North and West Africa, via the trade across the Red Sea to the Sudan and across the Indian Ocean to the Zwahili coast, and up the Nile Valley, from Cairo, which after the fall of Baghdad took over as the main Muslim city and the seat of the Mamluk dynasty. The process began in the tenth century, and affected the regions and communities dealt with by Vik~r, Harir and Manger. If we focus on more recent history, our story would have to include the spread of the Western-dominated systems of capitalism and technology, of the colonial experience and the emergence of nation states. The essays all bring up examples of this recent history, showing the ways in which it provides basic contexts in the everyday life of Muslims. The history of the Muslim world is also a history of economic and cultural diffusion, a history in which Muslims played a central role. Paper-making, which resulted from contact with China, helped to spread the Holy Word, as well as to consolidate bureaucracies. The spread of agricultural products within the Muslim world provides a similar example. The Arab conquest of Sind in 711 brought them knowledge about hard wheat, rice, sugarcane, new varieties of sorghum and various fruits. Such crops spread around the Muslim territories and contributed to changes in agriculture, land tenure and modes of taxation (Watson 1983). Similar stories could be told about the diffusion of scientific knowledge and technology (AI-Hassan and Hill 1986), and seafaring and navigation, particularly in dealing with Indian Ocean monsoons (Tibbetts 1981, Hourani 1951). The dissemination of religious knowledge that is discussed in several contributions in this volume, through the activities of Sufi saints and scholars is thus paralleled in several other fields. It all points in one direction: rather than lacking in 'entrepreneurial spirit', the Islamic civilization was a dynamic one, spearheading developments as well as learning from other civilizations (Goody 1996). This is not the 6
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place to present that history in detail, but to argue that an awareness of it is basic to the perspective here adopted, because the various points of contact represented meeting places which allowed for new types of development. The trade and the organization of caravans activated not only capital, but organizational patterns handling credit, legal patterns creating security around contracts, and so on. In such situations Islam was not only a religion, but the Shatiea provided a legal code for handling business and for dealing with conflicts. People well versed in the Sharie a therefore also acted as judges, arbitrators and so on, drawing on knowledge about earlier cases from elsewhere as well as their interpretation of the text itself. But the same processes also provided arenas in which Muslims met, and in which Muslims met with non-Muslims, thereby experiencing themselves as Muslims in their particular world. The factors at play are summarized by Eaton (1990: 17) in the following way: The emergence of state institutions and urban centers that provided foci for the growth of Islamic civilisation; the conversion of subject populations to Islam; the ability of Muslim culture to absorb, adapt, and transmit culture from neighbouring civilisations; and the elaboration of socio-religious institutions that enabled Islamic civilisation to survive, and even flourish, following the decline of centralized political authority (Eaton 1990: 17).
Putting this in the perspective of a world system allows us to see the Muslim world as it interacts with other civilizations. Before 1500 none of the various civilizations was dominant, they were competing in particular places, but none held a hegemonic position over technological or social inventiveness, as the West came to do in later centuries. Pagans and followers of Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism and Zoroastrianism all interacted with Muslims. Different types of economic systems coexisted - agrarian-based systems, city-based commercial systems, state-based systems - and knowledge about their various organizations facilitated the developments hinted at above. The weakening of these systems through the Black Death, the collapse of the empire of the Mongols, the erosion of trading enterprises in the Indian Ocean, and so on, paved the way for post-1500 Western dominance. The collapse of the East thus facilitated the rise of the West, not overnight but as the accumulated effects over several centuries (Abu7
Lughod 1989: 361). And the processes we are living through now, at the end of the twentieth century, might well mark the end of the hegemonic position of the West, perhaps towards a situation of several core centres, in a way similar to the pre-1500 world. But this is beyond our discussion. We shall return to the Muslim world, and the problem of conceptualization.
Conceptualizing global systems The introduction of the concepts of civilization, world system and globalization studies to this whole discussion is not new, of course (see e.g. Featherstone et ai. 1995; Frank and Gills 1993; Friedman 1994; Sanderson 1995); nor are earlier studies free of the biases that we should seek to avoid. For instance, in the classical studies of civilizations there is an inbuilt notion that civilizations are characterized by writing and city life (e.g. Quigley 1961) which, combined with an evolutionary bias, lead us towards classifying civilization 'above' noncivilizations. Civilizations differed from 'primitive society', in that they were dynamic rather than static (Toynbee 1934-61); in that they were organized by some specific sort of human thought and feeling (material, spiritual or both) that dominated various periods of a civilization's history (Sorokin 1937-41); or that they represented a particular kind of surplus producing economy (Quigley 1961), to mention a few classical views (Sanderson 1995). The culmination of this evolutionary scheme is of course the emergence of the hierarchically organized world capitalist system (Wallerstein 1974). World systems theory is also criticized for containing biases of its own; in particular that it adopts a Eurocentric view of history, leaving out large parts of humankind as 'people without history' (Wolf 1982), and also that the perspective is heavily biased towards economic forces, denying an important role to cultural dynamics. But perspectives that claim to focus on cultural forces also suffer from the above-mentioned biases. The best example here may be the two concepts of 'Great Tradition' and 'Little Tradition' (Redfield 1971), which have come under attack for leading our thinking towards static typologies of what is great and not-great, high and low, developed and underdeveloped, civilized versus uncivilized. The bias towards high religion and seeing cultural change as a process between 8
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two opposite poles excludes non-religious factors that may influence developments but belong to other arenas and other types of actors than the ones the above authors choose as a focus. Clearly, the notion that there is only one single Great Tradition and a single Little Tradition is untenable, and these conceptualizations may be said to function as 'gatekeeping concepts' that limit instead of enhance insights into the complexities of local life (Appadurai 1986). The same criticism can be levelled against central works by authors who followed in Redfield's footsteps, notably the important studies on Indian civilization by Marriott (1955), Srinivas (1967) and Singer (1972). But we should not be blind to their achievements. The studies did point to cultural performances as units of observation, to the cultural stage on which the performances were enacted, and to the performers, i.e. the ritual specialists, and the cultural media used in the performance (Singer 1984: 165) thus pointing us beyond an understanding of culture only as an abstract order of signs, or a collection of habitual practices. To my mind, among more recent studies with a particular focus on Islam and Muslims, Talal Asad brings us further in the right direction, by maintaining a focus on the social organization of knowledge and meaning, without preconceived notions about dynamics. Asad suggests we look at Islam as a discursive tradition (1986), adopting the direction of Foucault's general notions of discourses and discursive formations always being historically situated, and always tied to and produced by power. Our task, says Asad, is to understand the production of knowledge and the institutional conditions for the production of that knowledge. We should not assume that religion and culture make up any a priori system of meaning, and we should not look for what is essential in Islam; rather than that we should look for historical social formations within which Muslims themselves engage in discourse on what should be central to Islam. In this perspective Islam does not become an acting agent but an arena of many processes that become Islamic because they belong to the discursive tradition of Islam. According to Asad the tradition consists essentially of discourses that seek to instruct practitioners regarding the correct form and purpose of a given practice that, precisely because it is established, has a history. Hence the discourses 9
relate conceptually to a past (when the practice was instituted and from which the knowledge of its point and proper performance has been transmitted) and a future (how the point of that practice can best be secured in the short or long term, or why it should be modified or abandoned), through a present (how it is linked to other practices, institutions, and social conditions) (Asad 1986: 14).
The discursive tradition also has its social organization, including experts on different levels, with knowledge, with specific technologies for transferring their knowledge, with internal hierarchies, and with relationships to rulers and so on. The question here is not to of seek the essence of Islam but to know the historical conditions necessary for the existence of particular religious practices and discourses. Asad's perspective helps us solve several problems inherent in the tradition established by Redfield. First, what has been labelled Great Tradition is not seen to be outside localities, only to be found in libraries. It is right there in front of the observer, observable through written texts and the religious agents dealing with such texts. We should therefore pay more attention to the role of such traditional networks of learning and transmission of knowledge. Second, we are not confined to looking at one Great and one Little Tradition. The perspective allows us to look at many traditions, and with different dynamics. Thus we do not have to assume a unified level of culture but can accommodate the view that culture is distributive. Third, it entails a view that meaning is being produced in the relationship between religious symbols and people. The concept of meaning as a relationship puts greater emphasis on context and praxis. Within the perspective we can also bring in other types of dynamics, in other social fields, that also affect how people confer meaning on reality. The meaning is thus dependent on how actors are positioned in this totality, thus providing a basis for discussion of the wider integration of culture (e.g. Asad 1993).
Globalization and scale Empirically we know, of course, that the contemporary lives of Muslims are characterized by processes of movement and transformations, and that the general emergence of transnational culture is also a Muslim phenomenon. The above agenda allows us to study the 10
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various globalizing phenomena by shifting our focus away from simple structures and privileged local systems towards larger systems which, although characterized by complexity, still show coherence - a coherence that we can approach through a study of meaningful practice. In order to capture some of this complexity we should also look in the direction of some of the perspectives presented in more recent literature on globalization. Appadurai's (1986; 1990) concepts of ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes and ideoscapes to depict the various global flows of people, information, money and ideas of which contemporary people are part, and which in many ways replace national institutions, take us in the right direction. The same goes for Hannerz's use of 'networks' (Hannerz 1992). Both types of concepts point ahead towards analyses that are not constrained by the terms society and culture as part of local systems only. Friedman (1994) argues more explicitly about the need to understand how the various flows are integrated in ways that form the lives of real people. Whereas Appadurai sees the pace of the global flows of transport and information as causes of disintegration and tension between the local and the global, Friedman argues that they represent logical outcomes of underlying processes of a similar disintegration in the economic field, in world accumulation patterns. Friedman does not see randomness and disjunction but structured processes of production of meaning within global processes, and the creation of 'identity-space' within the same processes. All three authors argue that instead of slipping into post-modernism, we should develop a view on how the new types of realities many people face are distinct versions of modem, transnational, intercultural experience (Clifford 1994). Whether we term such processes among nonEuropean people 'creolization', 'hybrid culture', 'transculturation' or something else is not important at this point. My interest is in perspectives that can lead us towards types of analyses that can uncover the processes behind the production of meaning and identity spaces which Friedman talks about. Discussions of this sort inevitably lead to the problem of scale in social analyses. Eickelman (1982) argues that there should be an analytical middle ground between the local and the global in which we 11
can put Muslims and their practices in socio-historical contexts. Such middle grounds could be 'the nation' or 'the region'. Although this could bring the lives of real people closer to us, such a procedure might also produce reifications on new levels of scale (e.g. 'Moroccan' Islam and 'Indonesian' Islam instead of 'village' Islam). To define any preconceived level of scale that would be valid in all places and at all times seems to me to be impossible. The relevant levels of scale are a product of our analysis, not a prerequisite for it. The issue is not to decide a priori at what level and in which fields the important dynamics are to be found, but rather to develop discovery procedures that allow us to establish the empirical dynamics in the first place (Barth 1992). Gr~nhaug (1978) provides an 'early warning' against using such preconceived notions of the local, the regional, the national and the global. Rather, he argues for the necessity of establishing fields of connected activities as the starting point in our analyses. Such fields are organized around the concepts of tasks and teams, i.e. how people are pursuing various concerns in their lives. Based on material from Herat in Afghanistan, he shows how some of the fields are local in character, some regional, while others relate to international and global processes. The strength of Gr~nhaug's approach is his empirically based discovery of how each social field appears as an aggregate system, with a certain territorial distribution, a certain scale and a certain social organization. Furthermore, it allows us to see the flows within various fields as being moulded by different factors. Not only do technologies and signs travel, but so do real people, and in so doing, they shape their own life courses. Just as we can untangle social fields in Herat, I think we can use the same procedure to untangle the new transnational linkages between people without becoming trapped in a bipolar, local-global perspective. Contemporary, supra-local identities (diasporic, refugee, migrant, national, etc.) are not spatial and temporal extensions of a prior, naturally given identity rooted in 'locality' and 'community', nor do we have to see the global as a new, artificially imposed, or inauthentic type of identity (Gupta and Ferguson 1997). We should rather see any identity as being 'constructed' and our aim should be to study such processes of identity formations as they unfold within different contexts. I believe this is also what Appadurai 12
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is arguing for when he talks about the different streams as 'fractals', of 'chaos' rather than order, and of 'rhizome' as a basic metaphor (1996). The aim should be to avoid models of integrated local systems and to focus on the unbounded, deterritorialized character of such communities, without sacrificing our ideal to uncover basic patterns and dynamics. In a world of overlapping social networks with cross-cutting boundaries and flows of meaning, everybody's experience is ultimately touched by global social processes (Kuper 1992: 7), but at the same time people's interpretation of such processes vary a lot and produce a variety of localized adaptations and responses.
Meaning and the media of transmission Among the globalizing phenomena that characterize our time, the existence of media has been paid much attention in the literature. An increasingly expanding book market is making available to Muslims a type of literature that discusses the role and the position of Muslims in the world. Through mass education and the spreading of literacy, an increasing number of people gain access to this type of literature (Eickelman 1992, Eickelman and Piscatori, 1996). Through TV and casettes the same messages are also being transmitted, without requirements of literacy. The so-called 'CNN-revolution' has exposed people to similar media messages, no matter where they are situated globally; and this includes the Muslim world. Taken together, such developments influence Muslims and work on their imagination, creating what Appadurai has coined 'communities of sentiments' (1996). The creation of such 'imagined communities' is also at the base of Benedict Anderson's discussion of the emergence of modern nationalism (1983). According to Anderson, modern nationalism can be distinguished from other ideological and political forms, for instance those of cosmic and divine kingship or those of papal Europe. These were focused on symbolic centres and were hierarchical, embracing diverse cultural, social and political communities whose position was defined through their relation to the dominant centre. Nationalist contexts, in contrast, are 'boundary-oriented' and are 'internally horizontal' (Anderson 1983: 22). Nationalist ideologies universalize space and time as members of the nation are synchronized 13
in one temporality and occupy a single spatial context, thus being exposed to similar experiences in the world. The important factors in this development are, first, a move away from 'holy languages', in the sense that certain issues could only be dealt with in specific languages. Such holy languages had brought literate specialists and also provided control mechanisms against heresy. 'Those who knew' were not only united through their knowledge, but also their mastery of the proper language, thus making up a more efficient information network. A major development to change such a situation was the vernacularization of languages and the spread of the book through what McLuhan called 'print capitalism'. This is at the base of long historical developments which brought universities, modem studies of languages and other necessary conditions which provided the basis for nationalism. It also brougth the novel and the newspaper: literary means that carried a new sense of calendric coincidence of unrelated events and people. Again, according to Anderson, as the religious person underlines his existence in the chain of events through his morning prayer, modem man reads his morning paper over breakfast and becomes related to a host of events conjoined by the date at the top of the newspaper. Satellite TV and other technological developments are adding to this process, modem media representing a new 'holy language' with new 'experts' affecting our world views just like the ancient experts, in whatever language. Muslims alongside everybody else are exposed to and can draw their own lessons from such messages. And new realities, like labour migration to the Gulf region or to Western countries, new economic relationships between nations, the spread of Western education as well as Muslim education, are all factors that greatly affect the ways the world is being interpreted by Muslims. Several writers have taken up this new attempt to understand Islam as the social life of religious discourse, i.e. how written texts and oral traditions are produced, read and reread in order to deal with Muslim realities. Empirical contexts have varied, from studies in courts (Messick 1993; Rosen 1989), sermons and Islamic teaching (Antoun 1989, Gaffney 1994), but also processes in non-religious fields (e.g. Fischer and Abedi 1990) looking at posters, videocassettes and so on, and the general shift from an oral to a written tradition (Shyrock 1997). 14
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Given the cultural historical perspective I have argued for, it is necessary also to look at earlier technologies through which meaning has been travelling, to build a comparative view on how such technologies have influenced contact between Muslims, and how the Muslim imagination has been shaped by it. This point brings us back to Jack Goody's (1986) arguments on the development of literacy and the technology of printing. A culture with important aspects based on writing is significantly different from one based on oral tradition only. But there are also different types of literacy. As Eickelman (1978) has shown, the dominant literacy developed by the traditional Muslim educational system is the one of rote learning, i.e. learning fixed texts by heart. This was done in face-to-face relationships between teacher and pupil. A different type of literacy is the one brought by Western education, in which literacy is not for storing limited knowledge but a tool for acquiring new knowledge. The implication of this has been explored in an interesting way by Launay (1990) in the case of the Dyula of the Ivory Coast. By linking the two types of literacy to two different social groups, and to the emergence of modem colonial education, he is able to show how modem literacy is part of a process of marginalization of the groups identifying themselves with local Muslim traditions. Local religious standards were not acknowledged by the modernizing group bringing in religious ideals from Arabia. And Eickelman himself shows how literacy and the availability of mass-produced books allow people themselves to interpret the world and not to have the world interpreted for them by various experts (Eickelman 1992).
Discourse and moral communities The general perspective discussed above shows how discourses among Muslims will be shaped by complex processes, relating to the developments of labour markets, technologies of communication and the media. We need to add, however, an important point which relates to the content of the Muslim discourses that we can observe. We have argued that although globalizing processes are at work, and the media of transmission are open for a globalized spread of information, the content of Muslim discourses is also very much shaped by local realities. We should therefore also look at Muslim communities as 15
'moral communities', i.e. communities to which the members consciously belong, and in which there is a moral discourse about that belonging (Launay 1992). Such discourses are based on evaluations that are meant to decide whether specific beliefs, practices and rituals belong within the moral community and are based on what people accept or reject from their past history as well as how they criticize the practices of others to justify their own. As such discourses are informed both by local realities and more universal Islamic notions, such an analysis can both show us how Muslim identities change and also broaden our understanding of the changing social meaning of religious categories. What Launay refers to here is, for instance, the general notion of umma that makes all Muslim people belong together in a specific relationship to God characterized by equality. The same equality is expressed in the Qur"an as well as other holy texts. However, Muslims living in any real society are also characterized by inequalities (based on age, gender, social status, etc.) that are products of other sociohistorical forces than Islam itself. Such inequalities are of course also part of various local discourses, which have to be related to the Islamic ones. Similar debates are raised with reference to behaviour, i.e. which acts are acceptable and which are not. Such debates often include arguments referring to decontextualized Islamic principles, such as adab, Sharica, and cadiit as well as arguments justified in local sources of authority (Ewing 1988; Metcalf 1984). Such debates also affect local people's definition of what constitutes 'legitimate knowledge', not once and for all but as an ongoing conversation, as shown for instance in Lambek's study on Mayotte (Lambek 1992) and Boddy's study on Sudan (1989), both with an empirical focus on possession cults, and Launay's own description of the dynamics between a Sufi tradition under challenge by modern Wahhiibi in the contemporary Ivory Coast. Many discourses of the kinds mentioned can and do go on simultaneously in a community, and they do not have to be internally 'coherent' and reducible to notions of functional integration. People can participate in many discourses without losing their coherence as persons and without seeing their communitites as being disintegrated. Inconsistencies do not lead to breakdown, but are food for further discussion. 16
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Muslim diversity Turning to the diversity of Muslim beliefs and practices with which we are presented within the essays, they all give an impression that there are as many Islams as there are situations that sustain them. The material certainly provides a variety of ethnographic contexts in which Muslims live their lives, and seems to support Gilsenan's (1982) conclusion that Islam must be defined by what Muslims everywhere say it is; that we should talk not of the world of Islam, but a world of many Islams. But, listening to the Muslims as they speak through the pages of this volume also shows that Islam is more than a product of any local, regional or national situation. Certainly we find many traces of the cultural historical traditons mentioned earlier, and certainly the essays show that Islam has a global nature in that, for the believers, it contains generalized truths. In that sense Islam is very real. Muslims do assume that there is an Islam, and that they know what it is, i.e. the Muslims speaking in our cases are all essentializing, and they are all classifying acts, statements, rituals as to where they belong within the Islamic traditon as they see it. The ways in which the various authors deal with this issue make the essays more than isolated examples of local Muslims and their lives. They are cases that allow for comparative analyses of Islam as a lived religion. The essays present different conceptual intakes to their studies, but they do revolve around debates, discourses or conversations that focus on defining the boundaries of 'moral communities' and that it is through the Islamic discourse that certain moral communities appear. An interesting observation from the contributions here presented is that such discourses are not necessarily about the cosmological dimensions of things. In most cases the essays show that this is not the case. They show that such local discourses revolve around issues of religious practices; they are about morality and identity. To hold one identity implies not holding another, and how people 'choose' such identities and their views on what constitutes proper behaviour can be studied. But such 'religious' identities go together with other identities that make up a total inventory of identities in a specific place. How such bundles of identities fit together will vary, but in the Muslim societies described, discourses about such local realities are in one 17
way or another couched in Islamic idioms, or are couched in discourse that resonates with the Islamic one. Quoting Launay again, Islam in this sense does not reflect society, it makes sense of it. Several essays in this book argue that rather than focusing on beliefs and conscious religious thought alone, we should link such aspects of the religious process to practices and dynamics in non-religious fields in order to understand the various ways in which religious beliefs and habits become politicized as symbols of identity. The Muslims presented in the essays are well aware of differences and inconsistencies, within their own societies as well as between their own societies and those of others. An important aim of these essays is also to see how Muslims themselves make use of such differences in their own lives. What becomes clear, then, is that such comparisons made by Muslims are not intellectual exercises, but are very real, and form the basis for the shaping of identities. This can go on as peaceful processes, but identities can also sometimes appear in violent opposition to one another, and the struggles can lead to new evaluations of what is Islamic. Such processes include references to what are taken to be the basic Islamic texts (Qur"an, Sunna, Shariea) but cannot be reduced to such readings and interpretations of esoteric texts alone. First of all, the basic texts may not be at all unified. Shariea, for instance, is not made up of a single collection of texts, but consists of an accumulated body of texts, from many centuries and from many continents. Furthermore, many of the Muslims dealt with in our cases do not have any direct access to such texts, and depend on interpretations by local literate people, or their own interpretations of events and information brought to them through different sources. Thus the present essays show a multiplicity of voices involved in such interpretations, not only voices ofthe scholars oftexts but also 'ordinary' Muslims, diversified as they are in age, gender, class, ethnicity, education and so on. This further strengthens the notion that Islam comprises not only the cosmological theme of the holy texts, but lived identities in local contexts, emerging within ongoing debates about what is right and what is wrong. Summing up, the essays presented in this book give us a way out of the old problem of how to classify combinations of so-called Muslim beliefs, customs and identities with non-Muslim ones. Or rather, the 18
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essays show tthat it is a question wrongly put. The issue is not one of classification, but of grasping the content of the discourse itself. Such discourses confer meaning to individual life wherever it is positioned, and help create 'identity-space', in which a person can lead a life that everywhere, including in Muslim communities, is characterized by change and flux. And, as the essays show, the content of the discourse cannot be decided a priori, but rather, must be discovered through ethnographically based research.
On the essays Katy Gardner's essay on the changing role of the local Bangladeshi saint cult contains material that shows how the local-centre relationship is being mediated through discourses that are legitimized and given authority by relating them to various standard Islamic notions of authority. Positions are evaluated according to how they are placed in a hierarchical way, based on the notion of a centre and the notion that the closer one comes to the centre, the more authoritative is the position. However, in showing how the local pzr cult is marginalized, the essay shows clearly that there is no agreement upon what is authoritative and what is not, nor that there is only one centre. Furthermore it argues that the basic factor involved in transgressing the Sylhet locality relates to the opening up of new patterns of labour migrations to the Middle East. Instead of Sylhet being a centre for a local cult, the notion of the local Sylhet centre is becoming one associated with marginality and poverty, a process brought about by the migrants' counterpoising it more directly to the spiritual centre of Islam in Arabia, the home of the Prophet, the place of Mecca and Arabic texts. Thus, argues Gardner, the establishment of notions about 'homelands' and 'foreign lands' (desh - bidesh), involves shifting perceptions of locality, expressed both through ideology, meaning that the centre has hegemony over the locality, but also as an expression of political and economic relations. Such discourses are shaped in a process that is not only religious, but also affected by mundane factors like the way labour migration is being organized in Middle Eastern countries (short-term contracts), the economic possibilities opened by such migration (investment in land at home); and resulting processes of economic differentiation (migrants as big landowners). 19
Katy Gardner's essay also shows how difficult it is to assume a unified terminology within Islam, and to try to conceptualize the new 'revivalism', in Sylhet by a single term. The migrants may appear as fundamentalists in the sense that they base their views on adab, but at the same time they are 'modernizers', in the local Sylhet context, but not a modernism containing secularism but religious traditionalism. Similarly, the plr cult is difficult to categorize as either Sufi or orthodox, and the figure of plr as only local holy men, as the same term is used for saints of the highest order. Consequently, the notion of Great Tradition versus Little Tradition, of orthodoxy versus syncretism, and so on, is at best problematic. Rather than representing different forms of Islam, it represents different discourses within Islam, in which different principles, texts and sacred places are being used in order to authorize a position. Tor Aase's essay on the conflict between SunnIs, Shicis and IsmacIlis in Gilgit, Northwestern Pakistan, problematizes our understanding of 'sects' and 'sectarian loyalties', in Islam in relation to the contemporary Gilgit situation as well as providing a perspective that can be utilized vis-a-vis the so-called sectarian splits in early Islamic history. The historic conflict between Sunni and Shica Islam was one in which the authority of the followers of the Prophet was disputed. Whereas the Sunnis wanted to 'normalize' Islam in the period after the death of the Prophet, the Shicis wanted to preserve the charismatic authority of the Prophet. In Weberian terms the Sunnis sought a routinization of charisma, whereas the Shicis wanted a perpetuation of it. The Sunnis reverted to traditional Arab ways of electing their leaders, through tribal council of elders and general communal consent (bayCa ). The Shicis believed in a line ofImams, the Imam certainly being of a status below the Prophet, but having similar personal and charismatic qualities, and drawing authority not from the umma but from divine inspiration. The consequences of these disputes are basic to Islamic history. The ShIcis rejected the first three khalifas, as they were elected by the umma, and claimed instead that Ali and his descendants were the rightful descendants of the Prophet. This all led to the battle of Kerbala, in which Ali's son Hussein was killed in AD 680. The drama aside, the development of the different branches in a way signified the development of different 'moral communities', defined by the mode of leadership; one (SunnI) based on traditional Arab patriarchal authority; 20
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another (ShICa) based on the charismatic authority of the Prophet. On one level the conflict in Gilgit certainly had elements of this, particularly in the various ways the conflict rhetoric developed. It was couched locally in the Islamic language of jihad. Sunnls accused Shlcls of being infidels (kuffiir) (and IsmaCIIIs of being Agha Kanis, i.e. under foreign influence); the Shlcls accused the SunnIs of being WahhabI. Similarly, acts are to an increasing degree being evaluated as haliil or !:tariim. A new ShIca village that was made after the expulsion of people from SunnI areas was called Hussein-ul-Medina, reflecting both the Prophets hijra to Medina and Hussein's martyrdom at Kerbala, people writing 'Live like Ali, Die like Hussein' on the rocks. However, Aase's contribution is to show that this particular understanding was not a consequence of inherent qualities in Islam as an essentialized religion, indeed, his point is that at its core the conflict in Gilgit is not necessarily about religion at all. But the author is careful not to say that religion does not play a role. Couching the conflict in the idiom of Sunnls versus Shicls brings particular dimensions to the conflict. Like the early Muslims, the Sunnls and Shlcls of Gilgit do not see themselves as being part of an 'orthodoxy-heterodoxy' dichotomy within Islam or that the Shlca position is more 'political', which would be in line with academic views on this matter. As Muslim believers, their position is seen not as sectarian or political, but as the rightful position, representing universal, theological legitimacy. This explains why religious symbols are so charged with meaning, and hence so effective as mobilizing tools, and it explains why they added such heat to the conflict in Gilgit. But this does not explain the causes of the conflict. Rather than putting the question in such terms, the question that should be asked is what forces made such positions necessary to those people who came to hold them? Aase's empirical discussion of basic socio-cultural categories in Gilgit as well as the politico-administrative processes at the local, regional and national levels in Pakistan, thus work as the backdrop against which people formed their views and which directed their action. The conflict is neither a simple revitalization of religion, nor simply a reflection of an underlying social structure. Knut Vik!Zlr challenges our understanding of another central issue in Islam, the concept of jihad. His chapter shows how careful we should 21
be in taking pre-established understandings about such a concept and assuming that historical movements characterized by that term are identical. Vik~r' s empirical concern is with the careers of three particular Fulani scholars who appeared as jihad leaders in West Africa. The cases ofVsman dan Fodio, A1;unadu Lobbo and cVmar alFut! show that we cannot assume that the revivalist movements led to revolt in any simple, mechanical way, but rather that they covered a wide variety of movements, thinking and socio-political realities and that the success of these movements came about by accident rather than design. However, although shaped by local social and political conditions, once they were underway, the jihad movements portrayed certain underlying features. As in Aase's case, the mobilizing impact is strong as jihad movements are also built on central models from Islamic history. It is mentioned in the Qur"an and it also relates to the way the Prophet himself dealt with the issue of nonbelievers. All three leaders in Vik~r' s case leave their homelands on a hijra to escape from the land of non-believers, only to return to fight the 'infidels' (kujfar), thus clearly mirroring the classical Islamic concepts of jihad, linking it to takfir, i.e. the declaration of someone as a nonbeliever, and hijra, emigration from the land of unbelief after having preached against the unjust or pagan leader. But as Vik~r also shows, Islamic scholars have at all times debated the way these concepts are to be interpreted, particularly the role of hijra. He claims that specific interpretations are affected not only by theological debates but also by the socio-political conditions during specific periods. For instance, interpretations seem to change during times when Islam was spreading, compared to when it was under threat, periods during which jihad and hijra are stressed. West Africans knew about the various interpretations of jihad and the local understanding was of course shaped by this. Furthermore, Vik~r argues that the Muslim intellectual elites that were involved in such interpretations were not isolated and local, but were part of the Muslim networks of Sufi !arfqas meeting other Muslims on their pilgrimages. Through this elite local people were brought into contact with the international currents of Muslim thought. This started cultural historical processes that came to characterize 'the Sudanic World', but Vik~r warns that the understanding of these processes is badly served by applying concepts like 'folk' or 'local Islam' to depict 22
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them. Certainly the processes took place in the West African region, but they were part of cosmopolitan Muslim developments. To capture this reality, VikSZlr suggests that we think of Islam as a 'library of concepts', from which Muslim actors can draw elements around which to build their practice, the Muslim scholars operating as interpreters of such concepts. Dru Gladney's broad historical overview of four modes of Muslim influence in China, that all have helped give identity to the Muslim populations (Hui) of China, touch both on how different types of contacts have created different types of Muslim organizations, and also on how different types of religious movements are tied to contacts with different centres and how they have developed differently in a Chinese context, particularly through different links to Chinese warlords and later on, the Chinese state. The four movements that Gladney describe are, first, the Gedimu (qadim) in the fourteenth century which was a form of village Islam embedded in the local socio-cultural setting ofHui villages; second, Sufi groups were established in the late seventeenth century, introducing schools and created a network among the villages, accusing the Gedimu Islam of being too Chinese. The third and fourth modes of Islam in China belong to the twentieth century, and are represented by reformist groups like the Wahhabis who came early in the century, and the Salafiyya, who appeared in the 1930s. Gladney shows how travel, education and contact with Muslim centres have played a role for all movements. The earlier ones were brought both by outside missionaries and also by Chinese Muslims who operated along the Silk Route and were products of the intellectual links to Central Asia and also to Arabia itself. Wahhiibism and the Salafiyya were also introduced by people who had also been travelling, on pilgrimage to Mecca, or for education at Al Azhar University in Cairo. But, as Gladney shows, the movements were not only products of intellectual and religious processes. The Silk Route was of course a trading link of major importance to many imperial centres, and the contemporary situation is characterized by increasingly close ties between the Chinese economy and the oil economies of the Middle East. The increasing number of people going to Mecca on pilgrimage, business contacts to the Middle East and a better know23
ledge of Arabic can make it easier to maintain links to fellow Muslims elsewhere, for instance through global Muslim organizations. At the same time, the increasing economic links between the Chinese government and the Middle East also bring resources to China, in the form of development funds which are used for 'Muslim infrastructure' like mosques and schools, which might support the Muslims in general, but also affecting internal balances between the various Chinese Muslim movements. Rather than depicting four different types of Islam, Gladney shows a situation in which Chinese Muslims at all times have been affected by several types of developments, and that the outcome cannot be read from simple notions about Islam. The Wahhabis, for instance, are educated, urban-based Muslims who have advocated scripturalism, but unlike other similar groups the Chinese branch has maintained close relations to the state, particularly after the Communist takeover, moving in the direction of becoming nationalist, modernist and antiSufi. The Salafiyya appeared as a non-political group, using Salafi manuals brought by returned J:tajjls to engage in public discourse with the Wahhabi and also other groups, preaching a purified Islam based on the Qur'an and the Sunna, not representing a Chinese Islam, but rejecting Eastern ideas and values. However, as Gladney also shows, after a split in the movement one faction is being supported by the government thus opening up further developments in China; this underlines Gladney's general claim, that we need to problematize processes of Islamization and revivalism. We should not look at such processes as 'tides' rolling over communities, but rather think of them as 'modes' that allow for the complexities Gladney observes in his Chinese case. Eldar Bniten's essay on Islam in Java directly assesses some of Geertz's classical notions about Indonesian Islam. Based on fieldwork in the 1980s, Braten claims that the categories Geertz used to describe Islam in Java in the 1950s - santri (traders), abangan (peasants/ animism), priyayi (aristocrats/mysticism) - cannot be used for the people that Braten was dealing with some 30 years after Geertz' studies. In some cases people did not even know the terms, in others they carried a different meaning from the one pointed out by Geertz. The thirty years are important to Braten because it is through the 24
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changing political circumstances that he sees changing notions of Islam emerge. Brilhen shows how, in the Javanese village of Batasan, local Islamic life evolves through discourses that are related not only to Islamic beliefs and practices, but also to handling problematic issues in local and national politics. Different historical realities produce different notions of what it implies to be a Muslim, and instead of finding clear-cut categories, Brilten discovers a situation characterized by contradictions; he sees Muslim individuals balancing belief in a spirit world not sanctioned by Muslim leaders and he sees Muslims balancing their views on women's dress, school curricula and so on which often appear in opposition to the views of a modernizing and authoritarian government. People deal with this by stressing harmony, and by downplaying potentially conflicting and contradictory issues. Three strategies are mentioned; first the one of privatizing behaviour relating to the spirit world; second, by changing behavioural patterns according to contexts; and third, using expressions and symbols that can be read in many different ways, i.e. always allowing for a sympathetic reading. Such strategies allow 'ordinary' Muslims to combine Islamic practices with spiritual beliefs, and it also allows Islamic leaders to argue for the need to purify Islam without challenging the political leadership's modernization policies. But they do not produce an overall categorization of Muslim belief and practices identical to the one introduced by Geertz. Annika Rabo focuses on the many 'versions' of Islam and the links between them in the Syrian town of Raqqa. A basic element of the local Muslim discourses is that they are about practices, not about faith. The indigenous tribal groups of Raqqa adhere to the basic pillars of Islam, but also stress their traditional customs and traditions (C adat wa-taqaZZd) as being important. At the same time there is differentiation according to age and gender in how practices are followed within the community. Women for instance, are not recognized as possessing the same knowledge of Islam as the men but are still key upholders of the cherished customs and traditions. The surrounding villages seem even less concerned with their faith. There were at the time of Rabo' s study no village mosques, and people would not pray or fast and few people went on the /:lajj. Certainly, townspeople noted this, and looked down upon rural people calling them shawaJiCa, i.e. 25
lacking in culture. Townspeople held stereotypes about rural fathers 'selling' their daughters (because of higher brideprice in the villages), of local shaykhs who walked on fire, etc. But it was the practices that were scorned - nobody claimed that other people did not have faith. The practices were used as ethnic markers rather than indicators of belief. In this interpretative framework, Rabo argues, the indigenous townspeople of Raqqa were in fact clinging on to their notions of being a superior town elite, while in reality they are losing out to both rural villagers and newcomers to the town, a process that is driven by Syrian government development policies. Islamic practices, argues Rabo, must therefore not be reified, but seen as symbols that carry meanings on many levels. And Islam cannot be taken as an explanation, but rather a filter through which events are being interpreted. This is further illustrated by the lack of religious fervour of Raqqa people during the Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Syria in the 1980s. The uprising was one in which Islamic fundamentalism stood against the secular regime of President Asad, but rather than supporting the 'Islamic cause', Raqqa people remained calm, showing that local Muslims do not always act with political fervour against secularism, and also that people that appear as 'apolitical' can still consider themselves highly religious. Sharif Rarir's essay deals with his own people's relationship to Islam. The Zaghawa of the extreme north-western Sudan have been Muslims for centuries, but they have many local customs and traditions which researchers, like the French Tubianas, have labelled pre-Islamic. Rarir is critical of such attempts to classify Islamic belief and practice and maintains that people always make selections from the many possible positions within Islam, being constrained by factors like language (the Zaghawa are non-Arabic speakers with a high illiteracy rate) and local traditions (the Zaghawa are pastoralists with specific relationships to their home territory). Rarir goes on to show how these general points relate to the various Zaghawa discourses about a sacred mountain and how the local beliefs in the mountain and its powers have been preserved among some Zaghawa whereas it has been attacked by others as representing paganism. The different positions are represented by Zaghawa groups influenced by Muslim missionaries (jakfs) from their Fur neighbours, 26
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by the introduction of national institutions like government, schools, medical centres and mosques and by their involvement in trade and labour migration. Historical realities of this type have produced groups that argue for a more textual Islam, that provide new frames of interpretation and influence the Zaghawa's perceptions of themselves and their local area. In this process the sacred mountain is losing out as a central force of Zaghawa life, symbolizing their territory, having healing powers and affecting the fertility of the land. Whereas the Zaghawa pastoralists had no difficulty combining a perceived Muslim identity (including Muslim beliefs and ritual calendar) with a belief in the sacred mountain, the emerging elite groups see this as an embarrassment which Harir clearly relates to the need of this elite to pursue strategies and present identities that are acceptable in the wider Sudanese elite. The economic and political processes described by Harir have created people with elite aspirations who have become major spokesmen for a more contextualized religion. This clearly shows that this is not only an ideological process but a change with obvious class dimensions. The future of the Zaghawa discourse on Islam thus depends upon the future of the groups that hold the different positions. The pastoralist adaptation, which seems to be basic for a perpetuation of local beliefs in the sacred mountain, is under pressure from drought as well as from socio-economic changes. It is likely therefore, that the place of the sacred mountain in Zaghawa discouse will change and that people themselves will label it a remnant of the past that is best forgotten, but not because it is a pre-Islamic remnant but because of its place in a Zaghawa cosmology no longer adhered to by Zaghawa individuals. LeifManger's essay also stresses the interplay between an indigenous, non-Arabic, non-Islamized Sudanese people, the Lafofa Nuba, and their interaction with the Arabic and Islamic traditions of the Sudanese society at large. He takes as his starting point local debates over what is a Muslim in the Lafofa context and what is not. Debates about what 'being Muslim' should mean are common in all Muslim societies, but the Lafofa case shows how such debates are framed in societies in which processes of Islamization and Arabization are contemporary processes. Manger shows that they should not be understood simply as processes of conversion from a 'pagan' Lafofa tradition but that they 27
require types of analysis that deal with issues of belief as well as broader issues of identity management. As inhabitants in an area with a history of slave capture, the Lafofa have to deal with the social stigma people from such areas have experienced. The contemporary changes observed by Manger clearly denote processes of identity management intended to deal with this stigma. This identity management is set in the context of the social organization of an indigenous Lafofa tradition of knowledge and the various types of Muslim traditions that the Lafofa have been in contact with, particularly the one of Sufism. But the dynamics discussed are affected not only by the ways in which the different traditions are internally organized but also by processes of identity management and self-presentation by individual Lafofa within larger social fields. Strategies and symbols involved vary within different historical contexts and it is through analysis of this variation that Manger shows the way in which the traditions are related to politics and to social power. The Lafofa tradition and the Muslim one of Sufism do not coexist in a vacuum or as an open competitive field, but in processes through which the Arabic and Islamic traditions assume a hegemonic position. This is further dramatized by the contemporary developments between a Muslim Brotherhood government and the Nuba, involving forced, govern-ment-backed Islamization. The afterword by William Roff, which ends the book, is different in scope from the others, but it again raises some central issues to this volume, i.e. the comparative study of Muslim societies. In the essay that I distributed to the workshop - in which many of the present contributions were presented (Manger 1992) - I set out to discuss some conceptual issues involved in the comparative study of Muslim societies. Roff's point of departure is his discovery that much literature and many of the viewpoints to which I referred in that essay originated in one particular study programme in the USA, the SSRCIACLS Joint Committee on the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies. Sixteen out of 68 references used in that essay came from such publications (Asad, Cornell, Eickelman, Ewing, Gaffney, Gellens, Hefner, Kuring, Launay, Mas'ud, Metcalf, Pastner, Piscatori, Prindle, Pugh and Roff himself). The reader will find that much of the same to applies to this introduction, and Roff's essay therefore provides useful information 28
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on a number of studies that discuss problems also raised in this volume.
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Global Migrants and Local Shrines: The Shifting Geography of Islam in Sylhet, Bangladesh Katy Gardner
Introduction Returning home to Northeast Bangladesh after an absence of ten years, Abdul Rouf is a picture of Islamic piety. Although he has lived and worked in Britain for most of his adult life, he appears untouched by Western secularity; more than anyone in his homestead, he prays regularly, and spends long hours reading the Qur~lin Shanf He also has the shaved head and white robes of a /:tiijjZ, for like many return migrants he visited Mecca on his way back from London. Abdul Rouf seems to represent a new form of Islam in Bangladesh: one that focuses upon (in Geertz's phraseology) 'core symbols' such as pilgrimage to Mecca, and Arab text, which are both ideologically and physically distant to Bangladesh. The dominance of these symbols is combined with puritanical definitions of 'correct' Islam - always presented as fixed and immutable. These changes are increasingly taking the place of belief and practice focused upon local religious sites and figures. In this chapter I shall discuss what might be termed Islamic 'orthodoxy' in Sylhet (by this, I mean the increasing influence of correct procedures), and its relationship to overseas migration. Using ethnography from a migrant village in Nobiganj, a district south of Sylhet Town, in Northeast Bangladesh, I shall argue that labour migration to the West and the Middle East has involved shifting perceptions oflocality. Increasingly, bidesh (foreign lands) are aspired to, at the expense of the desh (homelands). Embedded in this process is the hegemonic dominance of the 'core' over the 'periphery', for 37
relations between the two are expressed through ideology, as well as political and economic relations (Shils 1961). The 'centre' - both economically and religiously - is thus increasingly conceptualized as being abroad, whilst, by extension, the homelands become peripheral. At one level this argument implies the existence of a centralized and universal Islam 'out there', in opposition to local Islams. In this interpretation the 'core' of Islam is Mecca - to which Sylhet is peripheral, both physically and ideologically. As people move out of the local context through labour migration, they become aware of the peripheral nature of their religiosity, and attempt to emulate the universal version. Such an account is, however, highly problematic, for it echoes the essentialism of notions of the 'great' and 'little' tradition. And as Eickelman has argued: The main challenge for the study of Islam in local contexts is to describe and analyse how the universalistic principles of Islam have been realized in various social and historical contexts without representing Islam as a seamless essence on the one hand, or as a plastic congeries of belief and practices on the other (Eickelman 1982: 13).
In an attempt to avoid these pitfalls I shall therefore discuss Islam not as an objective entity, but as a series of discourses that seek to define (and also to control) belief and practice. I am concerned not with the objective existence of the 'core' or of a universal Islam, but instead upon how, and in what context local discourses about Islam are constructed. This approach follows that of Asad (1983), whose interest is in the historical and political processes which lead to the production, and reproduction of religious symbols, or - more simply - the role of power in constructing ideology.
Bengali Islam: pirs and shrines Bengali Islam (and more generally, that of South Asia) is often described in terms of 'syncretism' (Roy 1982; see also Saiyed 1989). The pzr (or Sufi saint), it is argued, played a key missionary role in the early days of Islam, allowing the orthodox Sunni faith to merge with indigenous culture, and ensuring its acceptance amongst the masses (Cashin 1988; Haq 1975; Roy 1982; Saiyed 1989). Pzrs are generally charismatic figures or gurus (mashid). One such figure is Shah Jalal, presented in Sylhet (where he is buried) as the pzr who originally 38
Katy Gardner: Global Migrants and Local Shrines
introduced Islam to Bengal in the fourteenth century (Haq 1975). Whilst some orthodox features are usually retained by Sufi cults, their focus tends to be upon internal pathways to God, rather than the external adab (correct procedures). Practices ranging from meditation to tantricism, the use of intoxicants, or song and dance, are often present in the cults, making them more accessible, or so it is argued, to the indigenous population. Similar Sufi cults and saints exist all over the Muslim world; like those of South Asia, these are also explained in terms of offering an alternative to centralized orthodoxy (see, for example, Gellner 1981; Saiyed 1989). The implied opposition between orthodoxy and Sufism is, however, problematic. Whilst Sufism may be a popular version of Islam, it can also be highly orthodox. Indeed, the term covers such a broad range of praxis that it is almost meaningless. In South Asia, whilst some cults reject the Qur~an and use tantric means to reach God, others embrace scripturalist doctrine (see, for example, Wilson 1983; Cashin 1988; Baldick 1989). It is equally impossible to equate Sufism with a 'little' tradition, since it is found all over the world, in cities as well as villages, and amongst the elite as well as the masses. The category of South Asian pfr also refuses to be placed in one particular camp: pfr are sometimes saints of the highest order - such as Shah Jalal, or the greatest South Asian pfr of all, Chisti of Ajmir. Other living pfr are descendants of an original holy man, having inherited the saintly mantle through their ancestry, in the same way that the caliph is passed on through the generations. In Sylhet the term may also be used for various spirits that are worshipped by local Hindus, such as Kwaz, the 'saint' of fishermen (see also Blanchet 1984; Saiyed 1989), or simply for ordinary mulla (clergy) when the speaker wishes to denote particular respect. The notion of the tablfgh tends to be less clearly defined than in other Muslim societies; although pfr have committed devotees, many people only visit a pfr if and when the need arises, and have no real allegiance to any particular figure. The range of characters who claim pfr-hood, often independently of any existing brotherhood, means that local Sufism tends to have a fragmented and individualistic flavour. Clearly, rather than generalizing, our task is to examine the production of different beliefs and discourses in each particular context. 39
In the cults of living pfr, devotees express extreme deference and subservience (Nanda and Talib 1989). The pfr is believed to possess special spiritual power, which allows him to communicate directly with God and to perform miracles. These miracles are often used to legitimate their power, as proof of their special relationship to God. As Gilsenan has noted, what is important is the telling of these miracles, and peoples' belief in them, rather than their objective reality (Gilsenan 1982: 76). Only through the pfr's guidance can God be found. Many followers of pfr cults in rural Sylhet speak of their need for an intermediary with God, since they are too lowly to approach Him directly. Other followers who are not so involved in the cult may visit the pfr at times of particular need - sickness, economic crisis, marital problems, and so on, bringing material offerings (shinni) such as sacrificial meat. The pfr will usually respond to requests for help with tapiz amulets, the giving ofJoo (blowing on the supplicant) or in some cases the utterance of montro (mantra - Sylheti for 'spell' or 'incantation'). The effectiveness of these spiritual aids is believed to hinge on how powerful the pfr is thought to be, or how 'hot'. The graves of pfr are venerated as shrines, whilst disciples or male next of kin usually inherit their pfr-dom.
Sylhet: land of the pirs In Sylhet, the cults of pfr seem to offer an essentially localized Islam. Rather than Arabic text, which is only accessible through lengthy study or pilgrimage to a faraway centre, the stress is upon 'key symbols' which can be produced in the desh (homelands). Whilst some pfr are indeed thought of as foreigners (Shah Jalal, for example is said to have been Yemeni), all settled in Bengal, and living pfr are invariably Bengali; the leaders of small cults are usually from Sylhet, sometimes coming from a nearby village or town. Songs of devotion are in Bengali rather than Arabic, and myths about pfr and their miracles revolve around local features: pfr who turn into tigers and run into the jungle, for example, or pfr who can cross the rivers of Sylhet on their turbans (Gardner 1990). Crucially, the shrines of pfr are also local. Sylhetis call their district the 'land of saints' where the remains of Shah Jalal, and the 360 disciples (also venerated as pfr) who are said to have accompanied 40
Katy Gardner: Global Migrants and Local Shrines
him, are buried. The desh is thus seen as especially holy, for it contains the relics of so many pfr. These are marked by literally hundreds of shrines, scattered over the local landscape; every year, on the anniversary of the pfr's death an urs is held at these shrine, usually involving singing into the night, drumming, and ecstatic dancing. If one's land contains the remains of a pfr, it is said, great prosperity will ensue; indeed, the fields of Sylhet are perceived as especially fertile because of their inherent religiosity. As one young man put it: Sylhet District has more power than other districts in Bangladesh. The trees and fields are more beautiful. This is because this is the country of the saints. The great saints came here. The soil has more strength, and the fields yield more paddy.
Although the larger shrines have a resident population of kadim (caretakers), most ordinary people only visit them at the urs, or in times of need. Individuals have a local geography of sacred sites, ranging from the 'hottest' shrines (such as Shah Jalal) to those of smaller pfr which are nevertheless worth a visit because they are nearby. In these local pilgrimages, devotees pray, and offer shinni. Soil and water from the shrine are believed to contain mortoba (power) and to effect cures in the sick. In times of severe need disciples may travel to Sylhet to offer shinni at the shrine of Shah Jalal, or even across the border to Ajrnir. Indeed, Indian Muslims believe that seven pilgrimages to Ajrnir are the equivalent of having done J:tajj (Saiyed 1989). Cults of pfr do not, however, transcend their local social and political contexts. As we shall see, whilst veneration of Shah Jalal is shared by all social classes, smaller local pfr tend to attract the poor, whilst richer Sylhetis are increasingly turning away from them. Instead, their allegiance is located in a new geography of Islam, where the 'centre' of spirituality is perceived to be the Middle East. By implication, the desh is peripheral, and its symbols to be rejected. In Talukpur, the village where I carried out fieldwork, only the poorer households, sharecroppers or the landless, confessed to following a local pfr. Whilst most people cited Shah Jalal as their pfr, it was only men and women from these economic groups who would admit to visiting local shrines and their urs. Indeed, such activities are seen by most landowning families as slightly distasteful, and certainly not respectable. Instead, many of the richer and upwardly mobile households 41
are increasingly involved in recreating themselves as orthodox in the extreme, sending their sons to madrasa (Islamic college) to learn the Qur"an, and their elders to Mecca to perform hajj. It is these families whose women are secluded, and who hold regular milad (events when the Qur"an is recited, followed by distribution of shinni to neighbours and kin) and korbani (sacrifice). Whilst it is unlikely that local religious practice was ever homogeneous, I suggest that it is increasingly differentiated, and this is a partial result of overseas migration from the area. Let us then tum our focus to the history of migration in Sylhet.
Migration in Sylhet Migration to the West from Bangladesh is a peculiarly Sylheti phenomenon. Although migrants to the Middle East come from all over the country (Islam et al. 1987), migration to Britain has been mainly monopolized by Sylhetis who from the nineteenth century onwards were employed by British ship companies and, as crew, travelled the world (Eade 1986; Adams 1987). Their success is partly explained by the fortuitous advancement of a number of Sylheti sarengs (foremen, who controlled employment), who understandably tended to favour their kinsmen and fellow countrymen. Although work on the ships was punishing, by village standards profits were considerable: A year's work in a ship's engine rooms might enable a man to buy land or build a new house. Anyway, many seamen did not confine themselves to the seas: they jumped ship once they had docked and sought their fortunes on dry land. Most of those who smuggled themselves ashore did so in London. A small, but steadily increasing population of Sylhetis was established in Britain by the early 1950s (Adams 1987; Peach 1990). During the 1950s, the number of migrants increased dramatically. The post-war British economy needed cheap and plentiful labour, much of which was recruited from South Asia. For Sylhetis, it was a case par excellence of chain migration; just as ship workers had helped their kin to find work, so now did British-based Sylhetis help one another to migrate. By the late 1960s however, the situation had changed. British industry had declined and immigrant labour was no longer in demand. New laws, radically curtailing entry to Britain, were introduced. Alarmed by the increasing insecurity of their situation, most migrants responded by applying for British passports and send42
Katy Gardner: Global Migrants and Local Shrines
ing for their wives and children (Ballard 1990: pp. 219-47). At the same time, many Sylhetis switched from redundancy-prone factory work to the setting-up of restaurants, capitalizing on a growing British appetite for curry. Much has changed since the early days when single men travelled to the West and returned every couple of years to their villages. Children are now born and bred as British, and the notion held by many migrants in the 1960s and 1970s that their stay in Britain was strictly temporary, and only to earn money, has increasingly faded (for further descriptions, see Carey and Shukur 1985). Meanwhile in Sylhet, a new form of labour migration had appeared. During the 1970s, labour migration to the Middle East became increasingly important to the Bangladeshi economy (Hossain 1985; Islam et al. 1987). Legally, migrants can only enter the Middle East with official work contracts, sold by brokers for considerable sums. In Sylhet, many households who did not have family members in Britain quickly took advantage of this new opportunity, obtaining contracts for their young men and hoping for similar economic rewards from the 'lands of Allah'. Other migrants enter illegally. These men face great insecurity. Working casually, often in the construction industry or as street vendors, they have no legal rights, and if caught they face immediate deportation (Owens 1985). Although some have grown rich from Middle Eastern earnings, many do not recoup the initial capital expenditure. Others are cheated by brokers who take their money but never deliver the promised contracts. In spite of their experiences, however, migration continues to be perceived by many as the main economic opportunity available, and many households send their sons abroad more than once. Just as the nature of migration has changed, so have the migrant villages (Gardner 1990, 1991). Those which experienced high levels of overseas migration are startlingly distinct. Rather than the mud and thatch huts typical of Bangladesh, they are filled with stone houses, sometimes two or even three storeys high. The migrant villages seem prosperous, filled with material evidence of their overseas success; a far cry from the impoverishment of the rest of rural Bangladesh. Similar remittance-induced 'booms' have been noted allover Asia (Ballard 1983; Kessinger 1979; Watson 1975). In Sylhet, most migrant families have indeed enjoyed a success story of sorts. Many were 43
originally small landowners, with just enough capital to pay for the initial costs of migration. Usually such costs were very low, and if necessary, kin or neighbours would give loans. The original migrants, whilst not usually the most destitute, were thus by no means the most wealthy. Some were even landless, helped in their migration by the patronage of better-off kin or neighbours. These men returned home rich, investing their earnings in land, the vital commodity upon which the well-being and position of all households in rural Bangladesh depends. Most became moderate or very large landowners (Gardner 1990). Correspondingly, those without access to foreign wages have found it increasingly difficult to compete in the struggle for local resources. During the period of most intense migration in the 1960s, when migrants struggled to buy as many fields as possible, local prices shot up. To buy fields today, foreign income is crucial. Other price rises in labour, basic commodities and agricultural technology have also contributed, making it increasingly hard for a small plot, without capital behind it, to be viable. The processes of land-loss are as common in Sylhet as elsewhere in the country (see Hartman and Boyce 1983; Jansen 1987). But in migrant areas, high prices offered to owners may have been a further incentive to sell up, and once landless, they had little chance of climbing back on to the land-owning ladder. In sum, there has been increasing polarization between the migrants and the non-migrants. In Talukpur (the migrant village where I lived), landowning is strongly correlated with migration to Britain and the Middle East. Of the 70 households, only 26 are not involved in migration; over half have family members in Britain (the rest of the emigrant family members have gone to the Middle East). Of the 25 landless households, only one has experienced migration to the West, whereas of the richest landowning categories, only one of the 27 households with over 6 acres have no migrant members. These patterns have radically changed since the 1950s. Most households with British migrants were originally small to medium landowners, and some were landless. Within a few decades, their economic positions had been transformed and their whole lifestyle changed. Men who in the 1940s and 1950s were sharecroppers emigrated to work in London during the 1960s, returning with money to buy up land and build high-status stone houses. The 44
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families who gained from migration to Britain, and later to the Middle East, could now afford to send their sons to school; they could hire labourers to work on their fields instead of soiling their hands. Within a generation many reinvented themselves as high-status landowners. The brick houses are explicit signs of this, spatial reflections of their new power, mirroring the construction of shrines as signs of the power of plr.
Desh-Bidesh: attitudes to home and away It is not, then, surprising that in Sylhet today, migration has become something of an obsession. Families who do not have migrants constantly seek ways of gaining access to the opportunities which they perceive it to offer. Many households sell their few fields to fund a trip to Saudi Arabia, and even if cheated once, will take out further loans to try again. In Talukpur several households have lost all their land through their desperate attempts to join the category of 'migrant': a common-enough fate in Sylhet. This desire for migration is far from irrational. By the 1960s, when men who had been working in Britain returned to their villages with enough money to buy land, and converted themselves from being small owner-cultivators or sharecroppers to large landowners, people began to understand that, abroad, fortunes could be made. Given these leaps in fortune, it is not surprising that today foreign countries are seen as a source of great bounty, the means to economic transformation. In the eyes of those who have never been abroad, migration is something of a miracle. Bidesh (abroad) is thus increasingly adulated in Sylhet. 'London', or rather, the UK, is spoken of in terms of fantastic opportunity, a place where there is peace, wealth, plenty. As one landless sharecropper explained to me, 'Now if I go to London I'll get big and strong .... Our poverty will be over.' Or in the words of another, 'A poor man can get rich - but only by going abroad.' In a comparative example Ruth MandIe has discussed the changing formulations of 'core and periphery' amongst Turkish migrants in Germany (Mandle 1990). She argues that whilst the centre is a physical location (Turkey), it is also an ideology, which changes over time. Migrants who have been in Germany for many years face increasing contradictions, and must reorder their ideas of core and periphery as 45
their relationship to Germany and Turkey changes. As I have argued elsewhere (Gardner 1995), perceptions of place, and the different types of power with which they are associated, can also change at the 'sending' end of the migrational chain. Indeed, international labour migration, essentially a series of exchanges between places, carries its own hegemonic discourse, in which the power and imagined glory of the receiving locality is presented to the detriment of the homelands. Villagers in Talukpur thus express at times contradictory view of their desh. Whilst indeed the 'land of the saints' , it is also presented as a place of suffering, poverty and want. The following remark, made by a young man of wealthy family, is typical: Our country is poor. Actually there is no profit to be had from staying here. The fields don't give a surplus, we eat all the rice we produce. If we go to London, we can get big wages by working. This isn't just my opinion, but everyone's.
These images are not, of course, simply the result of labour migration from the area, for they also reflect conditions internal to Bangladesh, a country beset by problems by any standard. Persistent poverty, political instability, natural disasters and a fast burgeoning population, must all contribute to negative perceptions of the desh. I suggest, however, that they are also a partial reflection of the increasing importance of bidesh to the area, and the economic value of remittances. Because economic differentiation is today closely related to migration, and without foreign remittances it is virtually impossible to get the capital necessary to buy land, it is hardly surprising that bidesh should be seen as the centre of all opportunity and advancement, whilst the desh is associated with those who have not migrated, and who have tended to grow poorer.
From core to periphery: Changing Islamic discourses in Sylhet And so what of the 'localized Islam' of pir, and their deshi shrines? In the following, I shall argue that images of 'core' and 'periphery' do not simply revolve around the political and economic dominance of bidesh, but also have a spiritual dimension. Not only is the locale of opportunity and material enrichment increasingly placed outside the desh, but so too is the locale of spirituality. This is indicated by the following quote, from a young sharecropper: 46
Katy Gardner: Global Migrants and Local Shrines
Now, day by day the fertility (of our land) goes down. The Islamic Prophet told it to go away. After 1300 years what will happen? It can't be imagined. Foreign land has strength. Ours doesn't. Our land was also once powerful, but now it is not so fertile. When it was young it could do more work and now it is old it has lost its strength.
The imagery is quite clear: the desh (which earlier in the interview he says is the land of plr) was once fertile and powerful. Now, however, foreign land is dominant, a state of affairs supported by the Prophet (rather than the local saints). And the Prophet, of course, is represented by bidesh - Mecca, and the Arabic texts of his words. I am suggesting, then, that travel away from the desh, in the form of international labour migration, can be linked to a growing tendency to locate the spiritual centre outside the desh. As Eickelman and Piscatori have argued (1990: 1), travel inevitably involves a shifting of religious boundaries. The movement of migrants across the world thus leads to a reassessment of the sacred community, which after all, is by nature imagined, rather than being an objective entity (Anderson 1983). These changing definitions of religiosity within Sylhet are not, however, shared equally by all Sylhetis. Instead, they are promoted by a dominant elite - mostly landowning men - and mark the emergent socio-economic hierarchy. Before examining this point more closely however, it is necessary to make some more general points about the apparent growth of religious orthodoxy in Sylhet. Whilst what has been termed religious 'fundamentalism' is nothing new in the history of religion (Caplan 1987a), it is true that the direction of change in many contemporary Islamic societies is towards a 'new traditionalism', an increasing puritanism which seeks to reject the old, localized ways (see, for example, Gilsenan 1982; Ro, 1982). In Sylhet, modernity - if that is how we are to describe the increasing importance of international migration and foreign revenue in the area - has been met with increased religious fervour. Indeed, return migrants are often the most keen to assert a traditionalism (in this case in the form of religious doctrine) which, as many writers have shown, is invariably a social construct, the product of contemporary circumstances, and continual reinterpretation of the slippery past (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983). Clearly, modernity must not be confused with secularization (Caplan 1987a: 10). 47
I defined orthodoxy earlier as stress on adab - correct religious procedure as laid down by the Qur'an and other sources ofIslamic law such as the lJadUh and Sharlca. It is concerned with the 'fundamentals' of the Islamic tradition, as enshrined in the holy texts. Such fundamentals are however far less static than their proponents assert (Caplan 1987a: 17,21), and orthodoxy is a highly problematic term (Baldick 1989: 7). But for all its academic pitfalls, it is of use to the understanding of religious behaviour in Sylhet, for the distinction between 'pure' or 'correct' religious behaviour, and practices deemed to be 'impure' or non-Islamic, is actively made by local people, and subject to continual debate. What has been termed Islamic 'revivalism' is not new to South Asia, but has tended to erupt periodically, especially in the face of external threats such as British colonialism (Metcalf 1982; Roy 1982). Its link to political resistance, or as a reaction to political inequality has been noted in many parts of the Muslim world (see, for example Geertz 1968; Gellner 1981). Sharpe (1983) has argued that fundamentalism is the historical outcome of colonial oppression, constituting the last stage in a process of rejection, adaptation and reaction. In this perspective, Indians dominated by the Raj eventually stopped trying to adapt to British ways, and reacted by re-establishing their 'traditional' certainties. Asim Roy has argued that Islamic revivalism in Bengal at the end of the twentieth century, a reaction against colonial domination, has heralded a rejection, once and for all, of traditional Bengali syncretism (Roy 1982). Whilst the linear historical progression implied by Sharpe is perhaps dubious, the view of fundamentalism as a reaction to pressures from a politically more powerful West is an important insight in the understanding of contemporary Islamic movements. It is especially pertinent for peoples who have a long history of contact with the West, and today are continuing that relationship through migration, such as Sylheti migrants and their families. Increased orthodoxy is clearly not simply the product of overseas migration, but it is linked. At the most practical level, this link is economic. Within migrant villages it is predominantly the richest men (who usually have experience of migration, or whose close kin have migrated), who are most interested in enforcing orthodoxy. This is key to the acquisition of status, and it is the migrant families who are most 48
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able to manipulate its definition. I suggest that this association with doctrinal purity and economic class has always existed. Whilst Sylhet is historically associated with syncretism, there has always been religious heterogeneity amongst local Muslims. Roy, for example, talks of the presence of a small Ashraf elite, descendants of the original Muslim invaders, since the first days of Islam (Roy 1982). A minority of wealthy and educated people probably always leaned to the higherstatus SunnI textual tradition. For the vast majority however, it was out of reach: they could not read Arabic, or afford many of the orthodox activities which I describe below. Migration has meant that in some parts of Sylhet, whole villages or many households within them, have become relatively prosperous. Suddenly then, orthodox activities which have always been revered have become accessible. As we have already seen, families can now pay for sons to learn Arabic, can perform /:tajj, and so on. It is therefore not surprising that they should seek to differentiate themselves from their poorer, illiterate neighbours and their religious activities. At the same time, far wider processes have affected the way that Islam is viewed locally. Missionary movements such as Tabli:gh JamaCat (a Sufi brotherhood aiming at establishing greater Islamic purity throughout Bangladesh) and political parties such as JamaCat-i (Tabllgh?) Islam (whose prime aim is to turn Bangladesh into an Islamic state), have grown hugely over recent decades; the growth of mass communications which can reach remote villages such as Talukpur has aided the spread of doctrinalism, and nationally, the ideal of the community of Islam has in many ways taken the place of secular Bengali nationalism (Eade 1990). The above processes are, no doubt, of great importance to increasing orthodoxy in the wider Bangladesh context. I suggest, however, that in Sylhet, which has a national reputation for religious orthodoxy and 'conservatism', overseas migration has also been of considerable importance. This is not simply because it has increased local incomes, but also because it has involved changes in perceptions of core and periphery. Migrants to Britain and the Middle East moved from an Islam based around localized cults and moulded to the culture and geography of the homelands, to foreign countries and cultures which together created an international version of Islam. In this, emphasis is strictly upon the international rather than the local centre of religious 49
activity. This international Islam is one of universals: the holy texts are the only common language and Mecca is the only 'core' (Metcalf 1982: 12). This, of course, is not confined only to migrant communities, but involves a global spread of ideas, and perceived homogeneity (Gilsenan 1982: 18). In this perspective, the localized shrines of Sylheti p"ir can only be peripheral. In their new locations, Bengali Muslims had now, with other Muslim groups, to construct new communities, based around the ideals of an international brotherhood of Islam and a central body of text. Travel, and moving into a foreign culture, may also prompt a heightened sense of 'being a Muslim' (Eickelman and Piscatori 1990: 16). The increasing importance of this identity, and its expression through 'fundamentalism', or revivalist movements is a common reaction both to imperialism (Metcalf 1982) and to being a beleaguered minority. As Caplan notes (1987a: 22), amongst all fundamentalist groups is a strong sense of 'otherness'. Thus, whilst not all migrants are by any means 'fundamentalists', many have been forced to define themselves first and foremost as 'Muslim, and in their religious institutions - their mosques, madrasas and festivals, increasingly join with Muslims to create a universalist Islam' (Eade 1990).
Islamic discourses and social ditTerentiation Increasing 'orthodoxy', a new orientation to a non-local spiritual centre, has thus been moulded by forces operating at an international and national level. Political and economic power have clearly been central to this process. If, however, we are truly to understand the relationship between religious discourse and power, we must analyse its production and reproduction at the micro-, as well as the macrolevel. I have already indicated that the trend towards increasing orthodoxy is not spread evenly over different social and economic groups within Sylhet. Let us now, then, return to the village context and examine how Islamic discourses relate to local political and economic structures. Islam in Talukpur cannot be explained simply in terms of a straightforward dichotomy between the orthodox and the non-orthodox. Amongst the majority Muslim population, there is much common ground. All Muslims believe in certain basics (the Five Pillars of faith, the Day of Judgement, heaven and hell, and so on), and all attempt to 50
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follow basic Islamic laws - the prohibition of alcohol and pork, daily prayer, fasting, the seclusion of women, and for men, attendance at the small village mosque. All Muslims would agree that Mecca is the centre of Islam, which they pray towards, and all accept the Qur"ful, and other Arabic holy texts, as the most sacred. Religious behaviour is thus on a continuum, with the most orthodox - and localized, at the other. This continuum tends to reflect economic levels within the community. Those who are at the most orthodox end of the continuum are essentially purists, who reject religious practices not derived directly from what they define as the Tradition. As the priest of the private mosque of one of the richest households put it: Is not all milk white? Yet one drop of urine from a cow will ruin the whole bucket. Is it not so that one tiny prick will burst a balloon, one hole will sink a boat? In this way, one mistake will spoil someone's religiosity.
As I shall show, it is the localized practices - often surrounding rural pir and their shrines - which are increasingly deemed impure, whereas practices that define Islam as centralized and essentially foreign are defined as correct, and pure. In general, orthodoxy in Talukpur is represented by the mosque and the village madrasa - the small Islamic college where students learn Islamic history and Qur"anic verse by heart. This madrasa and its students are part of the orthodox Sufi brotherhood of Tabligh Jamacat. Every year they organize a whahaz - an event for all local men, where mulliis of great learning, often from Dhaka, and sometimes even from abroad, come to the village to preach and pray. The event lasts for 24 hours - the prayers and words of the mullii are broadcast across the fields all night. Men who attended told me that the sermons stressed the need for increased purity and rejection of 'incorrect' practices. The visitors had also urged them to keep their women, who were of course not allowed to attend the whahaz, in stricter purdah (seclusion). The seclusion of women is obviously far easier for more wealthy families to maintain; they can afford the verandahs, burqas [capes worn by women to hide their bodies and faces in public], and private forms of transport necessary for purdah. Most importantly, women from such families do not have to sell their labour or work outside the 51
household. Other external indicators of piety are also more available to the richer families. All of these are seen as increasing the virtue which an individual accumulates over his or her lifetime and is reviewed on the Day of Judgement. The most important of these is /:lajj, which some of the richest men have performed several times. Migrant labourers to the Middle East usually perform pilgrimage to Mecca as a matter of course. On a smaller scale, donations to the mosque or madrasa, and the giving of generous sacrifice (korbani) at religious festivals are important ways of gaining merit. Orthodox households may also hold mfliids - functions in which local mulliis and madrasa students visit for prayers and donations of shinni. These are held to mark the death anniversary of an ancestor, or on various dates in the (universalist) Islamic calendar, and can generate religious merit for the whole household. Not surprisingly, it is only more prosperous households that can afford to hold them. Religious virtue can also be gained through knowledge of Islamic texts and of Arabic. For households who can afford it, this can be taught to children by a resident mullii. Those who have read the whole of the Qur~an are also accorded special religious status. People who can write Arabic are seen as possessing great power. The proclamations which they make on Islam are not questioned by those less knowledgeable. /fiijjfs too, are treated with extreme deference, and their injunctions strictly followed. It is thus possible to invest financially in a religious merit, which ensures not only a smooth transition to heaven, but also much worldly power. But in many ways orthodoxy is defined not so much by what it represents, but more by what it opposes. The most orthodox of the village seek to banish a host of beliefs and customs, which, as they are marginalized, are increasingly associated with the 'ignorance' of women and poor men. Many of these are associated with the localized Islam of traditional Bengali syncretism. Examples of activities which the orthodox in Talukpur dismiss as 'ignorant' or 'incorrect', are devotion to Kwaz, the pfr (or Hindu god) of water, or to Loki, a spirit of the house (almost certainly the Hindu goddess of wealth, Laksmi). The poorest Muslim women pray and offer shinni to both these spirits, but women from richer households deny belief in them. Other 52
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activities said to lead to punishment in this life or the afterlife include singing, the use of drums, and dancing; all accepted activities at many urs. In the company of the most pious - those who have performed /:lajj, for example - such activities can barely be mentioned. All the songs which I recorded, many of which were devotional Sufi songs, were sung in secret by women or landless labourers, far from the ears of the orthodox household head. It is this secrecy which most clearly indicates the degree of division in Talukpur. Whilst economic and social power does not automatically determine an individual's beliefs, the orthodox do tend to be the most powerful men in the village. It is these men who are most keen to impose their new piety on women and labourers, who are increasingly ashamed of their activities. 'We'll tell you when Abba goes to the bazaar!' the women of my household would declare, and it was only as his figure disappeared down the path that the stories of spirits and the songs would start. Likewise, when landless women showed me their traditional Bengali dances, the doors of their hut had first to be bolted. Reflecting the same division, certain information is seen as directly oppositional to religiosity. Discussions about magic, the healing of medicine-men, and spirits, invariably had to stop when Abba was saying his prayers, even though he was in another room. Many of the activities condemned by the orthodox are central to the pfr cults of the poor. Since urs involve singing, dancing and drumming, they are depicted by the religiously respectable as shocking in the extreme. At the urs of Shah Jalal- the saint whom all Muslim Sylhetis revere, one orthodox return migrant is said to have attacked a group of excited worshippers for their dancing and drumming. The assertion that Allah can only be approached through an intermediary is extremely questionable to the orthodox, who argue that God can always be approached directly, so long as one is pak (pure). The devotion paid to a pfr may get dangerously close to worship of him. The orthodox state, for example, that shinni can only be an offering to God, anything else would be blasphemous. Illiterate devotees of living pfr are not, however, quite so sure. Various methods to gain closeness to Allah are also extremely dubious. Ecstatic trance, possibly reached through ganja, meditation and tantric practices, are roundly condemned by the orthodox. As one madrasa student put it: 53
Bad pfr are those which play music for prayer. For us this is bad; we call them pretender pfr. There's one like that I know of, who smokes ganja, drinks, and plays drums and sings as he prays. There are two types of pfr, you see. One is good, and the other is marifo (tantric).
Conclusion Lionel Caplan has suggested that to understand religious behaviour we must focus upon power relations between groups (Caplan 1987b). The hierarchy of religious discourses in Talukpur must indeed be interpreted politically. I suggest that whilst some degree of religious heterogeneity may have always existed amongst Muslims in Talukpur, as economic polarization has increased, so has religious differentiation. Rather than a united shift from the pluralism of traditional Bengal to the monotheism of modernity (Roy 1982), there is instead continual conflict and confusion within the village over religious activities, in which the alternate views are very much related to relative degrees of secular power. More generally, the shift towards a discourse which presents the 'true' Islam as a centralized and universal body of fixed practice and belief, located outside the desh, is closely tied to processes that operate on both national and international levels. I have argued that it is intimately related to overseas migration, and the formation of Muslim identity within the 'receiving' societies. This transcends local or ethnic differences, which compared to the difference with mainstream, white, non-Muslim society, pale into insignificance. In the Sylheti context, horizons are broadening; migration, plus improved global communications, are making people increasingly aware of their global position. This has meant growing awareness of the economic marginality of Bangladesh, and too, of the wider Islamic context. An imagined place, bidesh, is thus hankered after, as the land of advancement and material plenty, while the desh is denigrated for its poverty. And correspondingly, on a spiritual level, the desh and its sacred geography is increasingly rejected by those who control the production of discourse, and instead an Islam of Mecca and Arabic becomes the centre of aspirations.
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Sharpe, E., 1983. Understand Religion. London: Duckworth Press. Shi1s, E., 1961. 'The Intellectual between Tradition and Modernity: the Indian Situation', Comparative Studies in Society and History, Supplement 1. Troll, E., 1989. Muslim Shrines in India: Their Character, History, and Significance. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Watson, J., 1975. Emigration and the Chinese Lineage: the Manns in Hong Kong and London. Berkeley: University of California Press. Wilson, S. (ed.), 1983. Saints and Their Cults. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
The Theological Construction of Conflict: Gilgit, Northern Pakistan
The incident In 1988, Sunni and Shica inhabitants of the small Himalayan town Gilgit quarrelled over the start of Rama