Islamic Networks between South Asia and the Gulf
- Mosque Jamek, by Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams
Over the last fifty years, pan-Islamic ties have intensified between South Asia and the Gulf. Gathering together some of the best specialists on the subject, Laurence Louër and Christophe Jaffrelot (CERI) explore these ideological, educational and spiritual networks in a book entitled Pan Islamic Connections. Transnational Networks between South Asia and the Gulf (Hurst & Co, December 2017). Interview by Miriam Périe
Despite a traditional geographical division establishing a clear cut between the Persian Gulf countries (associated with the Middle East) and the Indian sub-continent (perceived as Asian), these two regions of the globe have been maintaining commercial and cultural links for centuries, that have notably translated into massive migration. In the religious field, which we shall explore through this work, these connections have taken the form of pilgrimage routes that have not only conducted Muslims from South Asia to Mecca, but also to Karbala, Qom and Najaf, for the Shiites. In parallel, religious education networks have developed to form clerics but more generally the religious spirits. Since the 1980s (the period this volume focuses on) these exchanges and interactions have paired up with the intensification of Islamic connections within the framework of the Afghan war and the emergence of transnational networks like al-Qaida.
What are the main historical dynamics that have triggered and are at the heart of the religious connection between the Gulf monarchies, Iran, India and Pakistan?
The transnational dynamic existing between the Gulf countries and South Asia is first and foremost overdetermined, in religious terms, by the rivalry opposing Iran and Saudi Arabia. This rivalry naturally includes the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, called “sectarianism” in the region. Large South Asian countries—Pakistan, in particular—are for the most part Sunni yet they also have a strong Shiite minority that Iran has tried to use to export its revolution in 1979 and later in the 1980s. Saudis have immediately acted to counter the Iranian influence by supporting activist Sunni groups and by funding madrassas (Qur’anic schools). Some states, Pakistan for instance, have welcomed this Saudi presence, while avoiding to cause an escalation of the sectarian conflict.