With the recent passing of Eid al-Adha celebrations, many across the globe watched in awe as almost four million pilgrims undertook Hajj, the fascinating and most vigilant display of Muslim solidarity. Throughout history, the Hajj to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, has remained a critical component of the Muslim identity as the fifth pillar of Islam –a religious obligation for all able-bodied Muslims.
In thinking about this notion of the universal and spiritual sovereignty of Islam, an observation made by Prof. Sugata Bose of Harvard University springs to mind,
“Religion, even more so than the idea of nation, proved adept at crossing seas.”
This observation brings to surface the continuing interplay of a transnational and national allegiance amongst Muslim communities around the world, including South Asia. Today, with almost one third of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims residing in South Asia, this is of critical significance to the region. In complicating the idea of a national identity, Muslim pilgrims embark on their travel for salvation and on the way and amongst large gatherings engage in a powerful exchange of conversation and experience.
The effects of a broader transnational allegiance, or a sense of Islamic nationalism as it can also be referred to, trickles down into the everyday lives of Muslim communities in South Asia, altering the political, social and economic dynamics of the region. Muslims of contemporary India, where they remain a minority consisting of less than 20% of the total population, face a particularly complex identity crisis. With continuing pockets of bitterness between Hindu and Muslim communities throughout India, India’s Muslims very often find themselves in a complicated net of allegiances. However, with leading Islamic organizations in India such as Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind, complex variations of Indian Muslim’s nationalistic philosophy have been fashioned such as mu’ahadah. This is based on the idea that India’s Muslims and non-Muslims have established a mutual contract since the time of independence also reflected in the Indian constitution, propagating a secular state.
Therefore, when thinking about the powerfulness of the Hajj and what it means to the worldwide Muslim community, one cannot help but think about the persistence of multifaceted and multilayered identities in the South Asian region.