Accepted Paper:

Who is Shia in Bangladesh? Ethnic, linguistic, and transnational religious connectivity  

Author:

Humayun Kabir (North South University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper interrogates the construction and maintenance of the Shia Muslims’ (the Twelver Shia) identity in relations to their ethnic, linguistic, and transnational Shia religiosity in Bangladesh, a predominantly Sunni Muslim society.

Paper long abstract:

The Shia community—predominantly the followers of the Twelver Shia—represents a very small number, and relatively unknown, in the majoritarian Sunni society in Bangladesh. This paper interrogates the Shia Muslims in Dhaka in relation to three important identity markers—ethnicity, language, and religious practices. The ethnic origin of the Shia Muslims is inextricably tied to the migration histories: those migrated long before the 1947's Partition of the Indian subcontinent, such as the Shia nobility during the Mughal reign, and those after the Partition. Both of the groups identify themselves as part of a minority linguistic tradition, the Urdu-speaking community. The earlier migrants, particularly, the Shia nobility settled in Old Dhaka being recognised under the Dhakaiya cultural and linguistic traditions have been subsumed under the Bengali society. In contrast, the degree of Bengalization is lesser among the Shia community migrated after the Partition from various parts of India, Bihar, in particular, for the political treatment towards them. However, ethnic and linguistic differences are often subsumed under Shia identity as articulated through regular commemorative practices, the embodiment of Shia martyrdoms, and the interaction with the Shia religious leaderships of Iran. What distinguishes the Shia community in Bangladesh is their relative co-optation and accommodation of religious practices to the syncretistic Islamic tradition of Bengali Sunni Muslims and their less political presences in 'othering' the Sunnis, though some recent attacks on the community challenge the premise.

Panel MB-SSR02
Ideas of movement, faith, and home in Muslim communities in the diaspora