RELOCATING THE CENTERS OF SHĪʿĪ ISLAM:
RELIGIOUS AUTHORITY, SECTARIANISM, AND THE LIMITS OF THE TRANSNATIONAL IN COLONIAL INDIA AND PAKISTAN
Simon Wolfgang Fuchs
Princeton University PhD, September, 2015
This dissertation rethinks the common center-periphery perspective which frames the Middle East as the seat of authoritative religious reasoning vis-à-vis a marginal South Asian Islam. Drawing on 15 months of archival research and interviews conducted in Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, and the United Kingdom, I demonstrate how Shīʿī and Sunnī religious scholars (ʿulamā) in colonial India and Pakistan negotiate a complex web of closeness and distance that connects them to eminent Muslim jurists residing in the Arab lands and Iran. The project attempts to move beyond scholarly paradigms that investigate the transnational travel of ideas in terms of either resistance and rejection, on the one hand, or wholesale adoption, on the other. Rather, I show how local South Asian scholars occupy a creative and at times disruptive role as brokers, translators, and self-confident pioneers of modern and contemporary Islamic thought.
Relying on unexplored sources in Urdu, Arabic, and Persian, the dissertation examines these dynamics through the lenses of sectarianism, reform, and religious authority. It demonstrates how Indian Shīʿīs in the 1940s were haunted by the specter of Pakistan as a potentially exclusively Sunnī state. These substantial cleavages resurfaced in the wake of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Khomeini’s model of the Rule of the Jurisprudent led sectarian Deobandīs to frame Shīʿīs as detrimental to their vision of creating a model Sunnī Islamic polity which was supposed to fulfil the promise of Pakistan. In the context of internal Shīʿī debates, I pay close attention to modernist challenges to Lucknow’s Shīʿī clerical establishment in the late colonial period. Building on this conflict, I discuss how both reformist ʿulamā and their traditionalist, esoteric critics sought to appropriate the authority of leading Iranian and Iraqi Ayatollahs in order to emphasize their faithfulness to the Shīʿī mainstream. Both groups advanced their own, diverging vision of how to achieve a rapprochement with the Sunnī majority. The question of religious authority also plays a central role during the succession struggle after the death of a major “Source of Emulation” (marjaʿ al-taqlīd). I highlight the ability of Pakistani scholars to acquire religious clout during such periods of uncertainty. Similar agency is reflected in the unique ways in which Pakistan’s Shīʿīs gradually made sense of the Iranian Revolution and how they filtered its transnational implications through the prism of their local religious needs.
This study in its transnational scope speaks to historians of South Asia, the Middle East, and Islam, as well as to scholars working in the fields of Islamic thought, transnational history, Shīʿī studies, and religion more broadly.