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The Development of Modern Khōjā Communitarian Identities in the Western Indian Ocean Littoral

Panel Chair: Iqbal Akhtar | Thursday, August 27, 1:30-3 p.m. | Venue

From the late 18th century, the Khōjā of Sindh and Gujarat created robust trading networks across the Western Indian Ocean from Burma to East and South Africa. Since then, this merchant Hindu-Muslim jāti (‘caste’) has both become exclusively Muslim and developed a stronger inclusive religious identity transitioning to a jamātī (‘community’) in the 19th century and into an emergent ummatī (‘global Muslim nation’) in the 21st century. How has this transition to a normative Islam patterned up on Near Eastern forms obscured the Indic heritage and origins of the community? What does it reveal about the modern identitarian politics regarding the (ir)reconcilability of the pre-Islamic, Indic history and Hindu antecedents of the Khoja community and their Islamic present? How does the international network of the Khōjā jamāt and its overtly religious character overlay, interact, and challenge the nation-state ideology of secular nationalism and civil religion?

Michel Boivin

Jāti, jamā`at, qawmiyyat: The Issue of Belonging among the Khojas of Pakistan

In the middle of the 19th century, the Khojas were shaped in a cluster of castes (jāti) worshipping different spiritual masters, among whom was the Shī`ī Ismā`īlī imām, the āghā khān. My paper aims to understand how they, as a community, were able to negotiate three main challenges. The first challenge occurred when the āghā khān Ḥasan `Alī Shāh went to settle in India. The second challenge is related to the Muslim nationalist movement which led to the creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The third challenge came from the increasing process of Islamization in this country. By the way, I shall uncover a somewhat paradoxical but dialogical interaction involving both the flexibility and the irreducibility of the community.

Soumen Mukherjee

Between Ecumenical Endeavours and Denominational Normativities: The Case of the Ismailis in Late Colonial South Asia

This paper is an attempt to understand the argument of ‘ecumenism’ that has substantially informed, albeit in different degrees, both political activist and scholarly treatment of Muslim identity and subjectivities in South Asia. Taking the example of the Nizari Ismailis (represented in South Asia and East Africa, where the community had a diasporic presence, by the Aga Khani Khojas) it shows that the historical relevance of the discourse of ‘ecumenism’ becomes intelligible against the backdrop of contesting religious nationalist identitarian politics in a late colonial context. In the sphere of religious sensibilities, beliefs and practices, however, this political ‘ecumenism’ was carefully balanced with a remarkable degree of exclusivism and denominational normativities. The early history of this development, mediated by the messianic leadership of the Aga Khans, is traceable to late colonial South Asia and East Africa. This paper enquires into some aspects of this historical process.

Anshuman Pandey

The Paradox of Orthographic Identity among the Khojas

The transitioning of the Khoja jāti into an Ismaili jamātī necessitated the reformation of Khoja cultural facets deemed as extra-Islamic and intra-Indic. One such transformation was the realignment of the foundational ginān literature away from Satpanthi ideologies towards normative Ismaili doctrines based upon the farmān-s of the Aga Khans. A forgotten consequence of this liturgical and linguistic reorientation is the erasure of Khojki as a communitarian script. Arising from Indic mercantile and scribal traditions, Khojki served as the vehicle for transmitting the ginān-s across five centuries. Khojki remained integral to Khoja culture through the 20th century, but today it is obsolete. In this paper I evaluate a paradox regarding the modern conditions of Khojki: The demise of Khojki as the vernacular and ecclesiastical script of Khojas may facilitate the incorporation of the community into the Muslim ummātī, but by surrendering the distinctive historical orthographic and liturgical identity of their jāti.


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