American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
Pakistan represents a paradigmatic case of the Islamization of public life that has swept the Muslim world in recent decades. Founded in the name of a Muslim identity, the Pakistani constitution declares Islam to be the basis for state sovereignty and Islamic authority is central to bureaucratic, legal and democratic institutions. In the past few decades, Pakistan has witnessed the emergence of a wide range of institutions including Islamic banks, corporations, NGOs, educational institutes that claim to be crafting an Islamic society on the basis of Islamic precepts. In this context, the position held by Pakistani Tablighis, practitioners of the transnational piety movement, the Tablighi Jamaat, that only their own distinct, face-to-face form of preaching (dawat) is capable of spreading Islamic virtues stands out. Dawat, Tablighis insist, is modeled on Prophetic example and is therefore the sacred means for creating a relationship with God and drawing Muslims together into relationships that allow them to “stand together on the good.” In this presentation, I show how the performance of Islamic iconicity - a relationship of mimetic fidelity to the Prophet and Companions - in dawat is understood by Tablighis to be a condition for divine presence and the creation of mutual obligation between Muslims that Tablighis understand to be constitutive of a transcendental Islamic community. I argue that the growing popularity and success of the Tablighi Jamaat must be understood against the backdrop of the deepening ethnic and sectarian tensions that structure urban life in Pakistan.