Lived Islam in Bangladesh: contemporary religious discourse between Ahl-i-Hadith, "Hanafis‟ and authoritative texts, with special reference to al-barzakh
Yarrington, Matthew D
Contemporary north-west Bangladesh is the scene of a religious contest between the self-described 'Hanafis‘, who include various expressions of Islamic faith and practice, and Salafi reformist groups known as Ahl-i-Hadith. Occasionally labelled 'Wahhabis‘ due to their affinity with the doctrine from Arabia, the Ahl-i-Hadith actively seek to purify local Islam of all practices which they consider to be bidaʿ. Local Hanafi Muslims, who form a majority, are resistant to these efforts at total religious reform. This thesis investigates the contemporary discourse taking place between these two communities in Rajshahi, Bangladesh, and between these groups and their authoritative Islamic texts. The case study used to focus on inter-group debates is the contested issue of whether or not to perform rituals meant to assist the dead during al-barzakh – the conscious waiting period in the grave believed to last from death until the day of resurrection. Especially during a soul‘s first forty days in al-barzakh, the Hanafi community observes rituals intended to reduce the torment of the grave and send soʾab, or merit, to the account of the deceased. Participant observation at numerous milad, chollisha and khotom ceremonies for the dead, as well as interviews with local ʿulamaʾ and other informants highlight the progress of Ahl-i-Hadith reform efforts, but also the way in which Hanafi leaders defend and interpret their 'unorthodox‘ practices using authoritative Sunni hadith and Qurʾanic passages. Additional Islamic texts which are locally influential are examined. Special voice is given to "what Muslims say" in an attempt to let the words and actions of those involved in the debates direct the research agenda as they interpret and defend their respective positions. This thesis provides other researchers with a field-based account of contemporary Islamic belief and practice in Bangladesh – an understudied Islamic context containing over 150 million people. Dozens of quotations from ʿulamaʾ are reproduced in the original Bengali and in English. Additionally, this study complicates Islamic fundamentalist and Western scholarly conceptions of 'popular Islam‘ and 'syncretism‘ by showing that Hanafi ʿulamaʾ in Rajshahi explain their (contested) beliefs and activities in Islamic terms, using universally recognised Sunni sources of authority, especially the hadith literature.