Panel: Grounded Voices: the ʿulama and their Discourses in South Asia


Room: Kath Theol II, Hochparterre, Johannisstraße 8-10
Day Time    
Thu 09:30-10:00 Philippon The Barelwi renewal in Pakistan in the face of sectarian tensions. The example of Minhajul-Quran
Thu 09:30-10:00 Hartung Fundamentalists par excellence ? On Taliban Legal Interpretation - Cancelled
Thu 10:00-10:30 Zamir Rethinking, Reconfiguring and Popularizing Islamic Tradition: Religious Career of a Contemporary South Asian Shīʿī Mujtahid
Thu 10:30-11:00 Break
Thu 11:00-11:30 Stille Rhetorical Authorities – Bangladeshi ʿulamā and Arabic Rhetoric
Thu 11:30-12:00 Holz The ʿulamā of the Formative Phase of Pakistan
Thu 12:00-12:30 Fuchs Khomeini’s Perplexed Pakistani Men: Localizing the Iranian Revolution

Panel leader:

Sarah Holz, Simon Wolfgang Fuchs

Panel description:

Scholarly contributions on Islam in South Asia have so far primarily focused on Islamist groups, communal conflicts and local experiences of Sufism. In this panel, we build on the more recent interest in the classically-trained ʿulama whose discourses are grounded in the Islamic religious tradition. Without limiting the discussion to one particular school of law or sect, the papers explore the jurists’ claims to religious authority, trace their complicated relationship with the state, problematize the concept of reform and and demonstrate intellectual linkages to the Middle East.



Abstracts of the individual presentations:

Philippon, Alex: The Barelwi renewal in Pakistan in the face of sectarian tensions. The example of Minhajul-Quran

In Pakistan, the religious movement which has the most loudly claimed its affiliation with the Sufi identity is the Barelwi movement which is the representative of the majority of the population performing the cult of Sufi saints and venerating the Prophet. Often overlooked by scholars, this theological school was founded in the 19th century by the scholar and Sufi Ahmed
Reza Khan Barelwi (1856-1921), and is often presented as a form of traditionalist reaction to more reformist movements (mainly Deobandi and ahl-e ḥadīth) critical of some contentious aspects of Sufism. The rhetorical and doctrinal conflicts between contending sectarian groups such as Barelwis, Deobandis and ahl-e ḥadīth are indeed not new. But their scope has gradually broadened, gotten more violent and given way to mobilizations on the basis of religious identities which have endorsed a political function. The different groups of the Barelwi movement stigmatize other Sunni sects as being deviant religious “minorities” who are responsible for “terrorism” and are patronized by the State. From the beginning of the 1980’s, Barelwi leaders have tried to initiate a renewal of their theological school. A notable differentiation took place within the movement.
Their degree of politicization, protestation and radicalization has been markedly variable. One of the first organizations to have successfully launched into such an undertaking has been the Minhaj-ul-Quran founded in 1981 in Lahore by the Sufi and classically trained Islamic scholar Ṭāhir al-Qādrī. Through the implementation of the Sufi repertoire, this movement of spiritual
revivalism had the aim to invent a new modernity for Islam. Invested in educational, social and spiritual activities, MUQ claims to be an NGO. In 1989, it turned political and a party was also created, called Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT). There are about half a million members in Pakistan and about 25000 abroad. Muslim Diasporas have allowed the MUQ to become international and its network spreads in several dozen countries.

Zamir, Rizwan: Rethinking, Reconfiguring and Popularizing Islamic Tradition: Religious Career of a Contemporary South Asian Shīʿī Mujtahid

What has happened to the ʿulamā and their scholarly tradition in the modern period? How have the ʿulamā responded to the challenges of modernity and re-imagined their traditional roles? To answer these questions, scholarship has to begin where it began in its examination of the “new intellectual elite” (i.e., the modernist and fundamentalist thinkers), that is by exploring the life, career and thought of individual ʿulamā within their social and historical contexts. In light of these remarks, this paper will discuss the intellectual career of Āyatullāh ʿAlī Naqvī (d.1988), arguably the most prolific, popular and influential mujtahid of the twentieth century South Asian Shiʿite Islam. Through the lens of the multifaceted career of Āyatullāh ʿAlī Naqvī that spread over six decades of writing, preaching, and teaching and social activism, it highlights the significant issues and themes within the discourse of the ʿulamā in the modern period, especially within its Shi’ite form. These issues include redefining of religion and religious authority, reworking of Islamic political ideals in the face of modern political realities, intellectual and polemical exchanges (within Shiʿism, with other Muslim sects, with the “new Muslim intellectual elite” and other religious traditions), legal and culture reforms, adaptation of modern technology (print or media), and creative reworking of religious language and symbols. The paper will show that the life and career of Āyatullāh Naqvī provides a substantial map and spectrum of the issues within the modern ʿulamā discourse and how this discourse has and continues to evolve during the modern period.

Stille, Max: Rhetorical Authorities – Bangladeshi ʿulamā and Arabic Rhetoric

The study of rhetoric forms an integral part of Islamic education in South Asia. Its application in religious writing and, most prominently, oration, is central to religious discourse. While there are specificities of rhetorical attitudes linked to different theological schools, such as the Jamāʿat-e Tabligh’s stress on reformist ‘anti-rhetoric’ and the musical ‘Sufic’ presentations of the Ahl-e Sunnat wa-l-Jamāʿat, the theoretical basis seems similar in all cases. In a first step, the paper will discuss the different translations of the Arabic compendium “durūs al-balāgha” – written in Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century and introduced to South Asia in the 1950s – which is widely used in various strands of both state and non-state sponsored madrasas in Bangladesh. What is the framing provided by the paratextual information of the different editions, such as introductions
and addenda? How does the Arabic text restructure the classical knowledge in what is termed a “new style” (“tạ raz jadid̄ ”) and what are the foci of the commentaries in Urdu and Bangla? In a second step, the paper will discuss the relation between theory and practice. To what extend are the lessons from the study of rhetoric reflected in the speeches? Are there significant differences in the rhetorical formations of the speeches of the educated and the laymen? In a multilingual environment, are there shifts in the relationship between the languages employed (i.e. Bangla, Urdu, Farsi, English)? Is rhetoric, in both, its teaching and application, used to stabilize old or create new authority?

Holz, Sarah: The ʿulamā of the Formative Phase of Pakistan

With most centers of Muslim thought and learning beyond the border in India, those ulama who had migrated to the newly independent state of Pakistan had to re-organize and re-establish themselves, tapping into the traditions of Muslim thought in the subcontinent while adjusting to the ground realities of a nation-state. Throughout Pakistan’s history the ʿulamā appear as one of
the main pressure groups. But who were the ʿulamā, a seemingly monolithic block, who actively participated in the constitutional debates during the formative phase of Pakistan? Maulānā Muḥammad Shafīʿ Uthmānī, one of the founders of the Darul Uloom Karachi, emerged as one of Pakistan’s leading Islamic scholars. Dr. Muḥammad Ḥamīdullāh took active part in the constitution-making process but then left Pakistan in the 1950s because he did not find the new environment “favorable”. Both scholars were members of the Board of Talimat Islamia, a body established in 1949 by the state to advice policy-makers on religious issues. In this function Uthmānī and Ḥamīdullāh were ‘representatives’ of the ʿulamā faction. This paper traces the trajectory of ideas of these two scholars concerning the organization of the Muslim community and the establishment of an Islamic state from the pre-partition era to the ratification of the first constitution of Pakistan in 1956. This will also entail an inquiry into Uthmānī and Ḥamīdullāh’s relationship to and negotiations with the state. To draw conclusions their publications, the debates of the constituent assembly as well as the views of the Talimat Islamia Board will be examined.

Fuchs, Simon Wolfgang: Khomeini’s Perplexed Pakistani Men: Localizing the Iranian Revolution

Existing scholarship has labeled 1979 as a watershed for Pakistan’s Shiʿites. In the wake of Khomeini’s rise to power, the community not only adopted Iranian customs in celebrating ʿashūrā but also submitted to the religious authority of the ʿulamā in an unprecedented manner. Yet, no attempts have been made so far to map the intellectual environment of Pakistan’s leading Shiʿite scholars at the time. This paper studies how these ʿulamā related to the events next door or adopted and modified the concept of “guardianship of the jurisprudent” (vilāyat-i faqīh) to fit their country’s specific political and religious needs. To achieve this task, I revisit the 1980s as a decade of crucial religious change. Utilizing hitherto untapped Urdu sources, I suggest to contrast early popularizers of the revolutionary mission like Ṣafdar Ḥusayn Najafī, principal of the influential Shiʿite seminary Jāmiʿat al-Muntaẓar in Lahore, or Sayyid ʿĀrif Ḥusayn al-Ḥusaynī, the main Shiʿi leader of the 1980s, with contemporary clerics like Javād Naqvī who openly styles himself as an admirer of Iran’s current Supreme Leader. I also draw extensively on the journal of the most active Shiʿite student organization of the time, the Imamiyya Students Organization (ISO). By consciously adopting the role of flag bearer of the Iranian revolution, the ISO serves as a useful benchmark to evaluate the usually much more cautious attitude Shiʿite ʿulamā displayed towards the politicization of religion.