Afsar MohammadFeb 18, 2014
The Festival of Pirs
Popular Islam and Shared Devotion in South India
University Press 2013
Several studies about Islam in Asian contexts highlight the pluralistic environment that Muslims inhabit and interplay of various religious traditions that color local practice and thought. In The Festival of Pirs: Popular Islam and Shared Devotion in South India (Oxford University Press, 2013) we are given a first hand account of the devotional life and dynamic setting that produces one such example. Afsar Mohammad, professor at the University of Texas at Austin, documents public rituals and devotional stories revolving around a Sufi master, Kullayappa, and the 300,000 pilgrims from throughout South Asia who travel to the small village of Gugudu. In The Festival of Pirs we are shown how the events occurring during the month of Muharram and the narrative of the Battle of Karbala are transformed into a meaningful local frame. Here, the importance of the 'local' becomes clear while both Muslims and Hindus participate in these events. In fact, participants identify their practices as Kullayappa devotion (bakhti) instead of the more singular categories we are more familiar with, such as Muslim and Hindu. Mohammad also examines the tensions between these practices and the reformist activity of Muslims following what they call 'True' (asli) Islam. In our conversation we discussed frictions between mosque and shrine cultures, textual authority, the role of Telugu language, local and localized Islam, political sermons, public rituals, temporary asceticism, and religious identity.