The Unsung Glories of the Imam: Silence, Absence and the Islamicate in the Kwok On Collection’s India holdings

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By JASON KEITH FERNANDES

 

(English version of the text presented at the Museu Oriente on April 19, 2017, as part of the series A Índia Visual. The original Portuguese version can be downloaded here. For the PDF of the English version click here.)

 

Before anything else I would like to thank a couple of people who have ensured that I have this opportunity today. I would like to thank, first of all Ines Lourenco for having invited to make this presentation. I have been following the India Visual series for a while and always nursed a secret desire to be able to speak from this platform. For this opportunity Ines, many thanks.

 

I would also like to thank the team at Museu Oriente, Liliana Cruz, Sofia Lopes and Cátia Souto for their help with this presentation. I recognize the presence of my doctoral supervisor Profa. Rosa Maria Perez. And finally, I would like to thank the members of the audience for their presence.

 

To move on to the substance of today’s presentation, I would like to begin with a confession. When I received the invitation to present at the India Visual lecture series I was told that I would have the option to visit the reserves of the Kwok On Collection and choose a piece, or pieces I would like to speak on.

 

As any museum aficionado knows, it is a huge opportunity to visit the reserves of a Museum, and not one to be missed. I was particularly excited because it would give me the chance to determine if my suspicion about the nature of the holdings was fact or simply a wild idea. The suspicion was that the India segment of the Kwok On collection would in fact be a collection of Hindu objects. This is to say, that India will have been implicitly understood as ‘Hindu’ by those who constitute the collection. I was not wrong in my assessment, and what I beheld in the collection, or at least the portion I was able to review, was rack upon rack of material that is associated with what we call Hinduism. Missing from these racks, at least on first glance, were materials that could be associated with Islam and Christianity. It is to this absence that the title of my presentation makes reference to, and which I would like to reflect on for just a moment before moving forward.

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As Glórias desconhecidas do Imã: O silêncio, a ausência e o islamicate na Índia da Colecção Kwok On

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Por JASON KEITH FERNANDES

 

(Texto da conferência apresentada a 19 de Abril, 2017 no Museu do Oriente, Lisboa no âmbito do  ciclo A Índia Visual. PDF em português e PDF em inglês.)

 

Antes de mais gostaria de agradecer a oportunidade que me foi dada para estar, hoje, aqui.

 

Em primeiro lugar gostaria de agradecer, à minha colega do CRIA Inês Lourenço por me ter convidado a fazer esta apresentação. Tenho seguido a série Índia Visual durante algum tempo e sempre alimentei o desejo secreto de poder participarnesta plataforma. Por esta oportunidade Inês, muito obrigado.

 

Gostaria também de demonstrar a minha gratidão para com a equipa do Museu Oriente: Liliana Cruz, Sofia Lopes e Cátia Souto por todo o apoio prestado durante esta apresentação. Aproveito a ocasião para agradecer também a presença da orientadora da minha tese de doutoramento, a Professora Doutora Rosa Maria Perez. Por último, mas de modo algum por ordem de importância, quero de agradecer a presença de todos os que aqui estão presentes hoje.

 

Antes de entrarno assunto que hoje nostraz aqui, gostaria de fazer uma confissão: Quando recebi este convitefoi-me dito que teria a possibilidadede visitar a reserva do Colecção Kwok on e seleccionar uma peça, ou peças, sobre a qual gostaria falar.

 

Qualquer apreciador de arte sabe que visitar as reservas de um Museu é uma experiência única. Fiquei particularmente entusiasmado porque desta maneira poderia ter a oportunidade de confirmar se a minha intuição, sobre a natureza desta colecção, seria uma realidade ou simplesmente uma suposição . O meu pressentimento dizia-me queo núcleo dedicado à índia da colecção Kwok On seria um conjunto de objectos Hindus. Quer dizer, a Índia teria sido implicitamente entendida como ‘Hindu’ por quem constituiu acolecção. Infelizmente a minha intuição não me enganou. Na reserva da Colecção, encontrei um acervo extraordinário mas na sua maioria associado ao culto hindu. Ausente deste espólio, pelo menos na primeira vista, estão objectos ligados ao Islão e à Cristandade. Esta é a ausência a que se refere o título da minha apresentação – e sobre a qual gostaria de reflectir por alguns instantes.

LER MAIS

Representations ‘of’ and ‘by’ Muslims

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By JASON KEITH FERNANDES

Full English text of the presentation at the session: Representações do Islão e dos Muçulmanos nos Media (Representations of Islam and Muslims in the media), part of the Ciclo Islão em Debate (Islam in Debate series), 20 April 2017, at ISCTE –IUL, Lisbon. Download the PDF here.

 

I would like to begin by indicating that my area of expertise is not the study of Islam, or Muslims. Nonetheless I have quite an intimate experience of Muslims. Islam, and Muslims have also been critical to my own formation, both as an intellectual and the deepening of my own faith practice. This is perhaps not surprising given that questions of Islam have been debated substantially in the past couple of decades and produced a rich literature in a number of fields. My core area of intellectual work has been the operation of citizenship in India and the regime of secularism that apparently structures the experience of Indian citizenship. Given that Hindu nationalism has been on the rise for decades now, I realised that Christians in India faced the same challenges as did the Muslims in India; they were both seen as undesirable elements in the Indian republic. As such alliances between these various groups made eminent sense andthe belief that the best alliances are built on solid understanding gave me reason to the study various texts that I have referred to above.

 

There is also a personal aspect to this encounter. About a decade ago, a couple of friends and I began the Patna Collective. Among other things the Collective was interested in probing the issue of secularism in India. Was it possible that persons of faith rather than being barriers to secularism could in fact contribute to a secular society? Was religion necessarily an obstacle to the realisation of secularism? I was the lone Indian Christian among a number of Muslims in this group, and the conversations with them were critical to my experiences about Islam and Muslims. In the course of these interactions I realised that my learnings from Muslims allowed me to deepen my own faith practice as a Catholic allowing for a peculiar identification and affection for Muslims and Islam.

 

Finally, for some years now I have been interested in exploring the idea of the Islamicate. A neologism coined by Marshall Hodgson (1974), the term refers not to Islam or the religion itself, but to the socio-cultural complex where Muslims are dominant, or subjects of emulation. Exploring the Islamicate, I believe allows us to create a space where conversations between non-Muslims and Muslims can fruitfully take place. Where Islamophobia is replaced not by Islamophilia (just as problematic a stance) but where we can establish the contributions of Muslims, and see ourselves as partners with Muslims in the building of our futures.

 

To move on to the subject on which I have been asked to reflect; a mind that operates primarily in English reads the term ““Representações… dos Muçulmanos” in two ways. The first, is to read it as the intended representations of Muslims, and the second is representations by Muslims. I think it is important to deal with both these aspects for at least two reasons. We need to avoid a focus on Muslims from developing into a paternalist attitude, and from creatingspace for white saviours.What we need to do is deepen a rights discourse and as such the agency of Muslims too needs to be taken into account when we discuss representations.

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Cow Politics and Slavery

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

The recent comments by members of the Sangh Parivar on the complete ban on the consumption of beef in Goa have ignited a controversy. The comments, casteist as they are, have shifted the attention of the Goan people away from pressing issues like the future of casinos, the Mopa airport, the crises in the mining sector, environmental pollution, and everyday governance. That such comments divert our attention elsewhere is unfortunate; but every time such comments are made we should remind ourselves what exactly lies at the heart of such hate politics.

 

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Responsibility and Goan Roads

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

Along with the rising temperature this summer, there has been a sharp increase in the deaths related to road accidents. The first half of 2016 produced some truly chilling statistics with the death toll for the month of January and February reaching 59 persons. April 2016 saw a staggering 11 deaths in just 5 days. While one may have heard, and received, cautionary advice at the beginning of the monsoon season owing to the slippery roads, perhaps we also need to caution each other at the start of every summer in a similar way. After all, the rising temperature seems to be making our roads, quite literally, hotbeds for fatal accidents.

 

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Of Accidents, Masculinities and (absence of) Rule of Law

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By ALBERTINA ALMEIDA

 

The spate of accidents in the last few days has triggered a discussion on both the causes and the solutions. Coming in the aftermath of the ban on bars and the vending of liquor within 220 or 500 metres from the national and state highways (as the case may be), it is perhaps a poignant reminder that we need to dig deeper into this malaise of accidents, rather than come up with knee jerk responses or solutions that provide the justification for surveillance while not addressing the core problems.

 

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Jason Keith Fernandes at the Museu Oriente, Lisbon

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Jason Keith Fernandes will present a paper entitled, “As Glórias Desconhecidas do Imam: O Silêncio, a Ausência e o Islamicate na Índia da Colecção Kwok On” (The Unsung Glories of the Imam: Silence, Absence, and the Islamicate in the Kwok On Collection’s Indian section) at 18:30 on 19 April, 2017 at the Museu Oriente, Lisbon.

 

The “India Visual” cycle is a collaborative effort between the Museu Oriente and CRIA – the Network Centre of Research in Anthropology. This cycle, that include conferences, round tables, and screenings of films and documentaries with the presence of researchers, academics and other persons linked to India and the many dimensions of this visual culture  seeks to use visual culture in India as the point of departure for reflections on diverse themes: art, religion, politics, consumption, gender, advertising, and media among others.

 

 

Drawing on various Indian pieces in the Kwok On collection, this presentation will suggest that what often appears Hindu is in fact profoundly Islamicate in nature. The term ‘Islamicate’ was introduced in 1974 by the famed scholar of Islamic studies Marshal Hodgson in his book The Venture of Islam.  In this work he suggests that ‘Islamicate’ would refer not directly to the religion, Islam, itself, but to the social and cultural complex historically associated with Islam and the Muslims, both among Muslims themselves and even when found among non-Muslims. Drawing on this idea, the presentation will demonstrate the manner in which practices associated with the Shia faith, and the historic figure of Imam Hussein are central to much South Asian (Indian), culture. Recognising this fact complicates and challenges the way in which both individuals and institutions – such as museums – understand the subcontinent.

Jason Keith Fernandes to participate in a discussion on “Representations of Islam and Muslims in the Media”

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Jason Keith Fernandes, a member of the Collective, and FCT post-doctoral scholar at ISCTE-IUL will be part of a round table discussion on “Representations of Islam and Muslims in the Media” which is a part of the “Islam in Debate” series, organised by Faranaz Keshavjee of the Centre for International Studies, ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon. The event will take place on 20 April, 2017 in auditorium B204, ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon.

 

Coal and a bit of Colonialism

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

The decision by the state and central governments to expand the coal handling capacity of the Mormugao port is cause for alarm. From very real and obvious dangers of environment and health to the equally real threat to the livelihoods of traditional fishermen, the government seems least bothered about the citizens. On the contrary they are making haste to promote the interests of the big corporations. Indeed, plans to build the National Highway 17-B and the dredging of the Mormugao port are geared to facilitate the transport of large volumes of coal to industries in neighboring Karnataka.

 

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What made ‘Goemkarponn’ so Manoeuvrable?

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By ALBERTINA ALMEIDA

 

From the get go, there was no sign of Goem, Goemkar, Goemkarponn at all. Not even when the 2017 Goa Legislative Assembly election results were beginning to trickle in. One would have thought that small is beautiful and manageable and that the smallness of Goem affords a unique opportunity to better and more expeditiously manage.  But despite EVM machines as in other states, which should have seen the results pouring in rather than trickling in, Goa’s results took a longer time than those of UP with ten times the number of seats.  Indeed Goa’s counting in relation to that of the rest of India’s states that went to the polls was ajeeb (strange).

 

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