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
Ian G Williams
Shared and disputed symbols within Twelver Shi‘ite and Ahl-i-Sunnat Traditions of Islam: an examination of theological constructions and devotional practices amongst leaders and adherents of these traditions, from nineteenth century South Asia to the contemporary UK.
Within post-1857 British India, Muslim groups were engaged in rivalry and competition with each other for adherents, and to some extent in rivalry with Christian missionaries and Hindu revivalists. In addition, Muslim traditions found themselves in a new political and religious context as a minority. Movements emerged to create fresh Muslim identities by which to address this situation. Amongst the symbols used in the Muslim intra-faith conflicts were the Prophet, ‘Ali and their family. Drawing upon a scholarly past tradition, Ahmad Raza Khan (1856-1921) led the Ahl-i-Sunnat wa jama‘at movement which, alongside the Shi‘a tradition, emphasised perspectives upon the Prophet and the grace transmitted through his genealogical line. In addition, Raza Khan held as highly significant another understanding shared with the Twelver Shi‘a: that the Prophet’s light pre-dated the creation of the material and spiritual universes and Adam. Both the Prophet and ‘Ali also pre-existed Adam, with their light being the source of origin for all other beings. This paper examines such developments and emphases within both Ahl-i-Sunnat and Shi‘a traditions in India, and their subsequent interactions and transfer of ideas into twentieth and twenty-first century diasporic Muslim communities in the UK.