Brian E. Bond

Ethnomusicology/MusicCity University of New York (CUNY) / Graduate Center

Award Information

2016 IDRF Program

Ethnomusicology/MusicCity University of New York (CUNY) / Graduate Center

Singing Islam: Sufi Poetry Performance as Ethical Pedagogy in Western India

This project examines how Sindhi-language Sufi poetry performance functions as a form of ethical pedagogy within Muslim communities in Kachchh, a border district in the Indian state of Gujarat whose socio-religious landscape is characterized by competing visions of Islam, the presence of Hindu nationalist rhetoric, and a recent rise in interreligious tension between Hindus and Muslims. Over the past few decades there appears to have been a shift in attitudes towards musical practices in Muslim communities of this border region, as the circulation of Islamic reformist discourses has led many to question the propriety of musical performance as a means of religious devotion. The increase in Islamic reformist activity has presented the region's Muslims with a range of choices about how to be Muslim, a situation that generates debate about the place of Sufi performance in Muslim communities. Taking account of these social processes, I will analyze how four performance genres—kafi, shah jo rag, mawlud, and bait recitation—continue to serve as means for the transmission of Sufi teachings, while also being subject to critique and revision as they interface with alternative modes of Islamic learning. A close study of these performance practices—and of what listeners learn from them—will illuminate the ways in which individuals make poetry meaningful by bringing Sufi teachings to bear on their everyday lives—in their understandings of what constitutes acceptable Islamic devotion, who is vested with authority to pronounce what is proper or not in Islam, and how one should regard and interact with members of other religious groups. I hypothesize that the different ways in which Muslims regard and engage with Sufi performance genres in moral terms are central to the contemporary contestation of Islam in Kachchh, as the social and political marginalization of Muslims in Gujarat leads many to look beyond vernacular Islam to pan-South Asian and global reformist models of Islam.