Community Consciousness, Development, Leadership:
The Experience of Two Muslim Groups in Nineteenth
and Twentieth Century South Asia
Soumen Mukherjee, PhD Candidate, Department of History,
South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg
PhD Viva Voce Presentation, 3 December 2010.
1. The Background:
1.1 ‘Living together separately’ – a welcome addition to existing
paradigms on interactions of Islamic and non-Islamic cultures in South
Asia. But gap in understanding:
1.1.1 When and how do individuals and/ or communities:
a) live together;
b) live separately; and
c) live together in certain respects while separately in certain others.
1.1.2 The examples of the two Shia sub-sects of the Khojas and the Daudi Bohras
in the 19th and 20th century South Asia, or more precisely Bombay.
1.1.3 The core questions in this study rest not on the broader problem of
interaction between Islamic and non-Islamic history and culture, but between
different strands and sectarian traditions within the rubric of Islam which,
in turn, show the plurality of voices within Islam.
Soumen Mukherjee, PhD Viva Voce Presentation,
3 December 2010.
2. The Core Questions, or, ‘What is/ are new’:
2.1 The misleading idea of a monolithic Muslim community (cf. the
Brass-Robinson debate). The diverse sectarian and sub-sectarian
traditions within Islam constitute the case in point.
2.2 Nature of the present project:
a comparative, and in certain respects contrastive, study of the two subsects of the Daudi Bohras and the Khojas – and perhaps also the first of
its kind.
2.3 Community consciousness, development and leadership – three
inter-related aspects of a bigger problem:
Soumen Mukherjee, PhD Viva Voce Presentation,
3 December 2010.
2. The Core
that the socio-religious and political leaders of these two sub-sects faced
in forging of linkages with (as well as distance from) the broader
Muslim community of South Asia.
2.4 The sites of negotiations:
• politics,
• socio-religious reformism, amounting to welfarist and developmental
Existing academic works have their own inadequacies, such as:
2.4.1 Inadequacies in Existing Literature: The Case of the Daudis:
o Wright Jr.- Explicates the coexistence of the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’, though the
‘competitive modernization’ thesis limited within the sphere of political development.
Soumen Mukherjee, PhD Viva Voce Presentation,
3 December 2010.
2. The Core Questions, or, ‘What is/ are new’
o Roy- Sees, rather naively, the Udaipur riots of the 1970s as the first signs of the Daudis’
quest to understand ‘their religious system’.
o Blank- Explores the roots of the coexistence of the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’, but
reduces the later 20th century reformist venture to the status of a dissident movement,
dismissing the moral claims of the reformists
2.4.2 Inadequacies in Existing Literature: The Case of the Khojas:
o Papanek- Emphasis on the didactic role of the Aga Khans, but not so much on the 19th
century historical backdrop.
o Masselos- His understanding of conceptual categories of ‘modernisation’ and ‘orthodoxy’
contestable. The reformist Khojas’ modernisation project and claims of Sunni-hood are
seen as ‘paradoxical’.
o Sodhan- Transformation of a socio-religious polity with its own customary laws to a
clearly defined ‘sect’ became possible, thanks to the emphasis on the rhetoric of ‘public
issues’, though predicaments of the leadership and the modalities of its working largely
Soumen Mukherjee, PhD Viva Voce Presentation,
3 December 2010.
2. The Core Questions, or, ‘What is/ are new’
o Purohit- The canonisation of the Ginan literature – the panth tradition, as opposed to
‘Ismaili’, but inadequate treatment of the socio-political forces.
2.4 The balancing of sectarian or sub-sectarian specificities with the
general trend of standardisation of religious norms in the later 19th
century – the backdrop of competing strands of religious nationalist
politics from later part of the 19th century in South Asia.
2.5 The current project :
is located at the intersection of social, political and religious experience of the two
problematises the question of leadership, engages with a comparative historical study
of social reformism of these two groups, and
explicates the political and social ramifications of the processes, and the idioms
resorted to in the diverse social, political and religious negotiations.
Soumen Mukherjee, PhD Viva Voce Presentation,
3 December 2010.
3. Theoretical Considerations, Sources & Methods:
3.1 Interdisciplinary: drawing on theoretical considerations in social and
intellectual history as well as some key paradigms in Political Science.
Skinnerian contextualism: emphasis on languages and rhetoric.
The relevance of ‘public sphere’.
Historical contexts studied over a longue durée by employing the model of
‘path dependence’.
Religious attitudes deconstructed by employing, in a qualified way, the tool of
rational choice theory of religion (RCTR); the over-emphasis on the ‘economic
approach’ within RCTR underscored.
The underlying idea of ‘identification’ (as opposed to ‘identity’ per se; Stuart
Hall) and a qualified use of ‘strategic syncretism’ to deconstruct the modalities
of identification.
Soumen Mukherjee, PhD Viva Voce Presentation,
3 December 2010
3. Theoretical Considerations, Sources & Methods
3.2 Archival sources and interviews:
The colonial archives, and beyond.
Newspaper reports.
Judgements of major law cases, and other associated papers, e.g. speech made
by counsels.
Self-depicting literature (tracts and memoirs of communities’ religious and/ or
political leaders).
Select interviews.
Soumen Mukherjee, PhD Viva Voce Presentation,
3 December 2010
4. Research Design:
Propositions made
4.1 Colonial understanding of the two
liminal communities of the Bohras and
the Khojas
Chapter 2.
Chapter 3
Mediated by interventions from
sections of such communities in the
legal space
4.3 Undermines much of the Saidian
notion of alterity.
4.4 The competing approaches to define
community boundaries, coming from
within the Khoja community of colonial
Bombay from c. mid-19th onwards
4.5 Inextricably tied up with broader
reformist questions.
Soumen Mukherjee, PhD Viva Voce Presentation,
3 December 2010
4. Research Design (contd.):
Propositions made
4.6 Reformist ventures internally diverse.
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
celebrating essentially sectarian values
(exemplified by Mulla Abdul Husain).
4.8 Decisive efforts to forge links with
other Bohra groups (e.g., with the
Sulaimanis) and even with South Asia’s
Muslim population (exemplified by
Adamjee Peerbhoy).
4.9 The Khoja leadership – represented by
Aga Khan III – needs to be deconstruct-
Soumen Mukherjee, PhD Viva Voce Presentation,
3 December 2010
4. Research Design (contd.):
Propositions made
-ed at two levels: political and religious
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
4.10 Aga Khan III’s political activism:
interesting balance between sectarian
specificities and political linkages with
South Asia’s Muslim community.
4.11 Political activism and social reformist
ventures are often closely intertwined.
Aga Khan III’s example shows that the
latter played a central role in sociopolitical policies.
4.12 Interestingly, the rhetoric
welfarism, for him, was garbed in
Soumen Mukherjee, PhD Viva Voce Presentation,
3 December 2010
4. Research Design (contd.):
Propositions made
Chapter 6
4.13 Developments in post-Independence
South Asia: The highly organised
welfarist schemes of Aga Khan III
developed into the Aga Khan
Development Network under Aga Khan
IV engaging with diverse issues of a
plural society: from education through
sustainable development to health care.
Chapter 7
sectarian) language.
4.14 The Daudi leadership, in contrast, is
more preoccupied with issues of the
individual vs. community, restricting its
developmental agenda within the field
of education.
Soumen Mukherjee, PhD Viva Voce Presentation,
3 December 2010
5. Specific Findings & Generalisable Conclusions:
Specific Findings
Generalisable Conclusions
 Shifting nature of community
 The view of a monolithic Muslim
consciousness of the Daudis and
the Khojas – internal diversities:
socio-religious structure is both
similar to and different from each
other, conditioning their social,
religious and political experience.
community in South Asia is
historically unfounded. Sectarian
and sub-sectarian traditions have to
be given due importance, as well as
their internal structural diversities.
 Reconfiguration
boundaries of interstitial socioreligious groups into close-knit
ambivalence and ambiguities.
Soumen Mukherjee, PhD Viva Voce Presentation,
3 December 2010
 Importance of studying processes
of negotiations, and ideational
shifts in community consciousness,
bringing into focus the process(es)
of identification as opposed to
‘identity’ as such.
5. Specific Findings & Generalisable Conclusions
Specific Findings
Generalisable Conclusions
 Importance of political and/ or
 The experience of modernism (or
religious leadership in executing
political activist as well as social
welfarist policies.
modernisation, as employed by
Henri Lefebvre) and religious
structures need not be mutually
exclusive categories.
 Social
leaderships (e.g. Aga Khan III),
as answer to reformist critiques
of religious heads and related
political predicaments.
Soumen Mukherjee, PhD Viva Voce Presentation,
3 December 2010
 Social
ventures are not far-fetched
abstract categories, but have their
own purpose as idioms of
communication, negotiation and
forging consensus.

Community Consciousness, Development, Leadership: The