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

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(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.


As can be seen from this advertisement of TAIP from 1961, which depicts an orientalised and Hindu Goa, there is a long tradition of equating India with what has come to be seen as Hinduism. This trend emerged first with Orientalist representations of India, where both Islam and Christianity, faith traditions that have existed in South Asia almost immediately after their appearance in human history, have been represented as foreign faiths. As any observer of contemporary Indian politics will see, this is a trend that receives state support as well, not just today, but almost from the very inception of the Indian state. What needs to be pointed out, however, is that Hinduism is, in fact, an invention of the 19th century. Contemporary Hinduism emerges as a result of two distinct but related strands. The first, as depicted in this image of a lithograph titled “Our Moonshee,” [one of the 40 plates by George Francklin Atkinson in the second half of the 19th century during his stay in South Asia] resulted from the tendency of orientalist scholarsfrom the eighteenth century, a number of them in the employ of the East India Company, who in association with their Brahmin or dominant caste secretaries and native informants,sought to club the diverse faith traditions within the subcontinent as part of a single religion, i.e. Hinduism. The second was thenationalist attempts to create a single community out of the dominant castes, primarily in Northern India and stake claim to the British Raj.Thus, when the famous S. V. Radhakrishnan (1923) spoke about Indian philosophy, he meant, Hindu philosophy. The fact, however, is that Hinduism can be produced only by silencing the complexity of these multiple faith practices and their location in regional, and local contexts. What gains voice in this process of silencing is the narrative of Brahmanism.Once again, this is what Radhakrishnanactually did which was to privilege brahmanical philosophy. Very often Brahmanism exists in complex relationships with a variety of other local belief systems. As a result of being alive only to “Hinduism” and not this complex multiplicity however, all too often it is only the brahmanical narrative that gains voice. Other narratives within this Hindu complex are either ignored, or silenced. It is to this silence, or the active process of silencing, that the second key word of the title refers to.


Before I move on to discussing the complex ways in which Islam is present in the subcontinent, even in things that appear Hindu, I would like to spend a little more time reflecting on the absences in the representation of subcontinental practices. As I mentioned before, both Islam and Christianity, found presence in south Asia soon after their appearance in human history. Thus, while Christianity in India is traced to St. Thomas, the apostle and companion of Christ in 52 A.D. the scholarly consensus is that Christian communities were definitely established in India at least by the 6th century common era. This image demonstrates the popular myth that St. Thomas performed a miracle to convert Malayali (i.e. from Kerala) Brahmins to Christianity. Islam, on the other hand, established about 6th century C.E, is said to have come to India by about the 7th century.  This image is of the 7th century Cheraman Malik Masjid in Kodungallur, contemporary Kerala, possibly one of the earliest mosques in south Asia.  Despite having emerged in India almost at their very inception, and having century long histories in the subcontinent, they are often written out of the representation of India, as a result of being foreign belief systems. This exclusion could be traced from intellectual traditions that have dominated since the Romantic movement. The Romanticists saw authenticity only in those things that sprung from the soil, that were linked to nature. By this logic, if a practice did not spring from the soil it was not really authentic, and did not really belong to the valid authentic traditions of the territory. The implications of this practice have had devastating impacts for Christians and Muslims in India who have been seen as foreigners and justified targets of Indian nationalist violence, both overt as well as subtle.


The ridiculousness of this proposition is perhaps evident in the way in which I just presented the history of Christian and Islamic presence in South Asia, i.e. their emergence in the subcontinent immediately after appearance in human history. Added to this given the kind of diversity of practices in South Asia, as well as their fluidity, the anthropologist Jackie Assayag rightly points out that:

In view of a social system marked by so much turmoil, it is impossible to consider Islam an entity introduced into an alien Hindu universe (2004: 42).


The exclusion of Christianity from India has a peculiar history in Portugal as well which we should reflect on for just a moment before I turn to Islam, which will be the focus of my presentation today. There is often a practice among Portuguese scholars, to link Christianity only with the colonial past of this country. Various groups respond to this in various manners. I can identify two, both of which are extremely problematic. The first, one could see these as those continuing the Estado Novo rhetoricwhich views Catholicism as a gift of the Portuguese to the “Indians”. This places the Portuguese in a superior position vis-à-vis the south Asian Catholic groups, the metropolitan Portuguese are the givers, and the South Asian Portuguese are the passive receivers. The second, responding to this Estado Novo rhetoric, see Catholicism as an unwelcome colonial imposition on the Indians. For this reason members of this second group are apologetic about the introduction of Christianity and seek to undo the violence of their putative ancestors by representing the “Hindu” side of India. What both groups fail to realize is that Christianity in India, even the one introduced by the Portuguese, has a life that is entirely independent of the Portuguese who implanted the faith in the sub-continent. Christianity, even Catholicism, was taken and given a different inner and external form. If there is an absence in representation therefore, it is of organic Christianityin the representation of Christianity in South Asia. This is not to say that it is a ‘syncretic’ Christianity, as is so popular in some representations, but a Christianity as proper and orthodox as those in continental Europe.  Thus, while one can be grateful to the Portuguese for being the “luzes do Occidente” who brought the light of the gospel to Asia (Xavier 2008) one can also recognize that while we do our Catholicism similarly, we also do it differently. It is the presence of this kind of organic Christianity that I would personally like to see attested to in museums in Portugal: where Catholicism in India is not merely a reference to what the Portuguese gave, but to the agency of the locals, what they did with it.


But I have spent too much time on peripheral issues and much come to the core of my presentation today, which is 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, and how this presence is actively silenced.


For this purpose I would like to introduce to you the primary object that this presentation will focus on. What we have before us is an image, or idol, of the Goddess Yellamma, which means mother of all. As we can tell the image is iconic – i.e. it represents the goddess, with an image of her face in silver, which is placed on another object, dressed with a sari, there are representations for her hands, and she is decorated with necklaces and other objects that speak of her royal stature. Let us not forget that in South Asia, royalty and divinity flow into each other. Simultaneously, what we have on screen is the way in which this image would normally be used. Placed on the head of a devotee who may ask for alms.


The dominant, brahmanical, story of the Goddess Yellamma is rather interesting and knowledge of this myth allows us to appreciate the divergence of the myth from other more interesting versions.


In the brahmanical version about the Goddess Yellamma, the story begins, typically, with the Brahmin woman Renuka, who was wife to the rishi, or ascetic, Jamadagni. The story goes that suspecting Renuka of infidelity, Jamadagni commanded his elder sons to kill their mother. Sensibly, these young men refused to fulfill their father’s command, which only enraged him further. Turning to Parashuram, the youngest of his sons, he repeated his command, and Parashuram obediently took up his axe and beheaded his mother.


Unfortunately, when he did so he also beheaded a lower-caste woman, who in various versions of the myth, was either Renuka’s attendant, or a kindly woman who sought to help the hapless wife of the sage. Jamadagni was delighted that he had one son who was obedient, and promised Parashuram anything he asked for. Parashuram asked that his mother be brought to life. Jamadagni acquiesced, whereupon Parashuram quickly joined heads and bodies together, and stood aside for his father to work magic. On bringing the women back to life both men realised that in his haste Parashuram had switched the heads. As such, the upper-caste Renuka now had the body of a lower-caste woman Yellamma, and Yellamma’s head was on the body of the upper-caste Renuka. The situation was resolved by recognising the bodies as constitutive of identity. Given that Yellamma’s lower-caste body now had an upper-caste head, she was granted a divine status. For this reason, in brahmanical narratives about the Goddess Yellamma, she is often referred to as Renuka-Yellamma, or worshipped as two different entities, the softer and upper caste Renuka, and the volatile lower-caste Yellamma.


There are other narratives of Yellamma, however, and the one I am going to narrate now, is derived from the Dhangar caste in the Kolhapur region (Skyhawk 2008). This group is a marginalised caste that often herds cattle in the western ghats and Deccan region of the subcontinent.


The Dhangar narrative begins by underlining the fact that Yellamma was the youngest and most stubborn of seven sisters: Yekva, Mhakva, Durgava, Durgva, Margva, Jakva, and Tukva. This youngest sister was once separated from her siblings when she felt thirsty during a hunt. Though she was unable to find her sisters, she did eventually find water in Mahadev’s pond. While at the pond, her eyes fell on a chickpea plant, whose stem she felt compelled [by hunger no doubt] to pluck. As she leaned forward to do soMahadev cried out that should she carry out this action, “blame” would fall on her. Yellamma did not listen, however, and pulled a twig from the bush. Instantly, a burning blister formed on her palm.


Alone and frightened, Yellamma ran in pain until she could bear the pain no longer. She pricked the blister, and found in it a lump of blood, and a radiant little baby was born. The baby, born from the blister was Parasarama, or Parasurama.


It was after having birthed the baby Parasurama and traveling some more that Yellamma finally stumbled upon her sisters. When they saw her carrying the little baby, however, the sisters cried out, “Stay away! Don’t come closer! You have made us the relatives of a bastard! We don’t want to touch you! And we don’t want you in our group! As you have borne a bastard, go away from us! Don’t ever come to us!”


With now nowhere and no one to go, and after much wandering, she came upon “the Musalman brothers Asan [and] Usan,” that is, the Shia Imams Hassan and Hussein. She requested, and received, shelter from them, and spent the night on the verandah of their home. In the morning, she requested a place to live. The brothers responded by placing a stone in a sling, flinging the stone in the air and indicating to Yellamma to follow the stone, for where it fell, that place would be hers. Yellamma did as requested and followed the stone, which had fallen on Saundatti hill.


Yellamma reached the hill at sundown and encountered the home of one JagulSatyava, whom she petitioned for shelter for the night. Satyava responded that he would have gladly given her a place to stay, “but mine is a Musalman house and there will be meat.” Yellamma would not take no for an answer, however, and persuaded Satyava to let her spend the night in the house. When Satyava’s sons, Bhram, Apa, Asan, and Usan, returned home with two wild goats, Yellamma called out, “Your maternal aunt has come! My boy should sit down with you. Let your sister join your dining row!” And so it was, the narrative tells us, that Yellamma, with the baby Parasuram on her lap, sat with the Muslim boys as they prepared to eat.


The narrative also informs us that “Yallamma sprinkled the nectar of immortality on all the meat they had there, and gave [the dead animals] their full life-force again. And Baby Parasarama was accepted in the circle of the Musalman boys, and in bliss did they eat together.” Subsequently, in the morning, the four brothers erected a temple to the virgin goddess on Saundatti hill, so that there would be space for all of them. The narrative concludes that “After they had built the temple the CanareseYallava took Baby Parasarama and stayed in the temple on the hill.”(the contemporary temple is depicted on the screen).


To those of us accustomed to the neat divisions between the monolithic identities of “Hindu” and “Muslim”, this narrative would present something of a shock. Indeed, the narrative seems to have all the makings of a contemporary soap opera. According to Skyhawk (2008), it highlights the role of the Shia heroes, Hassan and Hussein, as protectors of helpless women and children in South Asia. There are others who, using a lens of power, would argue that this myth demonstrates the way in which the local followers of the cult of Yellamma found a convivial arrangement with those who follow Islam. As much as I also agree with this understanding, I think such “rational” responses do not capture the complexity of what is/ was going on. This is to say, it does not demonstrate the extent to which Islam itself becomes a part of the local reality of people, and shapes their belief systems, including contemporary Hinduism.


Before I go forward, there is a need for a slight detour while I explain the actors Hassan and Hussein.


The death of the Prophet Mohammad in 632 CE created a crisis among the young Muslim community. While there were some who believed that Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law should be the Caliph, or leader of the community, it was Abu Bakr, one of the companions of the Prophet, who was selected instead. It was only with the murder of the third Caliph that Ali was made Caliph, but Ali in turn was murdered and the Caliphate passed on to Yazid, and subsequently to his Yazid’s son, Muawiya.


Hassan and Hussein were the sons of Ali. Hassan was murdered in 670 CE, allegedly at the instance of Yazid, and Hussein was martyred at the famous battle of Karbala against the forces of Muawiya in 680 CE. It is these events that consolidate what is perhaps the most famous of differences among Muslims, that between the Sunni, and the Shi’i, the latter being regarded as the party of Ali. What is most common to Shi’i practice is the commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and his companions at the battle of Karbala.  Imam Hussein was martyred on the tenth day of the month of Muharram. As such, the first ten days of the month of Muharram feature a number of ceremonies that include ritual mourning, and different kinds of processions. The image on the screen points to these main features – the parading of Duldul, processional standards called alam, replicas of the graves of the imams called tazia.


There is another link to Yellamma and Shi’i imagery and the image of the goddess before us. In his study of the Deccan region where the worship of  Yellamma predominates, Jackie Assayag indicates that the offerings to another deity, RajabaugSavar, or to a third entity, the Sufi saint Bar Shah are tiny silver horses called duldul (2004:159, 168). Once again, those familiar with the practice of Shi’i will know that Duldul, or Duljinah is the name of the horse gifted by the Prophet to his grandson Hussein, and is the feature of many Moharram processions. In these processions, a white riderless horse, with arrows sticking out of its saddle is paraded to represent Duljinah after the battle of Karbala. What is interesting is that such a silver horse should also find its place among the items in the Kwok On Collection associated with the cult of Yellamma.


Another interesting fact is the palms that our deity of Yellamma has. As is obvious these are palms that are raised in blessing. What I find interesting, however, as these images illustrate,isthat these palms also resemble the panjaalam that are carried in Shia processions. Panjawhichtranslates from Persian to five, and to hand, represents the ‘five pure souls’ of the Prophet’s family, viz., Muhammad, Fatima, Ali, Hassan, and Hussein. I have also noticed that similar palms are also used in temple ceremonies in Goa, where Shi’ism was also influential thanks to its falling within the sphere of the Bijapuri Sultanate.


Shi’ism has had a profound impact on the subcontinent, especially in the Deccan, thanks to the Bahmani Sultans (1347-1527), and subsequently the Adil Shahi Sultans (1490 to 1686) confessing Shi’ism (the next couple of slides demonstrate the extent of the Bahmaniempire, the successor states, and finally the Bijapuri state). It was the influence of these two dynasties that would have had a significant impact on introducing the figure of the Imam’s Hassan and Hussein into the mythology and worship of local goddesses such as Yellamma.  What I would like to underline at this point, is that while the so-called Hindusim is often seen as exerting an influence on so-called foreign religions like Islam or Christianity, what is not so often recognized is that Islam and Christianity have had equally important influences on the many faith practices of the sub-continent.


The influence of Islam, and Muslims, however, goes beyond merely an influence on faith practices and beliefs. It influences even the material and profane. To capture the breadth of this influence in 1974 the famed scholar of Islamic studies Marshal Hodgson introduced the term ‘Islamicate’ in his book The Venture of Islam (1974).  In this work he suggested 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.


This concept can be illustrated with the image of this dress from the famous production of Peter BrookMahabharata. Often understood as Indian dress, and it is, what most people do not know is that this dress is directly inspired by the Persian jama. The use of Persian, or Arab inspired clothes by subcontinental peoples would be a perfect example of Hodgson’s concept of the Islamicate. To understand this concept, and the dress better, we should perhaps make reference to Philip Wagoner’s celebrated article (1996) on the dress options of the Vijayanagara kings. As many of you would know, Vijayanagar is often represented as the last Hindu kingdom, which was a bulwark against the Muslim states surrounding it. And yet, what Wagoner’s work goes to demonstrate, is that the apparently “Hindu” princes of Vijayanagar actively took on not only Islamicate dress for court purposes, but also Islamicate titles. Thus, they styled themselves as “Sultan among Hindu kings”. This title demonstrates how much the practices of Islamic kings who were dominant in the subcontinent were imitated by non-Muslims as well, and perhaps may have encouraged the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam, or the inclusion of Islamic practices in addition to those that they already practiced. The image here is a mural from a temple in Lepakshi, contemporary Andhra Pradesh which depicts courtiers in the Vijayanagar court.


What is also interesting is that some Dhangars seem to have used the jama on ceremonial occasions. Take, for example, this image of Dhangars dancing in a tableaux circa 1954 in the former Estado da India. That they are wearing jamas is quite obvious from this image.

I would like to end this presentation by reference to one last practice which will demonstrate the importance, not just of Islam, or the Islamicate, but the importance of Shi’i Islam to the Islamicate in south Asia. It is to this Shi’I influence that the Imam in the title of the presentation alludes to.


I have already indicated that the commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein marks the first ten days of the Islamic month of Muharram. In North India, in the kingdom of the Nawab of Awadh, i.e. contemporary Lucknow, Moharram was marked by sessions of rauzakhawni, or mourning, where laments were recited in public ceremonies. I would like you to regard this image of one such rauzakhawni and in particular focus on the lamps in this image. The image is an Opaque watercolour on mica from the Anglo-Indian school at Patna, circa mid-19th century.
What is interesting about these lamps is that similar, if not the very same deign, are today used by Hindus in Goa and Maharashtra during the feast of Diwali. Popularly imagined to be indigenous, native expressions, the fact is that these lamps are demonstrative of the impress of the Islamicate on the most intimate of Hindu lives.


How did these lamps get from landlocked Lucknow to coastal Goa? One possible answer is through the agency of the Marathas, who as they grew to dominate the subcontinent became carriers of the Islamicate, or Persianate tradition of the various Muslim princes they either took over from or shared power with. One can refer to this image that contains the portraits of the Maratha king Shivaji (1627/1630[1] –1680) and the Bijapuri Sultan Muhammad Adil Shah (r.1627–1657) to see how both these men participated in a similar Islamicate or Persianate culture. One will notice how they are both also wearing jamas, just as is the last PeshwaMadhavRaoNarayan, his minister Nana Fadnavis and the attendants in this portrait.

It is perhaps not surprising then that the commemoration of Moharram was one of the bigger festivals in places like Poona, and Bombay, the former city being actively associated with Maratha power. As ShubnamTejani points out

Muharram, the Shia commemoration of the Martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandsons, was traditionally a cross-community festival in Poona. Although it was an occasion marked only in the Shia ritual calendar, it was popular among many communities. Hindu musicians would be hired to play, dancing (nautch) girls performed [by singing marsias], Hindu labourers’ bullock carts were hired to carry the symbolic biers (tazias) of the Imams Hasan[sic] and Hussain. Indeed, sections of the Hindu population regularly made their own tazias, which would be paraded and then immersed along with those of Muslims. (2007: 56)


Tejani, and other scholars, point out that it was in fact to counteract the convivial spirit of the Muharram processions that the Hindu nationalist leader, Tilak began to organise the public Ganesh festival. This image shows Bal Gangadhar Lokmanya Tilak at the first Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav in Poona.


My final image is that of the Ganesh processions in the city of Bombay today, which have an epic character, drawing members of various neighbourhood associations into huge processions that end with the immersion of the deities of the elephant god in the sea. What is interesting is that these processions seem uncannily similar to those of the Muharram processions in the city from the late 19th and early twentieth century where once again the processions of the tazias were a neighbourhood affair, drawing together not only the faithful, but gang leaders, ruffians and all manner of peaceable and curious people.


I would like to conclude by suggesting that India or South Asia is much more complex that we imagine it to be. It is definitely more than a Hindu locale and my presentation today has sought to draw attention to the way in which this complexity is often ignored and negated. An openness to what regional and local practices tell us would demonstrate how Islam, and in particular Shia Islam, has been critical to the formation not merely of secular culture in the subcontinent, but also religious culture of groups that are today not Muslim or Christian, but seen as Hindu.



  • Assayag, Jackie. 2004. At the Confluence of Two Rivers: Muslims and Hindus in South India. New Delhi: Manohar.
  • Skyhawk, Hugh van. 2008. “Muharram Processions and the Ethicization of Hero Cults in the Premodern Deccan.” In South Asian Religions on Display. Religious Processions in South Asia and in the Diaspora, edited by Knut A. (Editor-in-Chief) Jacobsen, 115–25. Oxon: Routledge.
  • Tejani, Shabnum. 2007. Indian Secularism: A Social and Intellectual History 1890-1950. “Opus 1.”Ranikhet: Permanent Black.
  • Wagoner, Phillip B. 1996. “‘Sultan among Hindu Kings’: Dress, Titles, and the Islamicization of Hindu Culture at Vijayanagara.” The Journal of Asian Studies 55 (4): 851–80.

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

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(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.


Como é possível ver neste anúncio da TAIP de 1961, que retrata uma Goa orientalizada e Hindu, existe um antigo costume de equiparar a Índia ao Hinduismo. Este hábito surgiu inicialmente com as representações dos Orientalistas sobre a Índia, onde Islão e Cristandade – tradições defé que existem no Sul da Ásia quase desde as suas primeiras manifestações – foram quase sempre representadas como tradições da fé estrangeiras. Como qualquer observador atento à vida política contemporânea na Índia poderá testemunhar, este costume recebe apoio oficial desde a concepção da Republica Indiana. O que épreciso sublinhar, porém, e o facto de o Hinduismo ser uma concepção do Século XIX. O Hinduismo contemporâneo surgiu como resultado de dois processos distintos que por vezes estão relacionados. O primeiro está representado nesta imagem de uma litografia intitulada “Our Moonshee” [uma entre as 40 chapas produzidas por George Francklin Atkinson na segunda metade do século XIX, durante a sua estadia no Sul da Ásia]. Este tendência é  resulto do trabalho dos estudiosos orientalistas do século XVIII, muitos deles no serviço do East India Company, que em conjuntocom os seus secretários nativos (ou munshis) pertencentes a castas brâmanes ou outras castas dominantes, agregaram as diversas tradições sagradas presentes no Subcontinente numa única religião – o Hinduismo. O segundo processo foram as sucessivas tentativas nacionalistas das várias castas dominantes, especialmente do norte do Subcontinente, em criar uma única comunidade que pudesse herdar o British Raj. Desta forma, quando o Dr. S.V Radhakrishnan (1923) menciona a “filosofia Indiana” fala apenas sobre filosofia ‘Hindu’. O facto, porem, é que o Hinduismo pode ser produzido pelo silenciamento da complexidade destas múltiplas práticas de fé e as suas respectivas localizações nos contextos regionais e locais. O que ganha poder através deste processo de silenciamento é naturalmente a narrativa do bramanismo. Foi exactamente isto que Radhakrishnan de facto fez nos seus livros, privilegiar a filosofia bramânica. É verdade que muitas vezes o Bramanismo co-existe, muito embora com relações muito complexas, com uma variedade das crenças locais. Se apenas se prestar atenção ao “Hinduismo” e não a uma multiplicidade de crenças e práticas, é natural quea narrativa bramânica seja a única que ganhe voz. As restantes narrativas dentro do próprio hinduísmo são ignoradas ou silenciadas. É a este silêncio, ou ao processo activo deste silenciamento, que o título desta apresentação se refere.


Antes de discutira forma complexa como o Islão está presente no Subcontinente, até mesmo nas coisas que parecem à primeira vista hindus, permitam-me reflectirum pouco mais sobre as diversas ausências na representação das práticas de fé subcontinentais. Como referi anteriormente, tanto o Islão com a Cristandadetêm presença nosul da Ásia, destas as suas primeiras manifestações. No entanto, enquanto há uma clara ligação entre Cristianismo na Índia com São Tomás, o apóstolo de Cristo em 52 A.D., o consenso académico diz-nos que as comunidades cristãs foram estabelecidas na Índiano século VI da nossa Era. Esta imagem mostra o muito popular do milagre da conversão de brâmanes da região de Kerala ao Cristianismo por São Tomás. O Islão, por outro lado, foi estabelecido cerca de século VI da nossa era e chegou ao Subcontinente, mais uma vez à região de Kerala, no Século VII. Esta imagem está datada como sendo do século VI e provem da Cheraman Malik Masjid em Kodungallur, o actual Estado da Kerala nosulda Índia. E provável que este edifício tenha sido a primeira mesquita dosul da Ásia. Apesar de terem sido introduzidas quase em simultâneo comas suas primeiras manifestações e terem uma longa história no Subcontinente Asiático, estas tradições estão muitos vezes, demasiadas vezes, mantidas fora da representação da Índia por serem vistas como tradições de fé estrangeiras. Esta exclusão tem origem nas tradições intelectuais dominantes desde o movimento Romântico. Os Românticos crêem autêntico apenas fenómenos com uma ligação clara ao solo, à natureza do local. Segundo esta lógica, qualquer prática exterior, não poderia ser considerada autêntica, nem uma tradição válida nesse território. As implicações desta prática tiveram efeitos devastadores para os Cristãos e Muçulmanos na Índia, que foram e são ainda, vistos como estrangeiros e muitas vezes alvo justificado de manifestações expressas ou subtis de violência nacionalista.


O absurdo desta proposição é provavelmente evidente na maneira como acabei de apresentar a história do Cristianismo e do Islão na Ásia doSul, apesar da sua presença no Subcontinente deste as suas primeiras manifestações. Em adição, dada a diversidade de práticas na Ásia doSul e a sua fluidez, o antropólogo Jackie Assayag assinalou correctamente que:

Tendo em conta um sistema social marcado por tanta turbulência, é impossível considerar o Islão como uma entidade introduzida num universo Hindu alheio.(2004: 42).


A exclusão da Cristandade da Índia tem também uma história interessante em Portugal. É sobre esta exclusão que deveríamos reflectir para um instante, antes de ingressarmos pelo Islão, que será o centro da minha apresentação de hoje. É comum entre os académicos portugueses fazer uma ligação directa entre a Cristandade eo passado colonial do seu país. Diferentes grupos respondem a esta questão de distintas maneiras. Posso identificar duas respostas, ambas bastante problemáticas. A primeira, deriva do conjunto de estudiosos que perpetuam a retórica do Estado Novo, vêem a Cristandade como uma dádiva portuguesa aos “Indianos”. Esta perspectiva manifesta uma visão dos portugueses como superiores vis-a-vis aos grupos católicos da Ásia de Sul. Os Portugueses da metrópole (porque também somos Portugueses) são doadores e, por sua vez, os Portugueses do Subcontinente Asiático recipientes passivos. A segunda perspectiva, respondendo à retórica do Estado Novo, vê o Cristianismo como uma indesejável imposição colonial sobre “os Indianos”. Por esse motivo, os membros deste segundo grupo são extremamente apologéticos relativamente à introdução de Cristianismo e tentam compensar a violência dos seus antepassados representando o lado “hindu” de Índia. O que estes dois grupos parecem esquecer é que o Cristianismo na Índia, mesmo o Cristianismo introduzido pelos portugueses, tem uma dinâmica própria e independente. Ao Cristianismo, e mesmo ao próprio Catolicismo, foram dados diferentes formas interiores e exteriores.Se existe uma ausência na representação do Cristianismo na Ásia do Sul, é portanto, uma ausência deste Cristianismo orgânico. Isto não querdizer que o Cristianismo na Ásia do Sulsejaum sincretismo, popularem algumas representações, mas um Cristianismo próprio e ortodoxo como uma das suas diversas formas Europeias. Assim, enquanto podíamos agradecer aosportuguesespor serem a “luzes do Ocidente” e por terem trazido a luz do Evangelho para a Ásia (Xavier, 2008) podíamos ao mesmo tempo reconhecer que a nossa prática do Catolicismo ésemelhante e ao mesmo tempo distinta. É a presença deste tipo de Cristianismo orgânico que pessoalmente gostaria de ver atestando nos museus em Portugal: O Catolicismo na Índia não é apenas o que os portugueses deixaram mas tambémo que os agentes locais fizeram desta religião.


Já consumi demasiado tempo com assuntos periféricos e devo por isso chegar ao cerne da minha apresentação de hoje, ou seja, a maneira como as práticas associadas com a fé Shiita e àfigura histórica do Ímã Hussein, são centrais para a cultura do sul da Ásia (indiana), e como a sua presença é activamente silenciada.


Com este propósito, gostaria de vos mostrar o objecto central desta apresentação. Temos na nossa frente a imagem, ou ídolo, da Deus a Yellamma, cujo nome significa mãe de todos. Como é evidente, o objecto é icónico – quer dizer, representa a forma humana da Deusa, sendo o seu rosto e mãos em prata justapostas sobre um outro objecto. A Deus a vesteum sari e é ornamentada com colares e outros objectos representantes da sua estatura real. Não devemos esquecer que nosul da Ásia, realeza e divindade estão intimamente ligadas. Ao mesmo tempo, a maneira como vemos a imagem aqui representada, em cima da cabeça de um devoto, é como normalmente seria utilizada, permitindo ao devoto pedir esmolas.


A narrativa, dominante e bramânica, da Deus a Yellamma é muito interessante e o conhecimento deste mito permite-nos apreciar as diversas maneiras como este é apresentado noutras versões.


Na versão bramânica, a narrativa começa tipicamentecom uma mulher brâmane Renuka, mulher do rishi, ou sábio ascético, Jamadagni. A história diz-nos que, suspeitando da infidelidade de Renuka, Jamadagni ordena que os seus filhos mais velhos matem a sua mãe. Deforma sensataos mesmos recusaram, o que deixou Jamadagni ainda mais furioso. Jamadagni comanda então Parashurama, o seu filho mais novo, para que esteexecute o seu mandamento. Parashuram obedecendo ao seu pai, mata a sua mãecom o seu parashu ou machado.


Infelizmente, ao mesmo tempo que decapita a mãe, Parashuram degola também uma mulher da casta baixa, que dependendoda versão era a criada de Renuka ou uma senhora bondosa que tentava ajudar Renuka. Jamadagni exultante por ter um filho obediente, promete a Parashuram tudo o que ele possa querer. Parashurama pede que a sua mãe seja trazida de novo à vida. Jamadagni concorda e Parashurama rapidamente junta as cabeças e os corpos da mãe e da bondosa senhora e dá lugar ao seu pai para que este execute o milagre. Quando as mulheres são devolvidas à vida reparam que Parashuram trocara as suas cabeças. Assim, a brâmane Renuka tem agora o corpo da mulher da casta baixa e Yellamma ode uma mulher de casta alta. Dentro do sistema de castas este é um problema bastante grave. A situação é resolvida com o reconhecimento do corpo como constituinte de identidade. Por tanto, ao corpo de Yellamma que tem agora uma cabeça de casta alta é dado status de divindade. Por esta razão, na narrativa bramânica sobre a deusa Yellamma, a deusa é muitas vezes chamada Renuka-Yellamma e adorada de duas maneiras diferentes, como a deusa de casta alta e meiga Renuka ou adeusa de casta baixa e volátil Yellamma.


Existem outras narrativas sobre a deusa Yellamma, entre elasa que passarei a descrever de seguida e que deriva da casta Dhangars da região da Kolhapur, noactual Estado da Maharashtra (Skyhawk, 2008). Esta casta dedica-se à guarda de gado nas regiões dos Western Ghats e no planalto do Deccan e é socialmente bastante marginalizada.


A narrativa dos Dhangars começa por enfatizar o facto de Yellamma ser a mais nova e teimosa de sete irmãs: Yekva, Mhakva, Durgava, Durgva, Margva, Jakva e Tukva. Como ilustração temos aqui uma imagem das sapta matrikas, ou as sete deusas, que no seu conjunto é muito comum em várias partes do Subcontinente. Um dia, durante uma caçada, Yellamma sentiu sede e por este razão separou-se das suas irmãs. Embora se tenha perdido das suas irmãs, Yellamma acaba por descobrir um lago que pertencia ao deus Mahadev. Enquanto estava ao pé do lago, viu uma planta do grão do bico, que por fome se sentiu tentada a colher. Quando se inclinava para a apanhar Yellamma ouviu uma voz (Mahadev) dizer, que se assim o fizesse, seria lançada sobre sitoda a culpa. Sendo teimosa, Yellamma continuou e arrancou a planta. No mesmo instante apareceu na palma da sua mão uma bolha ardente.


Sozinha e amedrontada, Yellamma fugiu até ao momento em que não conseguiu suportar maisa dor. Yellamma rompea bulha e descobre nelaum coágulo desangue, do qual nasce um pequeno bebé. O bebéera Parasarama ou Parasurama.


Só depois de dar luz Parasurama e caminhar um pouco mais é que Yellamma encontra finalmente as suas irmãs. Quando as mesmas se apercebem da existência de um bebé, gritaram: “fica longe da nós. Não te aproximes. Tornaste-nosparentes de um bastardo! Não queremos tocar-te e não te queremos no nosso grupo. Como deste à luz um bastardo, afasta-te! Nunca mais voltes procurar-nos!”


Sem ter para onde ir, sozinha e depois de muito andar, Yellamma encontra dois irmãos Muçulmanos Asan e Usan, ou seja, os Imãs Shiitas Hassan e Hussein. Pede-lhes e é-lhe concedido abrigo e passa a noite na varanda da sua casa. Na manhã seguinte, Yellamma pede-lhes que lhe dêem um lugar para viver. Como resposta, os dois irmãos colocaram uma pedra numa fisga e lançaram a mesma pedra instruindo Yellamma que a seguisse. O lugar onde a pedra caísse seria seu. Yellamma cumpriu as instruções dos dois irmãos e seguiu a pedra que caiu na colina de Saundatti.


Yellamma chegou à colina, onde a pedra tinha caídoao pôr-do-sol, encontrando a casa de Jagul Satyava, a quem ela pediu abrigo pela noite. Satyava respondeu dizendo que ele gostaria de lhe dar abrigo mas que a sua casa era uma casa muçulmana e havia por isso carne. Yellamma insistiu e acabou por ficar. Quando os filhos de Satyava, Bhram, Apa, Asane Usan regressaram a casatinham com eles duascabras selvagens. Yellamma exclamou que agora que a sua tia materna tinha regressado a casa, o seu filho deveria partilhar com eles amesa de jantar. Os rapazes acederam ao pedido de Yellamma, que com Parasarama no colo, se sentou com eles à mesa.


Esta narração informa-nos também que Yellamma pulverizoua carne que ali se encontrava com o néctar da imortalidade, devolvendo assim a vida aos animais. O Bebé Parasaram foi aceite pelos rapazes que com elepartilharam a refeição com grande alegria. Na manhã seguinte, os quatro irmãos edificaram um templo à virgem deusa na colina deSaundatti, para que desta maneira houvesse espaço para todos. A deusa Yellamma e Parasaram vivem desde aí no templo na colina. No ecrãestá o actual templode Saundatti.


Para aqueles que estão acostumados às nítidas divisões entre hindus e muçulmanos, esta narrativa pode ser chocante. De facto, este conto parece seguir todos os padrões das telenovelas. Segundo o Skyhawk (2008), este narrativa sublinha o papel que os heróis Shiitas Hassan e Hussein, têm na Ásia doSul, como protectores das mulheres e crianças abandonadas. Existem por outro lado, muitos que utilizando as lentes do poder, sugerem que esta narrativa demonstra a medida em que os devotos do culto de Yellamma negociaram uma relação de convívio com os Muçulmanos. Mesmo concordando com todas estas razões, penso que estas respostas racionais não têm capacidade de capturar a complexidade de o que esta acontecer. Querendo isto dizer, não demonstram a extensão em que o Islão se tornou parte da realidade dos locais e moldou as suas crenças, incluindo o Hinduísmo contemporâneo.


Antes de prosseguir, será necessário fazer um pequeno desvio para apresentaros intervenientes neste conto: Hassan e Hussein.


A morte do profeta Muhammad em 632 da nossa Era provocou uma crise entre a comunidade jovem Muçulmana. Enquanto uns acreditavam que Ali, o genro do profeta devia ser o Califa ou líder da comunidade, outros acharam que Abu Bakr, um dos companheiros do profeta deveria tomar essa posição. Abu Bakr torna-se Califa. Foi somente com o assassino do terceiro Califa que Ali foi reconhecido como Califa. Mas este foi também assassinado e o Califado foi tomado por Yazid e posteriormente pelo seu filho, Muawiya.


Hassan e Hussein eram filhos do Ali. Hassan foi assassinado em 670 da Era moderna, alegadamente por iniciativa de Yazid. Hussain foi martirizado na famosa batalha de Karbala contra as forças de Muawiya em 680 EC. Foram estes os eventos que consolidam e podem ser considerados diferenciadores entre Muçulmanos Sunnitas e Shiitas (estes últimos considerados como partidários de Ali). O que é comum à maioria dos Shiitas é a comemoração do martírio do Imã Hussein e os seus companheiros na batalha de Karbala. O mesmo Imã foi martirizado no décimo dia do mês do Muharram. Por esta razão, os primeiros dez dias do mês do Muharram são marcados por várias cerimónias incluindo o ritual do luto e várias procissões. A imagem no ecrã mostra as principais características – o desfile de Duldul, as bandeirolas chamadas alamse replicas dos túmulos dos Imãs, denominados tazias.


Existem mais ligações entre o ídolo de Yellamma e a simbologia Shiita. No seu estudo sobre o Planalto do Deccan, onde a adoração da Yellamma predomina, Jackie Assayda diz-nos que as ofertas dadas a outra divindade, Rajabaug Savar ou Sufi Bar Shah, são pequenos cavalos de prata chamados Duldul (2004: 159, 168). Mais uma vez, aqueles que conhecem as práticas dos Shiitas sabem que Duldul, ou Duljinah, é o nome do cavalo dado pelo Profeta ao seu neto Husseine este é uma das figuras presentes nas procissões do Muharram. Nestas procissões, um cavalo branco sem cavaleiro, com flechas na sela é desfilado em representação o Duljinah depois da batalha de Karbala. O que seria interessante seria que este cavalo em prata tivesse também lugar na colecção Kwok On como uma artefacto associado ao culto de Yellamma.


Outro facto curiososão as palmas da nossa Deusa Yellamma. São obviamente palmas levantadas para dar bênções. Mas, o que parece interessante, e como estas imagens demonstram, as suas palmas são semelhantes as utilizadas na panja alam, que tem lugar nas procissões Shiitas. Panja em Persa significa cinco, a palma com cinco dedos representa as cinco almas puras da família do Profeta: Muhammad, Fatima, Ali, Hassan e Hussein. Também constato que palmas semelhantes são utilizadas em cerimónias nos templos Goeses, sendo que o Shiismo teve alguma influência em Goa por esta estar dentro da Sultanato de Bijapur.


O Shiismo teve um impacto profundo no Subcontinente, especialmente no planalto do Deccan sobretudo por causa dos Sultões do império Bahamani (1347-1527) e mais tarde por causa do Sultões da dinastia Adil Shah deBijapur que também seguiram o Shiismo (os próximos slides mostram a extensão geográfica do império Bahmani, o seus Estados sucessores e finalmente o Estado do Bijapur). A popularidade das figuras dos Imãs Hassan e Hussein e a sua presença no culto da deusa Yellamma resultam da influência destas duas dinastias. Mas gostaria de sublinhar o facto de que enquanto o “Hinduismo” é muitas vezes apontado como tendo exercido influência sobre os fés ditas estrangeiras, como Islão e Cristianismo, o que não é tão reconhecido é a maneira como estas diferentes fés também tiveram grande influência sobre as práticas de fé no Subcontinente.


Porém, a influência do Islão e dos Muçulmanos, vai muito além da influência nas práticas de fé e crenças. Existe também uma enorme Influência no quotidiano e na esfera do profano. Para capturar a amplitude desta influência, em 1974 o erudito professor de Estudos Islâmicos Marshal Hodgson introduziu o termo Islamicate no seu livro “The Venture of Islam”. Neste livro, Hodgson sugere que o Islamicate se referia não directamente à religiãomas à complexa história sócio-cultural associada ao Islão e aos Muçulmanos, tanto entre Muçulmanos, como não Muçulmanos.


Este conceito poderia ser ilustradocom a imagem deste traje que vemos na famosa produção de Mahabharata de Peter Brook. Vulgarmente compreendido como traje Indiano, é de facto inspirado pelas Jama persa. O Uso de roupas,persas ou árabes pelos povos do Subcontinente seria um exemplo perfeito deIslamicate. Para que se entenda melhor o conceito e tambémo traje , é necessáriofazer referência ao famoso ensaio do Philip Wagoner (1996) sobre as opções de vestuário dos reis de Vijayanagar. Como sabem, é muito popular representar Vijayanagar como o último reinado Hindu, último bastião contra a dita invasão Muçulmana e  dos Sultanatos Islâmicos que o rodeavam. Porém, o trabalho do Wagoner demonstra que os aparentemente príncipes“Hindus” do Vijayanagar tomaram como seu não somente o traje Islâmico como também os títulos do islamicate. Por exemplo, apresentam-se com “Sultão entre os reis Hindus”. Este título demonstraa maneira como as práticas dos reis Muçulmanos, que eram dominantes no Subcontinente, foram imitadas pelos não Muçulmanos. Poderia também ter tido como efeito o incentivo à conversão ao Islão ou a inclusão de práticas Muçulmanas nasjá existentes. Esta imagem mostra-nos um mural de um templo em Lepakshi, no actual Estado de Andhra Pradesh,onde podemos ver diversas cortesãs em traje do corte.


O que também é interessante é que alguns Dhangars poderão ter usado o jama em ocasiões de maior cerimónia. Como é exemplo esta imagem, onde vemos Dhangars a dançar num palco, em 1954 no antigo Estado da Índia. É bastante óbvio que os seus trajes são jamas.


Gostaria de terminar esta apresentação fazendo referência a uma última prática que demonstra a importância, não só do Islão, ou do Islamicate, mas também do Islão Shiita a par do Islamicate na Ásia do Sul. É a esta influência que se refere o ter moImã no título desta apresentação.


Como foi dito anteriormente, o martírio do Imã Hussein marca os primeiros dez dias do mês do Muharram. No norte da Índia, no reino do Awadh, i.e. contemporânea Lucknow, o Moharram é marcado com uma série de rauzakhawni, ou luto, onde são recitadas lamentações pelo Imã Hussein em cerimónias públicas. Apresento-vos esta imagem do rauzakhawni e em particular as lâmpadas nesta imagem. Esta imagem é uma aguarela sobre mica de escola Anglo-Indiana de Patna, demeados do século XIX. O que é curiosoé que estas lâmpadas são semelhantes às que são usadas pelos Hindus de Goa e Maharashtra durante o Diwali. Popularmente imaginados como coisas indígenas, o facto é que estas lâmpadas são marcas do Islamicate sobre os aspectos mais íntimos da vida “Hindu”.


Como é que estas lâmpadas chegaram ao estado costeiro de Goa vindas de Lucknow no interior do Subcontinente? Uma possível resposta seria através dos Maratas, quem foram embaixadores do Islamicate, ou Persianate, ao estilo dos príncipes Muçulmanos quando estes se tornaram no grande poderio do Subcontinente. Podíamos agora passar ao slide que mostra alguns retratos de Shivaji o rei Marata (1627/1630[1] – 1680) e o Sultão do Bijapur Muhammad Adil Shah (r.1627–1657), para demonstrar como estes dois homens participaram numa mesma esfera cultural: o Islamicate ou o Persianate. Podemos também ver como os dois estão vestidos com jamas, tal como o último Peshwa Madhav Rao Narayan, seu ministro Nana Fadnavis e os criados presentes neste retrato.


Não será seguramente surpreendente que a comemoração do Moharram tenha sido uma das maiores festas em lugares como Poona ou Bombaim, sendo que esta primeira cidade está activamente associada ao poder Marata. Como ShubnamTejaniaponta:

Em Poona, o Muharram, comemoração Shiita do martírio dos netos do Profeta, era traditionalmente uma festa trans-comunitária. Embora seja uma ocasião marcadasomente no calendário Shiita, era popular entre muitas comunidades. Músicos Hindus eram pagos para tocar, as bailadeiras cantavam marsias, os carros debois dos trabalhadores Hindus alugados para transportaros tazias dos Imãs. Várias secções da população Hindu preparavam frequentemente os seus próprios tazias, que desfilavam e eram imersos lado a lado com os dos Muçulmanos. (2007: 56)


Tejani e outros estudiososafirmam que foi com o intuito de quebrar o espírito de harmonia existente entre comunidades, durante as procissões do Muharram, que o líder Hindu nacionalista Balgangadhar Lokmanya Tilak começou a organizar a festa pública do Ganesh. Esta imagem mostra Tilak na primeira festa pública do Ganesh em Poona.


A última imagem ilustra uma procissão contemporânea dedicada ao deus Ganesh na cidade de Bombaim. Este é um fenómeno épico, recrutandoum número imenso de membros das várias associações bairristas para grandes procissões que acabam com a imersão dos ídolos do deus Ganesh. O que é interessante constatar é que estas procissões eram muito semelhantes às do Muharramna mesma cidade durante o século XIX e a primeira metade do século XX, onde, mais uma vez, as procissões dos tazias eram uma festa do bairro, que atraianão sóos fiéis, mas também lideres os gangues, rufiões e outros tantos curiosos.


Gostaria de concluir com a sugestão de que a Índia, ou Ásia de Sul e mais complexa do que imaginamos. E definitivamente muito mais do que um local Hindu e a apresentação de hoje tentou chamara vossa atenção para a maneira como esta complexidade é muitas vezes ignorada e negada. Uma maior abertura e conhecimento das práticas regionais e locais demonstra que a maneira como o Islão, e em particular o Islão Shiita, foi fundamental para a formação do cultura secular no Subcontinente, mas também para a cultura religiosa de grupos que hoje não são Muçulmanos ou Cristãos mas vistos como apenas Hindus.



  • Assayag, Jackie. 2004. At the Confluence of Two Rivers: Muslims and Hindus in South India. New Delhi: Manohar.
  • Skyhawk, Hugh van. 2008. “Muharram Processions and the Ethicization of Hero Cults in the Premodern Deccan.” In South Asian Religions on Display. Religious Processions in South Asia and in the Diaspora, edited by Knut A. (Editor-in-Chief) Jacobsen, 115–25. Oxon: Routledge.
  • Tejani, Shabnum. 2007. Indian Secularism: A Social and Intellectual History 1890-1950. “Opus 1.”Ranikhet: Permanent Black.
  • Wagoner, Phillip B. 1996. “‘Sultan among Hindu Kings’: Dress, Titles, and the Islamicization of Hindu Culture at Vijayanagara.” The Journal of Asian Studies 55 (4): 851–80.

Representations ‘of’ and ‘by’ Muslims

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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.


Having said that I have to confess that I do not see myself as able to provide an insight into representations of Muslims in the Portuguese media, nor even in the European media. I will leave this task to my more than capable colleague Joana Gorjao Henriques, who is a journalist of some acclaim. What I would like to do is to speak about international tendencies, and in particular, the tendency to speak of “Muslims” as if they were a single community. As I will point out later, and that Richard Alexandre the moderator of our debate has already alluded to, this is an idea that isgleefully taken up by some Muslims themselves. But that doesn’t make it right, and this tendency itself needs to be taken up critically. To retain to the point, I don’t think that we should necessarily see Sunnis, Shias, and the various groups within these more popular sects as members of one single community.Indeed some of the more radical members of some groups, do not even see others as Muslim! There is this situation in Pakistan for example – where Ahmadis are not seen as Muslim, Shia are seen by Sunni as not quite Muslim, and members of the Shia elite are routinely assassinated. This is, of course, not the situation only in Pakistan but can be seen all across locations marked by feuding Muslim groups. Take Iraq, for example, where Sunni and Shia are attacking each other down precisely because they are not seen as belonging to the same group. As Faisal Deviji has recently pointed out, even the Hajj, the pilgrimage hailed as one of the five pillars constituting Islam as a single faith is experienced differently by different Muslims.


As an anthropologist I would turn to this difference in experience and practices to suggest that we are in the presence not of one Islam, but multiple Islams and we need to be ever conscious of this fact. Part of the problem emerges from our intellectual traditions that seek to define and box practices and place them under a single label. Thus, we are told that the essence of Islam is contained in the five pillars. What does this make of groups that see themselves as Muslim, and pray not the namaz but other forms of meditation? Does this make them less Muslim? What of persons who do not actively confess Islam, but may constantly turn to the intercession of a divine who is Muslim? Our obsession with looking for well-defined practices is a part of the problem that we need to address to be able to see the diversity within Islam/s and not ourselves fall into the kind of fundamentalism that we accuse Muslim radicals. I would rather privilege the way in which groups and individuals frame their relationship, with the Prophet, or others who claim to be inspired by him to determine Muslim-ness. Once we do this we are, I believe, in a new world, that is more open to the diversity, dynamism and fluidity of the human experience.


Another reason for the creation of the idea of a single Muslim community is because of the nature of the secular liberal state. While the secular liberal state has more recently come into conflict with Islam, the fact is that the secular liberal state has been in conflict with organised religions ever since its emergence! This is one way to make sense of the offensive illustrations of Charlie Hebdo, that mocks the Catholicism as well as those of Islam. As Philip Hamburger (2004) has pointed out, the U.S. of America’s separation of the Church from State was not the separation of just any church, but the Catholic Church. Reading Joskowicz’ work (2013) we realise the extent to which anti-Catholicism was a part of French secular values. That this anti-Catholicism then morphed into anti-Judaism, and now Islamphobia tells us something of the nature of the secular liberal state and its persistent problem with religions and those who follow these practices.The reason for this violence, of course, is the much discussed desire of the liberal state to be the sole signifier of the people whose allegiance it claims.


Yet, as Talal Asad has pointed out in his analysis of French secularism, even as the secular state does not wish to deal with religious groups in the first place, it also defines religion, and what is religious and what not. It is this consolidation of actually existing diversity into a single church – along the nature of the Catholic Church, in itself perhaps a grand, but much emulated, aberration in terms of religious organisation, – that generates fundamentalist tendencies that look to a single practice and brooks no dissent. It is in this context that I noted with some concern, the existence of a ‘Comunidade Islâmica de Lisboa’. I know very little about this community, but from what I have heard about it, it does not include all the various ethnicities or sects that claim a relationship with Islam.  I point to this community not to demonise it but to point to the fact that there is a particular kind of a legal and political arrangement that allows for such claims to singularity in the first place.


Thus, while many have rightly pointed to the racism that underlies the problematic representations of Muslims, it is not only racism at work, but also secular liberalism that is a part of the problem.Any resolution needs to recognise this fact and work towards the articulation of a post-liberal state. There is no time here to elaborate what such a state would look like, but I can say this much, that Such it is not necessarily, in fact most certainly not, anti-liberal, but transcends the problems of liberalism, its problematic binaries, and its desire for homogeneity.


Clearly what we need a new intellectual frame, one that is not obsessed with literary traditions alone, but is attentive to the diversity of practices around not a single Islam, but Islams. This intellectual practice would not be gripped only with establishing origins and tracing genealogies, but with documenting dynamism in practices, fluidity .


Having made this argument I would now like to shift to the second part of my reflections, the representations by Muslims. Towards this end I would like to direct your attention to the video of the Egyptian pop-star Hisham Abbas’s song ‘Habibi Dah (Nari Narain)’. What we see in operation here is Orientalism pure and simple. We have all the clichés about India, the colours and such like. What I found particularly interesting, however, is that India is (once again) representated as a Hindu country. What is erased in this representation is the fact that there are many other groups, other than Hindus that live in the country. Indeed, what is most distressing is that such iconic buildings like the TajMahal and other Mughal structures, are torn out of their Timurid, Persianate, and Muslim context to be placed within this orientalist fantasy of a Hindu India.


I am unaware of the faith tradition that Abbas belongs to. I assume from some of his natal names that he is Muslim. Watching this video I wondered what it says about how Arabs view Islam? As Arabic? Can there be an Islam in India that is unrecognisable to Arabs? What do videos like this do to Muslims in India who may not fulfil the standards of what Arabs think Islam is supposed to look like?


Leaving this provocative questions out there I would like to turn to a personal anecdote. Some decades ago I had the opportunity to review the exhibition of the works of the Pakistani artist BaniAbidi. In the course of my research for the review I encountered some of Abidi’s earlier work – problematizing the adoption by Pakistanis of an Arab history. I had, and continue to have a problem with her discomfort, probably because I myself assert a European and Portuguese identity for myself and members of my community – Goans, especially Goan Catholic – even though so many of us have no physical or direct contact with Europe or Portugal. I believe it critical to allow people to choose their own history, and not be deterministic about identities. Nevertheless, I also recognise Abidi’s point that this embrace of Arabic histories also results in local Islamic practices, and the people engaging in these practices, as being seen as not properly Muslim. The problem is, however, more complex.  There exists an inner and external problem. If people are adopting Arabic histories we need to inquire if this is the result of inner class and caste discrimination that marks South Asian life. The external problem would be the condition where thanks to orientalist predilections of the Euro-Americans, and the dominant economies of some Arab countries, Arabs seem to be determining what Islam really is.


I would like to make just one small, rushed and haphazard reflection pertaining to Portugal before I conclude. I am quite troubled by the continued use of the term ‘Reconquista’ in Portugal and I believe it critical to address the question of representations of Islam(s) and Muslims in this country. It well established that there were times when Dom Afonso Henriques worked alongside Muslims in the course of his conquest, just as it is also know that resistance to the Franks was mounted not only by Muslims, but also by Christian Mozarabs. To speak of a Christian expulsion of Muslims is therefore problematic. We are speaking of perhaps a conflict between Arabs (a cultural, rather than racial group) and the Franks.


The very term Reconquista itself needs to be challenged, and here I think Portuguese historians and scholars could take a leaf out of Indian secular nationalist historiography which refuses to use the term “Muslim invasions” to refer to the conquests by the Turko-Afghans. As should be clear, emphasis is placed on political conquest, rather than the suggestion of foreign aggression, and further one refers to ethnic identity, rather than religious identity. This latter shift allows for us to recognise that religion is not always the most important reasons for human action. Indeed, one could use this insight to inquire if the Reconquista was not used to secure legitimacy for the independence that Afonso Henriques desired for his county? Let us not forget that Henriques operated within the context of Christendom and framing his actions as that of a Christian crusading prince against non-Christians would have made eminent political and strategic sense.


Finally, isn’t it odd that while much is made of the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal, and the suffering they endured, there is not a similar conversation about the expulsion of the Moors from this country? Is this silence because the new found European concern with Jews has a certain symbolic charge? By this I mean, that in a context where the Portuguese seem to suffer from a ‘dubious whiteness’ and are at pains to demonstrate, in various ways, their European-ness, merging with the larger northern European obsession with their former Jewish populations, assuages this dubious condition and produces the Portuguese as authentically European.



Asad, Talal. 2003. Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. 1st ed. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Asad, Talal. 2006. “French Secularism and the ‘Islamic Veil Affair.’” Hedgehog Review 8 (1/2): 93–106.

Asad, Talal. 2006. “Trying to Understand French Secularism.” In Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World, edited by Hent Vries and Lawrence Eugene Sullivan, 1st ed., 494–526. New York: Fordham University Press.

Devji, Faisal. 2017. “The Idea of Unifying Islam Is a Recent Invention and a Bad One – Faisal Devji | Aeon Essays.” Aeon. Accessed April 24.

Hamburger, Philip. 2002. “Separation of Church and State: A Theologically Liberal, Anti-Catholic, and American Principle.” University of Chicago Law Occasional Paper No. 13.

Hodgson, Marshall. 1974. The Venture of Islam : Conscience and History in a World Civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Joskowicz, Ari. 2013. The Modernity of Others Jewish Anti-Catholicism in Germany and France, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

(A recording of the entire session in which this presentation was made is available at this link)