Muslim Itinerants, Migrants, and Settlers in Early Modern and Modern South Asia

AHA Session 170
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 8
Saturday, January 4, 2014: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Columbia Hall 4 (Washington Hilton)
Sanjay Subrahmanyam, University of California, Los Angeles
Ali Anooshahr, University of California, Davis and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, University of California, Los Angeles

Session Abstract

This panel focuses on the migration of a variety of Muslim individuals into and out of the Indian subcontinent in the early modern and modern period. Beginning in the early thirteenth century the formation and expansion of several Muslim polities in South Asia had facilitated the movement of Muslim military commanders, political adventurers, religious scholars, sufi shaykhs and merchants who often settled permanently in different parts of the subcontinent. These migrations took place both overland and across the Indian Ocean from Central Asia, Iran, the Arabian Peninsula and North-east Africa. The movement of these men was certainly not unidirectional and many journeyed back to their ancestral lands or further east to the cities and polities of Southeast Asia including Java, the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra.

All the papers in this panel are located within this context of considerable circulation. They focus on specific figures: two sufi migrants from Delhi and Multan who settled in the region of Gujarat in the fifteenth century, a seventeenth century peripatetic courtier who migrated from Safavid Iran to the Deccan sultanates in southern India and finally, three Indian faqirs (“Muslim ascetics”) who left Gujarat to settle further southeast in Batavia, Penang and Singapore in the eighteenth century. Despite their focus on different time periods and regions, the papers highlight the importance of these migrant figures in the politics of the period and underline the fact that their knowledge, skills, ancestry and charisma gave them considerable social capital that could easily be transferred from one political context to another. Further, the papers suggest that the history of the formation of several local Muslim communities is tied to the migration of these figures who were also founders of new settlements, whether as a military commander or as pious, charismatic men who attracted many followers near their residences. The history of the migration and settlement of these Muslim men came to be narrated, reinterpreted and memorialized over several generations and the panel considers the role of memory in reconstructing the different facets of their lives and deeds.

In its focus on the movement and circulation of Muslim men, the panel moves away from the state-centric writing of history. With its emphasis on regional studies, the panel, individually and collectively, introduces a wide array of primary source material written in different languages and genres to offer a complex picture of migration, settlement and memory in the period from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

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