Islamic reform in Asia

Authored by: Irfan Ahmad

Routledge Handbook of Religions in Asia

Print publication date:  September  2014
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415635035
eBook ISBN: 9781315758534
Adobe ISBN: 9781317636465

10.4324/9781315758534.ch9

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Abstract

In 2005, anthropologist Victor de Munck published a paper about a Sri Lankan village whose identity he sought “to camouflage.” His aim was to trace the “rise of Islamic fundamentalism at the local level.” In de Munck’s analysis, local equaled Sufism, whereas Islamic fundamentalism was represented by the “transnational Islamic orthodoxy movement” of Tablighi Jamaat (hereafter TJ), founded in 1926 by Muhammad Ilyas. “Ilyas was a Muslim reformer who,” de Munck wrote, “campaigned for Muslims to abandon non-Islamic accretions.” De Munck’s argument was simple: whereas local Sufi Islam was syncretic (i.e. adaptive to the majoritarian Sinhala culture) and moderate, for it operated within the frame of a village, Islamic fundamentalism was dangerous because its point of reference was outside the village as well as Sri Lanka as a nation-state. Among others, de Munck pointed out the objections raised by some TJ activists against the recruitment in a Muslim festival of the Buddhist kattadis to cure illness. Though there were only “approximately 10–20” members of TJ in the village of 1,000 Muslims, he described TJ “as the largest Muslim reformist movement” in Sri Lanka. Throughout the article, he used fundamentalism and reform as substitutes. He wrote that the espousal by the TJ that “Muslims should be committed to a transnational realm of Islam” (dar al Islam) and that “worldly constitutions and the governments are imperfect and subject to change and corruption” (Durrany 1993: 151 cited in de Munck 2005: 409) generated “antinationalist consequences.” TJ’s activities had “antinationalist consequences.” Leaving aside the issue that the quote (which in itself stands to reason) “worldly constitutions and the governments are imperfect and subject to change and corruption,” cited from the book (The Impact of Islamic Fundamentalism) by K.S. Durrani, is but the author’s own attribution to TJ for Durrani gave no citation and that his book is substandard in the literature, de Munck argued how TJ removed Muslims from the local moorings and offered them “full citizenship in a pan-Islamic transnational identity” (2005: 402, 409–411,413). I don’t know if there is a “full citizenship” in a trans-territorial identity. However, from de Munck’s article this equation emerged: local=Sufism= heterodox=national=loyal; reform=orthodox=supranational=anti-national=treacherous.

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