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The Aga Khan Case

The Aga Khan Case: religion and identity in colonial India

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    The Aga Khan Case
    Book Description:

    An Arab-centric perspective dominates the West’s understanding of Islam. Purohit presses for a view of Islam as a heterogeneous religion that has found a variety of expressions in local contexts. The Ismaili community in colonial India illustrates how much more complex Muslim identity is, and always has been, than the media would have us believe.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06770-7
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    In the summer of 2008 I took a trip to Pirana, a village on the outskirts of Ahmedabad Gujarat, to visit the dargah of Pir Imam Shah (d. 1520). A dargah is a shrine that houses the tomb of a particular Muslim martyr or saint; pilgrims and locals visit these sites to seek blessings or to attend specific religious festivals associated with the life of the saint. Pirana exhibits the typically heterogeneous religious atmosphere characteristic of South Asian dargahs, which draw both male and female devotees from various religious persuasions and class backgrounds. Because of their cross-religious and cross-class appeal,...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Prehistories of the Isma‘ili Sect in Nineteenth-Century Bombay
    (pp. 18-34)

    Charles napier, Major General of Bombay Presidency, captured Sindh province in 1843. It was at this time that Napier wrote to Lord Ellenborough about the Aga Khan, who provided crucial military support to Napier. The Aga Khan was employed by the British colonial state in 1841, when he met Major Henry Rawlinson, the military officer who worked for the commission in Persia from 1834 to 1838 and subsequently served as political agent in Qandahar. After Rawlinson met the Aga Khan in Qandahar, Rawlinson wrote to Sir William Macnaghten, the British Envoy stationed in Kabul, with the suggestion that the Aga...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Sectarian Showdown in the Aga Khan Case of 1866
    (pp. 35-56)

    Twenty-three years after Charles Napier referred to the Aga Khan as “God” in his letter to Ellenborough, the Aga Khan’s divine status became the subject of a legal battle. The Aga Khan Case of 1866 culminated with a ruling by Justice Arnould, a judge in the Bombay High Court, in which he decided that the Aga Khan was the imam of the Isma‘ili sect. Napier’s statement that the Aga Khan was a “God” was an exaggeration, but in nineteenth-century Bombay, many Khojas considered him divine. At the same time, however, other Khojas vehemently opposed this position. The leaders of the...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Reading Satpanth against the Judicial Archive
    (pp. 57-86)

    In 1847, Justice Perry had been the first to articulate an official description of Dasavatār. Perry described the religious text of the Khojas as “a strong combination of Hindu articles of faith with tenets of Islam.”¹ In 1866, Dasavatār provided Justice Arnould with textual proof that the shared religious identity of the Khojas and the Aga Khan was “Shia Imami Ismaili.” The defense set forth the argument that Dasavatār was an Isma‘ili text that facilitated the conversion of the Khojas, and in doing so, confirmed a theological link between the Khojas and the Aga Khan. Invoking the defense’s argument in...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Comparative Formations of the Hindu Swami Narayan “Sect”
    (pp. 87-110)

    The majority of khojas recognized the Aga Khan as a charismatic leader well before the colonial court gave him the official legal status as imam of the Isma‘ili sect. By “charisma” I refer to both Weber’s understanding of charisma as an individual’s exceptional and superhuman quality and Pierre Bourdieu’s elaboration of Weber’s definition that emphasizes the “recognition” aspect of charisma. Bourdieu argues that in order for an individual to assume charismatic authority, it is necessary to first understand what aspects of his biography make him socially predisposed to take on a charismatic position and, second, what “ethical or political dispositions”...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Sect and Secularism in the Early Nationalist Period
    (pp. 111-132)

    The imamate of sultan muhammad shah, or Aga Khan III (1877–1957), marked another crucial juncture for Isma‘ili identity formation. Sultan Muhammad Shah’s authority, charismatically transferred from his grandfather, Aga Khan I, was in fact sustained through a similar set of conditions as those of his grandfather: first, through public support of and from the colonial state and second, through the redefinition of the gināns. This chapter explores these parallel circumstances, with specific focus on how Sultan Muhammad Shah consciously asserted a new Muslim identitarian agenda in both the public sphere of colonial politics and private sphere of Isma‘ili devotion....

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 133-138)

    Sultan muhammad shah’s leadership, which spanned the first half of the twentieth century, expressed itself in two distinct and seemingly incompatible forms. In the public sphere, he discussed the importance of pan-Muslim unity and secular values such as Western education and development for Indian Muslims. When he spoke exclusively to the Isma‘ilis, however, he emphasized imamate devotion, steering the Isma‘ili community in the direction of Shi‘i Islam. In the previous chapter, I described the tensions between these two modes of rulership adopted by Sultan Muhammad Shah. Here, I would like to reflect on these two positions not so much as...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 141-174)
  13. Index
    (pp. 175-183)