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Can You Tell by the Name? Sectarian Self-Expression by the Muslims of Lucknow.


· Zaheer Abbas O P Jindal Global University (Sonipat, India)


07/28 | 16:10-16:30 UTC+2/CEST


On the authority of Abdul Sharar, a playwright and historian, it is reported that during the heyday of Nawabi era Lucknow, ‘no one even noticed who was a Sunni and who a Shia.’ That Sharar did not live during that heyday has done little to disturb this romantic and quixotic picture. Later day historians have tamely followed Sharar’s behest in describing Lucknow as being singularly immune from sectarian bigotry. The first objective of the paper will be to question this dominant and enduring image of the erstwhile Nawabi capital. Drawing from Sharar’s own writing, it will be argued that the sectarian identity of a Muslim was vividly and blatantly expressed through different attire and headdress. Overtime, these sectarian differences impinged on shared religious rituals like Muharram which was sought to be remoulded to fit the Shii interpretation of the event. The move brought in its wake bitter conflict and turmoil, one which continues to plague the sects to this day.

The second objective of the paper will be to demonstrate how this tumultuous history has informed the modes of self-expression of present-day Muslims of Lucknow and their places of worship. Thus, avowedly pan-Islamic practices and structures like the azan (call for prayer), the timings of the five canonical prayers and the mosque, have been refashioned to project their sectarian affiliation. Remarkably, elements from the local, non-Muslim culture have been incorporated in an effort to further sublimate the sectarian endeavour. Finally, it will be argued that the shift from corporeal markers of identity observed by Sharar to structures and practices owes to the demise of traditional mode of dressing itself.