Caste in Islam: Social Hierarchy among Muslims in Malabar, South India

Event details

PhD Seminar

Date & time

Friday 23 November 2018


Milgate room A.D. Hope Bldg.


Saidalavi P.C


Saidalavi P.C.

Social hierarchy has generally been understood in South Asia within the framework of ‘caste’: a Hindu social system that classifies the population into groups based on the religious ideas of purity and pollution, commensal restrictions, ritual vocations and occupational specialisations. Scholars of Islam in India have argued that the caste system has influenced and shaped the social structures and hierarchal relations among Muslims. Yet this is in stark contradiction to how many Muslims across India view themselves, emphasising egalitarian relations rather than a ‘caste’ like system in Islam. Caste, they maintain, is a strictly Hindu social phenomenon. Such assertions have generally been dismissed in scholarly discourses as a ‘natural’ disjunction between theory and practice in any social system. Such 'diffusionist' accounts of caste have done much to illuminate the unequal social relationships existing among Muslims. However, they are also problematic as they render Muslim social systems as merely derivative of a dominant Hindu one, with its privileging of ritual hierarchies over the economic, political and cultural consideration specific to Islam and local practices. By ethnographically documenting how Muslims in Malabar operationalise hierarchical relations and how they negotiate them with the egalitarian impulses of Islam, this thesis aims to critique the diffusionist arguments and thereby theorise social hierarchy as a contextual practice.

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