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Muhammad Ashraf Thachara Padikkal

Muhammad Ashraf Thachara Padikkal

Channelling Piety and Progress: Migration, Organised Religion, and the South Indian Migrant Islamic Groups in the Arabian Gulf

Muhammad Ashraf has broader research interests in the areas of migration, religion, development, and Anthropology of Islam. He holds a BA in History (the University of Calicut, India), an MA in Islamic Studies (Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar) and a second MA in Religious Studies (Queen’s University at Kingston, Canada). He has also formerly studied as an exchange student at St. Antony’s College at the University of Oxford in UK.

Channelling Piety and Progress: Migration, Organised Religion, and the South Indian Migrant Islamic Groups in the Arabian Gulf

My project proposes to ethnographically study transnational religious practices of South Indian Muslim migrants in Qatar, with special attention paid to how these migrants make use of migrant organizational infrastructures in channeling discourses of piety and performance to and from their country of origin. In so doing, it also seeks to fill an important gap in the literature on migration, which has tended to overlook the central role of religious movements as infrastructures in the migration trajectories. Focusing on the labour migration from India to the Gulf, this project seeks to broadly discuss how these migrants navigate some of the socio-religious challenges occasioned by labour migration to the Gulf. The majority of the available literature concerning labour migrants, both in Qatar and the Gulf countries at large, is centrally focused on larger migration patterns (Gardner 2012), sponsorship system (Gardner 2010), state-policies (Mednicoff 2012), population dynamic and state-building processes (Khalaf, et al. 2015) and the socio-spatial effects of labour migration (Dresch 2006; Bristol-Rhys 2010). A large body of work on labour migration to Qatar in general has also tended to deal with the kafāla(sponsorship) system, labour-related problems, inadequate governmental regulations, exploitation by the recruiting agencies, patterns of migratory flow, and state’s concerns over migration (Gardner 2008, 2012; Babar 2013, 2014). Whereas the overwhelming focus on the socio-economic aspects of migrant lives has provided crucial insights on the structural challenges faced by migrants in the Gulf, these studies have offered little analysis on the socio-religious or cultural dimensions of migration. As far as migrants are concerned, both religion and culture are nonetheless key baggages, which shape and are themselves re-constituted by all other aspects of their migration experience such as the journey, the settlement-process, and the development of transnational ties (Hirschman 2004; McAlister 2002; Richman 2005). Discussing the religious dimension of migrant experiences, this project seeks to engage with the questions of migrant religion by looking at the intersections of migration, religiosity and discourses of piety in a transnational space. Of specific concern to this research is the role that religious institutions among various Muslim migrant groups, play in providing migrants with means and perspectives to account for and deal with the socio-religious and economic challenges faced in a transnational context. Despite the fact that religion functions as a basis for migrant identity and activity and causes the emergence of various migrant religious organizations and networks, which provide access to resources, social capital and various services both locally and globally (Glick Schiller et al. 2006; Levitt 2007; Schiller and Çağlar 2009), there is a dearth of scholarship, both on Kerala’s Gulf migration and Gulf’s migration research, dealing with the question of religion in the migratory context. Extensive research, mostly in other parts of the world, shows that religious networks play an infrastructural role in the organization of the everyday lives of migrants and the maintenance of diasporic ties with the homeland. These works also describe the ways in which migrant religious/Sufi organizations and networks provide shelter, home, access to jobs and regulate the redistribution of money (e.g., Martes et al. 2002; Werbner 2003; Soares 2004; Bowen 2004; Najam 2006; Dressler et al. 2007; Philippon 2017). This observation also remains true in the context of the Gulf, but little research exists on this question. 

First Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Manja Stephan-Emmrich

Second Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Marjo Buitelaar 

Select conference papers

“Organised Religion Among Keralite Migrants in Qatar.” British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) 2019, University of Leeds, UK, June 14th –16th 2019. 

“Salawāt Gatherings of Kerala Muslims in Doha; Transplanted Landscapes of Religiosity.” World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES) 2018, Seville, Spain, July 16th – 20th 2018. 

“Transplanted Spaces of Transnational Religiosity.” Tirana Spring School, organized by the Netherlands Interuniversity School for Islamic Studies (NISIS), Tirana, Albania, March 19-23, 2018. 

“From Khulāsat al-Madad al-Nabawi to Nūr al-Qulūb: The revival of Hadrami practices in contemporary Kerala.” 4th Muhammad Alagil Arabia Asia Conference on ‘Beyond Bedouin and Bania: Arabia-South Asia Relations’, Asia Research Institute, NUS, Singapore, Dec 7-8, 2017.