Isma'ili Modern: Globalization and Identity in a Muslim Community

Isma'ili Modern: Globalization and Identity in a Muslim Community

Isma'ili Modern: Globalization and Identity in a Muslim Community

Isma'ili Modern: Globalization and Identity in a Muslim Community

Synopsis

The Isma'ili Muslims, a major sect of Shi'i Islam, form a community that is intriguing in its deterritorialized social organization. Informed by the richness of Isma'ili history, theories of transnationalism and globalization, and firsthand ethnographic fieldwork in the Himalayan regions of Tajikistan and Pakistan as well as in Europe, Jonah Steinberg investigates Isma'ili Muslims and the development of their remarkable and expansive twenty-first-century global structures. Led by a charismatic European-based hereditary Imam, Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, global Isma'ili organizations make available an astonishing array of services--social, economic, political, and religious--to some three to five million subjects stretching from Afghanistan to England, from Pakistan to Tanzania. Steinberg argues that this intricate and highly integrated network enables a new kind of shared identity and citizenship, one that goes well beyond the sense of community maintained by other diasporic populations. Of note in this process is the rapid assimilation in the postcolonial period of once-isolated societies into the intensively centralized Isma'ili structure. Also remarkable is the Isma'ilis' self-presentation, contrary to common characterizations of Islam in the mass media, as a Muslim society that is broadly sympathetic to capitalist systems, opposed to fundamentalism, and distinctly modern in orientation. Steinberg's unique journey into remote mountain regions highlights today's rapidly shifting meanings of citizenship, faith, and identity and reveals their global scale.

Excerpt

The organizational dynamics of the Ismaʿili Muslim community raise important questions about the nature of citizenship and political identity at this moment in history. They present a basic challenge to theoretical and popular understandings of the state, of globalization, and of Islam. They point to a transformation in the relationship between territory and allegiance, a fundamental shift in the possibilities for sociopolitical organization. the Ismaʿilis are widely scattered across the planet, but their community’s institutional infrastructure is highly centralized and provides for subjects a vast array of services, symbols, and social spaces. Ismaʿili institutions penetrate deeply into participants’ lives; they suffuse the fabric of their daily activities. in this way, the complex of Ismaʿili forms, processes, and structures seems to represent a new possibility for transnational social organization, for sociopolitical participation beyond the nation-state, for citizenship without territory.

The Ismaʿili community is neither national nor ethnic; it is bound neither to a territorial unit nor to a government; it is politically anomalous while it enjoys, in many contexts, legal recognition and autonomy; at its foundation is religion, and yet it provides for its members a staggering set of secular structures. While in some cases these services are provided in addition to those provided by the state, in others, where the state is either unwilling or unable, they are provided in the place of state infrastructure. Thus in some settings Ismaʿilis live and move within a centralized, nonnational, nonterritorial polity from which they derive the central emblems of their identity. They enjoy both material and symbolic benefits from their membership in this transnational network.

This book is an exploration of the complex and intricate details of global Ismaʿilism. But it is also a meditation on the nature of sovereignty and political subjectivity and on their historical transformations. Through an examination of the implications of the Ismaʿili transnational complex, I seek . . .

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