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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 February 2021
In our ethnography among traditionalist Sunni Muslims of Kerala, South India, we observe the emergence of new intellectual critiques of Islamic reformism and a revival of ‘traditional’ Islamic articulations. A new class of traditionalist Sunni ulama, claiming to be ‘turbaned professionals’, plays an instrumental role in providing epistemic sanctioning to ‘traditional’ Islamic piety while simultaneously grounding it within the discourses and processes of neoliberal developmentalism. Such assertions of traditionalist Sunni Muslim identity challenge the conventional understanding of Islamic reformism as a hallmark of the progressive understanding of faith and traditionalism as its ‘anti-modern’ other. The article argues that this discursive shift of Sunni Islamic traditionalism in Kerala since the 1980s from defensive to more assertive forms has to be located in the context of wider socio-economic change within the community facilitated by structural as well as cultural forces of globalization. We point out that this process traverses the local, national, and global scales of identification, and results in intense negotiations between local identifications and ‘true Islamicate global imaginations’. These negotiations bring in new discourses around the question of ‘authentic’ Islamic practices and sensibilities among the traditionalist Sunni Muslims, forcing us to locate the question of their identity formation beyond the boundaries of communities and the nation states that ensconce them.
The authors thank the two anonymous reviewers of Modern Asian Studies for their extremely helpful comments and suggestions. They also thank Dr Nandagopal Menon and Dr Torsten Tschacher for their valuable comments on the earlier drafts of the article. Thanks are also due to Dr Eleanor Newbigin for her constant support and insightful suggestions throughout the review process.
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68 While the group led by Hussain Madavoor (also referred to as the Markazudawa faction) provided a broader definition of the idea of dawat to include volunteerism and social activism, the official leaders of KNM insisted on its strict interpretation as religious propagation. The Madavoor group's active involvement in the highly acclaimed palliative-care movement of Kerala, for instance, owes much to such forms of secular Islamic activism of this group.
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71 Reports suggest that the Muslim youth who fled to ‘join the Caliphate’ were heavily influenced by Salafi ideology and some were even closely linked to the Peace International School, an educational institution run by Salafi activist M. M. Akbar. In many of the propaganda messages sent by these ISIS recruits through digital platforms such as Telegram and WhatsApp, one finds constant references to the impossibility of living in a multi-cultural society such as Kerala as a ‘true’ Muslim. Marked by a condemnation of traditional religious practices including modes of religious education, they emphasize the prospects of understanding ‘true’ Islam through the Internet and an open acknowledgement of Salafi theological indoctrination for helping to understand hijra and the commitment to violent jihad. See M. Varier, ‘Voice Note by ISIS Terrorist Declares Peace School in Kerala Has Their Supporters’, The News Minute, published online on 10 April 2018, available at https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/voice-note-isis-terrorist-declares-peace-school-kerala-has-their-supporters-79345 [accessed 9 December 2020].
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