Tag Archives: Daish

The Paths of Piety: Nandagopal R. Menon

This is a guest post by Nandagopal R. Menon

The recent disappearance of 21 Muslims (men and women) from Kerala – allegedly to join the IS – has created considerable panic in the state. Media and public discourses are rife with speculative reports about their whereabouts, their motives (or pathologies rather), the Islamic networks and scholars with whom they were associated and so on. In this note I want to think about one aspect of this discourse about the disappeared. What is striking is how a specific form of Islamic piety (Salafism) is sought to be, advertently or inadvertently, linked to the IS’ violent extremism. That is, though they are not exactly the same, practicing a certain kind of Salafism could or will lead to embracing the ideology of the IS. To be fair, there is no overt claim made on these lines, but the inordinate focus on Salafism and its practices in the context of IS-related panic creates the impression that there is some kind of organic, straightforward connection between Salafism and IS. Now whatever the precise definition of Salafism given by scholars, what concerns me here is the alleged nature of its “problematic” variant that is at the centre of the controversy in Kerala. This interpretation, sometimes termed “extreme” or “ascetic” Salafism to distinguish it from its “moderate” versions represented by some of Kerala’s major Muslim organisations, apparently stresses a “puritanical” piety that demands a literal interpretation of the Islamic tradition (primarily the Qur’an and hadith, or traditions of what the Prophet said, did or approved). For instance, since there are hadith which say that the Prophet kept goats, Muslims who strive to be pious should also take up herding goats. Similarly, this piety requires one to separate oneself from all kinds of “un-Islamic” ways of life – avoid using products brought with money involving paying or receiving interest, shunning various forms of arts like music and cinema, rejecting certain sartorial styles (trousers that fall below the ankles for men or dress that do not cover the face for women) etc. This form of “puritanical” Salafism thus marks out its practitioners as separate, distinct and even encourages one to (literally) seclude oneself from not only the rest of the society, but also from other Muslims (even family members) who do not adhere to this form of piety. Some “ascetic” Salafis are said to have travelled to Sri Lanka and Yemen, or carved out a separate space in Kerala itself, in their search for the perfect and complete Islamic way of life. Continue reading The Paths of Piety: Nandagopal R. Menon