Bashir Damji – The Khoja Shi‘a Ithna ‘Ashari communities of East Africa: from newcomers to flag bearers

 

 

 

 

Event Date: 9-10 September  2011
Royal Holloway, University of London

 

 

Contesting Shi‘ism: Isna ‘Ashari and Isma‘ili Shi‘ism in modern South Asia

 

Bashir Damji
The Khoja Shi‘a Ithna ‘Ashari communities of East Africa: from newcomers to flag bearers

The Khoja Shi‘a Ithna ‘Ashari community is a breakaway faction of the Khoja Shi‘a Isma‘ili community. The divergence between the two occurred at the advent of the nineteenth century in the Indian subcontinent due to, among other things, jurisprudential transgressions allegedly committed by the leaders of the Isma‘ili community. While these transgressions, real or perceived, gave rise to a new sub-sect within the subcontinent, their effects continue to shape not only the nature of relations between the Khoja Ithna ‘Ashari and Khoja Isma‘ilis, but also their relations with the wider world. While the two communities share much in common in ethnic terms, it is their ideological beliefs and practices that polarise them.  While Isma‘ili Khojas have recorded tremendous achievements in diverse fields including establishing reputable institutes of education, their contribution to the spread of religious education beyond their own community is minimal.

The Khoja Ithna ‘Ashari community, on the other hand, established centres of propagation that spread their ideological beliefs beyond the confines of community. The spread of Shi‘ism in East and Central Africa, contrary to widespread belief, is due primarily to the efforts of the Khoja Shi‘a Ithna ‘Ashari, who established dedicated centres which were/are instrumental in spreading Shi‘ism across the ideological divide in this part of Africa. The spread of Shi‘ism in East and Central Africa in general, and the present level of religious discourse within the Khoja Shi‘a Ithna ‘Ashari community in particular, is testament to the community’s grasp of its ideological beliefs and obligations, and its contributions to religious debate.

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