Being a Muslim and a devotee: Lineage, Practice, and the Transcendent among the followers of Muslim holy men in South Asia
Lecture by Dušan Deák (Comenius University, Bratislava)
Chair: Torsten Tschacher (FU Berlin)
The vicissitudes of Islam in South Asia have for a long time both attracted and challenged academics addressing South Asian religious realities. Among the several ways of describing the presence of Muslims and production of Islam in the Indian subcontinent, two basic interpretative perspectives can be discerned. One has its referential point in Islam‘s universal, and theologically idealized, goals strengthened by its global presence, and the other emphasizes the plethora of regional varieties of Muslim thought and practice. The latter pose a problem for the theological ideal, particularize Islam, and are often labelled as un-Islamic, or syncretic. These two perspectives also highlight the tension between religion conceived of as a social and as a theological category. Finally, they mirror the centuries long debate between the Muslims themselves. In this talk, Dr. Dušan Deák will briefly review some of the most influential academic concepts applied to interpreting Muslims and Islam in South Asia. Taking the example of a Western Indian tradition pertaining to Muslim holy men branded as ‘syncretic’, he will then suggest how to avoid being trapped in the binary of the 'global' and the 'regional', the ‘imagined’ and the ‘lived’. He will argue that the processes of constructing and construing ‘Islam’ and ‘being a Muslim’ in South Asia has to be studied through their historically and ethnographically documented productive details than approached from either of the above given and often mutually exclusive perspectives. Such details manifest themselves in the social relations layered across time in the form of lineage, in the religious ideals and observances kept as a family tradition-cum-practice, and in the shared cognition, as well as, experience of the matters divine. Analysis of these three broad constituents of religiosity in South Asia may then help to understand how and why Muslims of South Asia, form and re-form their 'being Muslim', while often arguing with the past in their very present.