Isma'ili Modern

Isma'ili Modern: Globalization and Identity in a Muslim Community

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Isma'ili Modern
    Book Description:

    The Isma'ili Muslims, a major sect of Shi'i Islam, form a community that is intriguing in its deterritorialized social organization. Informed by the richness of Isma'ili history, theories of transnationalism and globalization, and firsthand ethnographic fieldwork in the Himalayan regions of Tajikistan and Pakistan as well as in Europe, Jonah Steinberg investigates Isma'ili Muslims and the development of their remarkable and expansive twenty-first-century global structures.Led by a charismatic European-based hereditary Imam, Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, global Isma'ili organizations make available an astonishing array of services--social, economic, political, and religious--to some three to five million subjects stretching from Afghanistan to England, from Pakistan to Tanzania. Steinberg argues that this intricate and highly integrated network enables a new kind of shared identity and citizenship, one that goes well beyond the sense of community maintained by other diasporic populations. Of note in this process is the rapid assimilation in the postcolonial period of once-isolated societies into the intensively centralized Isma'ili structure. Also remarkable is the Isma'ilis' self-presentation, contrary to common characterizations of Islam in the mass media, as a Muslim society that is broadly sympathetic to capitalist systems, opposed to fundamentalism, and distinctly modern in orientation. Steinberg's unique journey into remote mountain regions highlights today's rapidly shifting meanings of citizenship, faith, and identity and reveals their global scale.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0372-8
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION Beyond Territoriality
    (pp. 1-32)

    The organizational dynamics of the Isma‘ili Muslim community raise important questions about the nature of citizenship and political identity at this moment in history. They present a basic challenge to theoretical and popular understandings of the state, of globalization, and of Islam. They point to a transformation in the relationship between territory and allegiance, a fundamental shift in the possibilities for sociopolitical organization. The Isma‘ilis are widely scattered across the planet, but their community’s institutional infrastructure is highly centralized and provides for subjects a vast array of services, symbols, and social spaces. Isma‘ili institutions penetrate deeply into participants’ lives; they...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Antecedents and Precursors The Historical Contexts of Isma‘ili Globalization
    (pp. 33-58)

    The role of leadership, succession, and schism in the history of Islam warrants careful (albeit brief) consideration here.¹ It is only through an understanding of these processes that the story of Isma‘ilism can be fully explained. At almost every historical moment, how the Isma‘ili community defined and redefined itself revolved around questions of succession and rightful authority. This was always an issue in Shi‘ism in general, since legitimate authority was the domain of theAhl al-Bayt, the “people of the house” of the Prophet Muhammad, especially through the line of his nephew and son-in-law ‘Ali. The Shi‘a opposed the Sunni...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Fluid Cartographies Isma‘ili Institutions in Global Context
    (pp. 59-86)

    No instrument has been more significant for the unification and consolidation of disparate communities under a single Isma‘ili banner than the construction of common institutions. These institutions provide the basis for a shared experience despite diverse cultural backgrounds and help develop a sense of commonality or “simultaneity” (see Anderson 1991). They also provide a set of “publicly shared symbols” (Urban 2001) around which the community can rally.

    But beyond this the institutions provide a vehicle to bring those distant communities into the fold of the imamate (and the sphere of the Khojas); to socialize them to ideologies of modernity and...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Universalizing Isma‘ilism Institutionalities of Devotion and Regimes of Standardization
    (pp. 87-106)

    Constituting its own separate sphere in the social life of the Isma‘ili transnational structure is a complex of formal institutions whose job is to provide religious advice and to prescribe and regulate proper religious practice. Among the most important of these institutions is the Isma‘ili Tariqah Religious Education Board (ITREB), or Committee (ITREC), as it is known in Tajikistan, which provides religious education and guidance to Isma‘ilis everywhere. ITREB offices and locations can also act as important community meeting centers. A related institution, also very prominent in the development of global Isma‘ilism, is the Institute for Isma‘ili Studies in London...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Into the Fold Himalayan Borderlands and Isma‘ili Modernity
    (pp. 107-142)

    My perspective to this point has been bound by Isma‘ili institutional structures; I have explored Isma‘ili life so far entirely from within their boundaries. I now shift my perspective from the institutions themselves to their messier, more complex cultural contexts: to the localities they inhabit, the moments they effect, and the subjects they engage. Getting a grasp of the institutions involves a much simpler task than discerning their meaning in lives and localities. But Isma‘ili globality must be situated in the context of personal experience and rendered meaningful through the lens of local cultures; abstracted from contestation and interpretation, from...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Living Globality Local Modes of Transnational Experience
    (pp. 143-192)

    It is in certain moments, and in the spaces they occupy, that the intersection between violence, identity, the global assemblage, and the state comes into its clearest resolution. In such fleeting settings as conferences or children’s plays, suddenly the meaning of the Isma‘ili arrival in remote borderlands comes into focus and begins to make sense. The ethnographic richness of such glimpses reveals the complex negotiations and interactions that constitute the Isma‘ili subject’s encounter with the community’s global institutions. Much of what I describe here could be characterized as mechanisms (or interactions) of assimilation and inculcation, the purposive alignment of Isma‘ili...

  11. CONCLUSION Decoding Globality Modern Isma‘ilism and the Institutional Encounter
    (pp. 193-210)

    What is the form and meaning of the mosaic that begins now to come into resolution? Certainly something remarkable is embodied in Isma‘ili globality. But the evidence is scattered and fragmentary. It might help to return once again to the question of the subject. In large part because of the labors of the Isma‘ili global institutional complex, Sher Ali and Sultan Ali were born into a world radically different from the world of their parents’ birth and with an identity radically different from that of their parents. And so on, for every generation of the past century and a half....

  12. Notes
    (pp. 211-218)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-230)
  14. Index
    (pp. 231-234)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-235)