My current book project, tentatively entitled “Importing Shi‘i Islam: Religious Authority and Sectarianism between Pakistan and the Middle East” rethinks the common center-periphery perspective that frames the Middle East as the seat of authoritative religious reasoning vis-à-vis a marginal South Asian Islam. Drawing on 15 months of archival research and interviews conducted in Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, and the United Kingdom, I demonstrate how Shi'i and Sunni religious scholars ('ulama) in colonial India and Pakistan negotiate a complex web of closeness and distance that connects them to eminent Muslim jurists residing in the Arab lands and Iran. The project attempts to move beyond scholarly paradigms that investigate the transnational travel of ideas in terms of either resistance and rejection, on the one hand, or wholesale adoption, on the other. Rather, I show how local South Asian scholars occupy a creative and at times disruptive role as brokers, translators, and self-confident pioneers of modern and contemporary Islamic thought.
This study in its transnational scope speaks to historians of South Asia, the Middle East, and Islam, as well as to scholars working in the fields of Islamic thought, transnational history, Shi'i studies, and religion more broadly.
I am also pursuing two two further research projects. The first aims at uncovering the long-term impact of the Iranian Revolution. While I am interested in how Shi‘i actors in West, Central, and South Asia made sense of the establishment of a Shi‘i state run by clerics, I also explore the implications of these events for Sunni thinkers, Islamists, and religious scholars over the last 40 years. Second, I try to make sense of the diverging fate of the Islamic schools of law in South Asia and the Middle East over the last 150 years. While madhhab identities remain strong in the Subcontinent, this system has been seriously challenged in the Arab world in particular. A crucial, underlying question in this context is to solve the puzzle why there are only so few Salafis in present-day India and Pakistan.
Copyright © 2017 Simon Wolfgang Fuchs. All rights reserved.
Cover of the Shi'ite journal Payam-e 'Ama (Lahore, Pakistan, October 1960) Top: Sultan ul-Madaris in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India