Ismail Fajrie Alatas is an assistant professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, and History at New York University. He holds a doctorate in Anthropology and History from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, an MA in History from the National University of Singapore, and a BA (hons) in History from the University of Melbourne, Australia. He has written extensively in English and Indonesian on Sufism, the Hadrami diaspora in Southeast Asia, and Islamic religious authority. He has published several research articles in, among others, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Journal of Islamic Studies, Die Welt des Islams, Studia Islamika, Indonesia and the Malay World. He has also been invited to write several entries related to Hadrami Sufism for the Encyclopedia of Islam. Apart from these publications, he has authored three books in Indonesian on Sufism, sainthood, and Islamic epistemology.
This project explores the conditions that enable a Sufi tradition with its spiritual legacy and original institutional form rooted in pre-modern societies, to thrive in modernizing urban settings. It attempts to address such a challenge by examining the Ba'alawi sayyids; a group of migrants in Indonesia from the Hadramaut valley of South Yemen, who has been acknowledged as descendants of Prophet Muhammad. It tries to understand how Ba’alawi scholars reconfigure their Sufi tradition, the Tariqa ‘Alawiyya through their interaction with Indonesian nationhood and Islamic reformism, which necessitated the observation of embodied practices involving Ba'alawi scholars and their students in the transmission of knowledge through time. The aim of this project is therefore (1) to understand how textual knowledge that makes up a religious tradition becomes embodied; and (2) to observe how the embodied knowledge enters into the larger public through other ways of interaction, such as various Sufi rituals that engage broader public. This requires an ethnographic approach that looks at different forms of knowledge practices as sites where the discursive tradition is transmitted, negotiated, transformed, manipulated through the interaction between scholars and students on one side and between them and the broader public on the other.