Islamicization in a Globalizing Context


Mary Searle-Chatterjee

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Islamicization is often understood as a cultural response to structural and cultural globalization. In this paper I focus on one particular instance of 'Islamicization' among merchant Weavers in the city of Varanasi (Banaras) in North India. I argue that despite the use of 'global' Islamic symbolism, the cultural changes in question are best viewed as an expression of social mobility in the local arena. Though not a response to globalization, this instance of Islamicization is partly a consequence of changes in world markets. The new-found prosperity of the merchants results from the growth in textile exports to the Middle East and Europe.


According to the secularization of society thesis, the growth of modernity was linked with a declining and privatised role for religion. Contrary to expectation, in many parts of the world religion not only shows no signs of declining but is of increasing importance. Examples of this are so-called 'fundamentalist' forms of Christianity and Islam, as well as politicised neo-Hinduism. Consequently it has been argued that some forms of religious revivalism such as scriptural Islam (Gellner, 1992) may be compatible with industrial capitalism and modern science, at least as much as Puritan Christianity was said to have been. A more common argument has been that religious 'fundamentalism' (if one is to use such a problematic term) is a reaction and response to the economic and cultural standardization and dislocation of globalizing modernity (Turner, 1994).

Much of the discussion has proceeded in a very abstract and generalised, dare I say, globalizing manner. In this paper I examine a single case study of Islamicization in a North Indian city, Banaras (Varanasi), and consider in what ways, if at all, it is related to processes of globalization.

The term 'Islamicization' has been used loosely to refer to a great variety of processes.  Here I shall use it only to refer to the process by which Muslims place increasing stress on Islamic observance and symbolism.  I examine the social context of the emergence of a reformist Muslim sect among a group of wealthy merchant Weavers. The emergence of this group has set in train among other Muslim groups in the city a competitive process of Islamicization which is often interpreted locally as 'fundamentalism'.  Reformers can be defined as those who express a concern to return to the fundamentals of the 'true' religion, to 'purify' it and to rid it of what are seen as harmful or non-essential accretions e.g. 'superstition'.  Some Islamic reformers go further and seek to banish scholastic legalism' (Hiro, 1988).  They dismiss the authority of the law schools, including the Hanafis.  A few go beyond this and reject the doctrine of ijtiha, (personal interpretation of the Quran and Traditions in the light of the spirit of Islam), thus allowing for no possibility of new interpretation in changing circumstances.  Some reject even the Hadith (Tradition) and recognize only the authority of the Quran.

India has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. Muslims constitute one quarter of the population of Banaras (Engineer, 1984, p.55) and the city is now the second most important centre in India of the reformist Ahl-i-Hadiths. For many years the President of the all-India Ahl-i-Hadiths was a Banaras merchant.  The Ahl-i-Hadiths reject the authority of the four law schools.  In this sense, their approach is radical.  They are referred to by other Muslims in the city as 'Wahabis'.  They are not fundamentalist if by that term is implied rejection of the doctrine of ijtihad, or a political project.  In this paper I argue that the emergence of a very visible and radical form of Islamic sectarianism has become the cultural mode for expression of elite status among a group of newly rich merchants of the 'lowly' community of Weavers.  The zealousness of their observance and their insistence on scriptural 'purity' now marks them out from less prosperous Weavers.  At the same time, their adoption of a form of Islam stressing the egalitarianism of faith, rather than the intellectual subtleties of the 'experts', serves to stake out a claim to equality with former elite groups.

A very substantial proportion of Muslims in the city (twenty per cent according to Kumar, 1988, possibly more), are Sunni Weavers, occupied  as artisans or traders.  Weavers, though in general very poor, have a fairly secure livelihood as well as homes of their own, since they are a long-established urban community.  The city, being a large Hindu pilgrimage centre, provides a constant market for the sale of luxury goods.  In the last 25 years, the rate of socio-economic change that began even before the 1950s has dramatically accelerated.  Weavers have prospered because of the growth of overseas markets for textiles in the USA and Western Europe from the 1950s onwards and then in the oil-rich countries of the Middle East.  Government of India policies to assist Weavers with loan facilities have produced beneficial effects despite the unevenness of their implementation, as have policies to encourage exports. The liberalisation policies of the mid-1980s onwards produced an export boom up until 1996 (Roy, 99). This increasing prosperity was evidenced in dramatically visible improvements to Islamic religious buildings from 1977 onwards as well as in the building of Islamic colleges.  Economic changes have been accompanied by social and cultural ones.  In order to clarify the significance of changing class and 'caste' alignments, 1 shall outline the main divisions among Banaras Muslims.  These are replicated elsewhere in India.

Muslim sub-groups in Banaras

Divisions of sect and 'caste' are expressed in patterns of marriage.  They are also evidenced in organizational development.  Most organizations of Muslims in Banaras are associated with particular sects.  Those that lack such an association, such as the Sir Syed Ahmed Khan Society, find it difficult to secure donations.

The Shias usually estimated at 10-15% of local Muslims, were the old elite, originally landowners in the rural areas.  They tend to be ashrafs ie of high rank.  They are now found mainly in government service, in the professions and in white-collar work; a few are in the business sector, in the watch and wire mesh trades.  Shias in Banaras tend to be either 'modernists' or feudal 'syncretisers'  (cf  Geertz, 1968, pp. 13,67) in their practice.  Of the Sunnis, some belong to sects that emerged among the educated classes in the turmoil of revival and reform among eighteenth and nineteenth century Indian Muslims.

The Bareilvis retain attachment to the Sufi tradition of prayer for intercession at the tombs of local saints and martyrs.  They can be viewed as syncretisers.  A great many Muslims who would not label themselves as Bareilvi could, in a loose sense, be said to adhere to this approach.

The Deobandis adopt a more puritanical approach.  They reject the personal petitioning, ritual and 'superstition', as they see it, of popular worship at tombs.  Deobandi men often joke that all woman are Bareilvis.  In the nineteenth century, many Weavers in Banaras became Deobandi.  The attachment to a reform movement intended to purify and reinvigorate Islam was associated with an anti-British approach.  Weavers in general had suffered because of policies which damaged the Indian textile industry in the interests of Lancashire.  Although Weavers in Banaras did not suffer so much as those in other towns (Kumar, 1988), they were affected by these wider cultural influences.  By becoming Deobandis, they marked themselves off from upper-class westernizing Muslims as well as from the Hinduized syncretisers.  A poem, 'Shukriai-Europe', written in 1913 by a Banaras poet, Agha Ashra, expresses well the Weaver response to the British.1

Oh, the land of Europe,
Oh pair of scissors which declare safety to cloth, that is impossible.
Oh, friend of Asia!
Oh flame which promises protection to the heap of grain.

The Ahl-i-Hadiths, the group with whom this paper is concerned, are even more puritanical, having been influenced by the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia.  They are opposed to music and many of the arts.  They recognize as sources of authority only the Quran and the Hadith, the early collection of traditions.  Paradoxically, they are like 'modernists' in one respect, in that they place stress on ijtihad.  Personal experience may count for more than the mediaeval jurists.  The Ahl-i-Hadiths emerged as a militantly anti-British sect (musulak) in nineteenth century India.  Many of their followers were executed or transported (Robinson, 1974; Metcalf, 1982, p. 279).  At first, many were supporters of the old feudal order (Alavi, 1987).  Until 1886 the British Government followed a policy of discrimination against 'Wahabis' in government jobs.  Muslims, the erstwhile rulers of the country, were seen as a greater threat than Hindus, and 'Wahabis' as the most dangerous of Muslims.  By the 1930s, the sect had become less militant and associated itself with the politics of Congress.

Until then the Ahl-i-Hadiths were not of great importance in Banaras, despite the fact that in the late nineteenth century they had 18 clergy (ulama) in the city and in 1896 had founded the Jamia Salfia organization (Metcalf, 1982).  The situation began to change between 1930-50 when a prominent cluster of rich Deobandi Weaver families in the Madanpura locality converted to the sect.  The converts included the only merchants of Weaver 'caste' in the city, notably of the family of Tajabarsh.  Their prosperity had been increasing at the same time as their fears about the effects of Independence on Muslims and Islam.  Wajid Ali Shah, descendent of the royal line of Awadh (Oudh) had, in the meantime, been leading a vigorous preaching campaign in the region, seeking conversions.  Since 1947 many more of the leading kinship cluster of Deobandi Weavers in Madanpura have become Ahl-i-Hadiths.

This process has corresponded with the expansion of the number of Muslims in the wholesale and export trades; previously this was almost entirely in the hands of certain groups of Hindus.  By now, Madanpuri Muslims are well represented among the merchants and have even breached the upper levels.  By becoming Ahl-i-Hadith, they differentiate themselves from other groups.  This has had the effect of intensifying the already existing division between the locality of Madanpura, near the centre of the city, and more prosperous than the other neighbourhoods in which many Muslims live, in the older northern wards.  Even before 1940, Madanpuri Muslims married only within the locality, other wards being seen as poorer, inferior and less meticulous in Islamic observance.  In so doing, they followed the general Indian practice of endogamy, of marrying only within the same status group, while at the same time maintaining the Muslim custom so contrary to North Indian Hindu practice, of kinship and locality endogamy.  Since 1950 Ahl-i-Hadith families in Madanpura have ceased arranging marriages with Deobandis and have become totally endogamous.  This indicates that they no longer consider Deobandis to be of equal status or worth.

In the 1950s Banarsi Ahl-i-Hadiths reactivated the Jamia Salfia organization for philanthropic and educational work.  They set up a complex of schools and, in 1966, opened a magnificent college for Arabic education with the aid of funds from the Wahabi dynasty of Saudi Arabia, a member of whom laid the foundation stone.  Until that time, 'Wahabi' students had received their education at the Deoband college in Saharanapur.  Their increasing assertiveness led to them being expelled.  The Jamia Salfia College is now the largest college for Arabic education in the city.  It has 500 students, some of whom come from as far away as Africa and the Middle East.  It has 80 staff and teaches up to BA (faizil) level.  Students sit for the exams of the Uttar Pradesh Persian and Arabic Board.  The environment is traditional with students sitting on mats at low tables.

Ahl-i-Hadiths in Banaras are now, to some degree, an encapsulated group, maritally, educationally and residentially.  They generally pray in their own mosques.  They are conspicuous when they pray elsewhere for they fold their arms on the chest and not below the navel.  They shout amin aloud.  They have sometimes been turned out of other mosques for what is considered to be excessive and demonstrative religiosity.  Both secular and religious leadership are conjoined in the same families.  Mohammad Swaleh Ansari, or 'Lord' Swaleh, as he prefers to be addressed, using the English term, of the Taja family, was one of the most powerful, and said to be a multi-millionaire.  His cousin, Abdul Wahid, was the head of the Jamia Salfia organization and President of the All-India Ahl-i-Hadith Conference.

The division between Ahl-i-Hadiths and other Sunni Muslims in Banaras expressed itself very dramatically in 1977.  The Principal of the Jamia Salfia College in Banaras challenged a leading figure from the Bareilvi College in the nearby town of Azamgarh to a debate (tark or monarzaro).  This was a vigorous response to educated Bareilvi counterclaims to retention of authentic aspects of the Islamic tradition, namely those associated with the Sufis.  The 'Wahabis' were opposed by representatives of all those who follow Hanafi law and who accept some of the Sufi hierarchy of saints, i.e. by followers of all the other groups.  Many thousands of men attended the debate in an open space near the city.  It lasted for many hours and one person died in the fights that subsequently broke out.  Each side claimed victory.

Although at one level the growing assertiveness of the Ahl-i-Hadiths in Banaras served to mark out merchants from other less prosperous Weavers, at the same time the adoption of a form of Islam stressing faith in the 'fundamentals', rather than respect for the legal experts, functions to stake out a claim to equality with former elite groups.  Saiyid Sunnis as well as Shias both traditionally regarded themselves as greatly superior to Sunni Weavers, poor artisans, who are, in fact, still classified by the Uttar Pradesh Government as of 'backward', though not scheduled' caste.  As such, they are eligible for various benefits in terms of admission to educational institutions.  Many Shias consider Weavers to be 'backward', as well as ostentatious and fanatical, in religion.  Shias are more likely than Sunnis to be either left-wing 'modernists' or, paradoxically, assimilationist supporters of  right-wing Hindu dominated parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party.  During the 1967 communal riot following the defeat of the Centrist Congress at the General Election, some local Shias came out publicly in support of the police and the Hindu majority, in opposition to Sunni Muslims (Juyal, 1970, p. 190).  Many Shias resent the weakening of their elite status (with land reform) and the way that religious and secular Muslim politics in the city is now dominated by Weavers.  The latter have succeeded in putting forward all the Muslim candidates for elections.  This has aroused so much resentment among non-Weavers that a new group of Muslims  formed to get a non-Weaver Muslim into the State Assembly, with the aid of Hindu votes if necessary.

Tension between Shias and Sunnis spilled over in the 1986 Muhurram processions which were carrying tazzias (replicas of the tombs of Hussein and Hassan) to be buried in the graveyard of the Fataman complex of tombs.  It is customary for Sunni processions to enter by the left entrance and Shia by the right of what was historically a Shia centre.  On this occasion, fights broke out several times during the day over the question of precedence of entry.  At one point the police made an armed charge to separate two conflicting groups.

Interest-group analyses often have implied that socially mobile groups embrace new symbols at the drop of a hat in order to further their current interests, that the cultural reservoir of symbols is infinitely elastic (Cohen, 1969; Parkin, 1974).  In practice, groups generally only move in directions in which they feel culturally comfortable (see also Bourdieu, 1992).  The Merchant Weavers could not have expressed their new sense of worth and superiority by adopting symbols of 'modern' or western patterns of living, for they did not have pre-existing skills or dispositions of that kind.  Their work involves them in close association with artisan weavers.  They possess remarkable artistic skills and are proficient in the organization of trading, but they lack the skills of the professions or bureaucracy which function mainly in English and Hindi.  Status and value is asserted therefore by increasing the rigour of Islamic observance and by stressing the importance of simple faith in the 'fundamentals'.  Ahl-i-Hadiths do not attempt to imitate the old Shia elite, which is more versed in feudal and courtly styles and, now, also in modem, secular ones, but to create a new and different elite.  Like many 'low' groups wanting to rise, they stress religious values where these can be seen to imply that inherited birth rank is less important than virtue.  The cultural changes adopted are those that are feasible and not ruled out either by the requirements of their livelihood (see also Searle-Chatterjee, 1981), nor by the cultural dispositions they have inherited.  By increasing their religious observance, Ahl-i-Hadiths set in train a competitive process among other Sunni Muslims in the city.  There is now growing stress on worship at mosques on Fridays, particularly among the younger men.  In asserting their separateness from other Muslims, Ahl-i-Hadith Weavers inevitably become more conspicuous to the Hindu population of the city who, often unable to distinguish one Muslim section from another, interpret the processes as being general.  In fact, they have to some extent become so by a chain effect.

Ahl-i-Hadiths and Hindus

Weaving has expanded to such a degree in Banaras that the labour force has grown to include 'low' caste Hindus in the city and neighbouring villages.  Weaver-merchants have found themselves in competition with several categories of Hindu for most of the merchants and middle-men in the weaving industry are Hindu, particularly those at the top level.  Hindu merchants feared that as their monopoly at the middle level had been breached, they would progressively lose out to Muslim Weavers who are better informed about the craft and therefore less in need of middle-men (Khan and Mittal, 1984).  They also feared that the Weaver-merchants were in a better position to secure the new lucrative contracts opening up in the Middle-Eastern markets for furnishings and fabrics.  Muslim merchants are more involved in the sale of saris outside the city than are Hindu ones.

Competition also arises over housing.  In the last few decades, some extremely large mansions, owned by absentee Hindu Bengalis, have come onto the market in Madanpura.  Yadavs of the locally powerful and prosperous Milkman caste, who are found in considerable numbers in the same vicinity, have made unsuccessful attempts to buy such properties.  They have been regularly out-priced by Muslim Weaver-merchants.  In one particular case at the end of the 1970s, a house was sold for well over 3 lakhs of rupees, an enormous sum by local standards.  This was followed by a claim, put out by disappointed Yadavs, that the Muslim purchasers were not treating with due respect a Hindu Kali shrine that was situated within the building.  It has been argued that such competition between specific sub-groups of Hindus and Muslims lay at the root of the 1977 communal riots (Khan and Mittal, 1984).  Some merchants of Hindu sub-castes are said to have encouraged rioting youths to burn down the premises of some of the major Weaver-merchants in Madanpura.  With subsequent rebuilding and renovation, small turret-like edifices appeared on top of some of the higher buildings.  Many Hindus believe that these are designed for defensive and aggressive purposes.

Weaver-merchants, along with Weavers in general, are conscious of their political interests in the larger society.  Government policies on loan facilities and export discounts are matters of great concern.  Congregational worship in mosques facilitates communication and solidarity (Parkin, 1974).  Weavers seek a larger constituency of support so that they can influence the electoral process.  Stigmatized groups such as nominally Muslim Sweeper sub-castes are experiencing pressures from above to Islamicize.  Like Scheduled (ex-'Untouchable' ) castes in general, they show only weak attachment to any particular religion.  As a result of such pressure, Muslim Sweepers (Sheikh~Mehters and Sekeras) are now less likely to use 'Hindu' or religiously unspecific names for their children than they were 15-40 years ago.  Islamicization of names proceeds apace.  Names of Urdu and Arabic origin are, they have been told, more appropriate.  'In our ignorance, we had used such names as Narendra, Rampal, Puttu, Ghasite, Barosi, Chotu, Indrani, Sakuntala etc.  Educated people have told us not to use such names.'

The process of increasing emphasis on ethnic markers such as names is also seen among non-Muslim Sweepers.  Their children are much less likely than their grandparents, or even parents, to be named Gazi or lqbal.  In neither case are such cultural changes associated with increasing attendance at places of worship.  The situation remains as before.  Few 'Hindu' or 'Muslim' Sweepers visit either temples or mosques.  If they worship outside the home it is likely to be an occasional visit to a Muslim tomb, a practice disapproved of by many of the more educated and higher status Muslims, as well as by high status Hindus.

There has been considerable expansion in the more publicly visible processional aspects of Banaras Islam.  However, ethnically assertive Hindu processions, such as Durgapuja, have also increased.  Nita Kumar argues that the process of expansion and assertion between 1930 and 1980 began among Hindu groups (Kumar, 1984, p. 308).2  In 1986, twenty three new Puja clubs came into existence.  Their number has been swelling every year.  This cannot be attributed to population growth alone, as other festivals such as the Ramlila are declining.  At the cultural level there always was, and still is, an enormous amount of custom shared by Banaras Hindus and Muslims (as described so vividly by Kumar, 1984).  Muslims worshipping at tombs or by the river Ganges may use incense, flowers, sweets and even Hindu priests.  In recent years, however, Muslims have progressively withdrawn from participation in Hindu festivals and processions.  Prior to 1986, there was always a Muslim on the Ramlila Committee at the contested site of the Lat Bhairo temple.  Such joint participation is now becoming less common.  Muslim collectors sometimes refuse donations from Hindus on the grounds that it is money 'for the mosque'.  Hindus have been similarly withdrawing from participation in Muslim festivals, for example Muhurram.  Only a few Hindu families in Banaras still carry models of tombs at this time.  In the early 1970s it was common to see Yadav Milkmen dancing and performing martial arts in the Muhurram processions. They no longer do this. The mutual disengagement from shared ritual activity is paralleled by increasing residential segregation. Hindus are moving out of Madanpura. Muslims are willing to pay higher prices for houses in that locality.

The increasing prosperity of Weavers coupled with their assertion in the cultural domain has led to a more generalised Hindu resentment. This has, in turn, produced Hindu symbolic assertion and hostility that has led back to a further emphasising of Muslim boundaries. It is Hindu textile merchants and Yadav Milkmen who respond to both types of change among Muslims with the greatest hostility. Rivalries between what are actually caste-like interest groups, with varying attachment to different religious traditions, become seen as religious conflicts because of the use of religious symbolism in concurrent intra-religious group struggles for status and respect. In the 1960s and 70s Hindu politics began, again, to re-emerge into the limelight in the city. By the 1990s,  it was strongly established. Banaras is a centre of politicised neo-Hinduism. The Bharatiya Janata Party is dominant in the Hindu University and is very powerful in the city. Banaras is also one of the  main centres of the RSS, the paramilitary group whose members have been linked with the start of communal riots in various cities (Engineer, 1984, Basu, 1993). Its main source of inspiration, Savarkar, was an admirer of Hitler's handling of  'minority issues'. RSS (renamed HSS in Britain) members practise drills on open spaces in the early morning; these have become increasingly popular. RSS members control some schools. The party operates the strategy of  'fraction-working'. A couple of members join an existing organisation and attempt to mould it. RSS groups organise celebrations for victories in cricket matches against Pakistan; they choose routes passing through the main Muslim localities. 

Beyond Banaras

Muslim self-assertion is increasing in many other cities of India. This is partly linked to the ending of Congress dominance in the 1980s. The consequent increased political instability has intensified the competition between parties and increased the importance of potential blocs of voters linked by religion. Muslims generally only form a solid bloc in so far as they fear 'Hindu' aggression or discrimination. Without such a sense of threat there is little to unite them except for the widespread Sunni Weaver interest in Government policy towards the textile industry. The wider political context is crucial for understanding the larger situation of Muslims in relation to Hindus.

Popular thinking in India (as in the West), often explains the increase of Islamicization in terms of influences from the Middle East.  Banaras Muslims have a variety of contacts with the Arab world. A few merchants trade directly with Arab buyers. Individual Weavers are often aware that they are making a particular piece of cloth for the Middle East. In addition, many non-Weaver Muslims, especially Saiyids of the clergy caste, have gone as migrant labourers to the Gulf states and Malaysia. State Bank of India holdings from remittances from the Middle East for the eight local districts are very considerable indeed. In the 1980s they amounted to about 20-40,000 rupees per migrant per year (State Bank of India Administrative Officer for advances at the Regional Office).  Other banks had similar holdings.  This can be set in context by considering that the monthly salary of a University lecturer at this time would have been below Rs. 2000.  Returned migrants whom 1 interviewed, however, rarely expressed admiration for Arab styles of life or any belief that these should be emulated.  Often they expressed resentment of what they considered to be Arab prejudice towards them.

Contacts with the Middle East have also occurred through the increasing opportunities for pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and Iraq due to both migration and increased prosperity in Banaras.  Hajis (returned pilgrims) often speak of the overwhelming experience in Mecca of feeling oneself part of such a vast body of believers.  They refer to the intense emotion of the occasion, the austerity and egalitarian simplicity of clothing and atmosphere.  Within Banaras, Arabs are practically never seen.  Merchants supplying the Arab world operate through Bombay buyers.  However, there has been a steadily increasing number of students from Iran at the University They sometimes purchase beautiful tazzias and organize Shia functions celebrating the advent of the Khomeini and related occasions.  Local Shias often consider them to be arrogant and doctrinaire in their insistence that all women, including those of educated and high status groups, cover their heads at meetings.  The two local Urdu papers carry articles on the Middle East.  However, there are no strong grounds for arguing that the growing conspicuousness of 'Wahabis', and of Islamic observance in general, is, in Banaras,  due to developments in the Middle East.  The local socio-economic context provides sufficient explanation for the cultural changes that are occurring.

Banaras is a city holy to Hindus yet it is also a major centre of one of the most austere forms of Islam.  It might be thought that these two facts are integrally connected, that the Ahl-i-Hadith presence has occurred as a result of identity problems faced by Muslims in such an environment.  It would not be surprising if a major centre of Hindu practice and symbolic elaboration should produce pronounced forms of other systems.  The Raedasis, an all-India anti-caste sect of Dalits (ex-'untouchables'), have their most important temple in Banaras.  They are now building a temple which will be the largest one in the city.  The rise in Banaras of the Ahl-i-Hadith form of Islam is not, however, 1 would argue, a defiant reaction against the dominating presence of Hinduism, any more than it is due to the diffusion of ideas from the Middle East.  Instead, it is the product of conflicts and competition among local Muslims. It attempts to  displace an older elite, not by a process of cultural emulation, but by the challenge of a rival type of cultural practice.  The expansion of a sect that rejects the law schools is not a sign of a growing 'traditionalism', for such an approach is unorthodox and untraditional in this context.  Nor should 'Islamicization,' in the sense of placing increasing stress on a narrowly defined Islam, be seen in this case as necessarily opposed to 'westernization', for both may be stages in a single process of social mobility.  'Lord' Swaleh, one of the most important Ahl-i-Hadiths in the city, sent his children to an English medium boarding school in the hills, an indication of a move to 'westernization' in the upper reaches of the group.  He  breached the rule of local endogamy by arranging marriages with an extremely wealthy family of 'Wahabi' carpet manufacturers in Bhadoi, a nearby town.  The first of these weddings produced a great uproar in Madanpura where 7 days of mourning were observed (matam). The norm of locality and kinship endogamy had been breached in favour of class solidarity.  'Islamicization', then, maybe but a temporary stage in the struggle for superiority within different sub-groups.

Anthropologists and sociologists have described similar uses of Islam in local group rivalries in other parts of the world (Cohen, 1969; Nagata, 1982; Alavi, 1987). On occasion, Islamicization may be a form of elite emulation (Ahmad, 1973).  In other contexts it may be an indication of the search for broader ideologies in less localised, more complex, or globalizing, social systems, as argued by Geertz (1968) and Gellner (in numerous publications). It is a mistake to assume that the use of similar Islamic symbolism and practice indicates the presence of a similar set of social processes.    

Notes and references

This paper is a modified version of '"Wahabi" sectarianism among Muslims of Banaras', 1994, Contemporary South Asia, 3 (2), 83-93.

1.          This was translated by Abdud Quddu., Nairang Banarasi, 1973, at the N. K. Bose Foundation Seminar A Social and Cultural Profile of Kashi.

2.          N. Kumar's excellent study of Banaras Weavers focuses on cultural patterns shared with Hindus.  She does not focus on internal sub-divisions and does not discuss Ahl-i-Hadiths.

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