Faqirs Running Amok in Malay Port Cities: "Mad" Migrants from Gujarat and the Coromandel Coast

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 12:10 PM
Columbia Hall 4 (Washington Hilton)
Terenjit Sevea, University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia
The miraculous migration of cosmopolitan saints across the Indian Ocean has been a trope central to the historical traditions of Muslim devotional cults in Malay port cities. This presentation explores a corpus of biographical records, epistles, charms and fatwas that are exceptionally informative about the 18th and early 19th century miraculous migrations of sayyid and sayyidah saints from Gujarat and Nagapattinam to Java, Malaya and eastern Sumatra, who were: firstly, plugged into Indian Ocean maritime networks preserved by trans-oceanic mercantile, genealogical and religious relationships. Secondly, founders or pivots of Muslim settlements and devotional cults in cosmopolitan port cities. Thirdly, intimately connected to Malay Muslim polities, the expansion of Islamic frontiers, European imperialism and the development of European institutions, projects of agricultural colonization, Chinese enterprises and laborers, the development of reading circles, and steam travel. Particular attention will be paid to texts that memorialized the 18th century migrations of three Indian faqirs from Gujarat to Batavia, Penang and Singapore, and their miracles and ‘madness’ that were essential to ‘Muslim’ seafaring. This presentation will also highlight how historical traditions of these faqirs’ maritime travels have evolved in the course of the 19th and 20th century and have been didactically driven towards producing an ‘Islamic’ history of migration.
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