Reformist British South Asian Twelver Shia Muslims emphasize practicing Shia Islam in daily life beyond the month of Muharram by living a piety-led life; they encourage their followers to ‘become’ a Shia Muslim rather than just ‘being’ one. The reformist British South Asian Shia ulama, mostly trained in Shia seminaries based in Qom and Najaf, advocate commitment in Shia community which is compatible with the economic, political and social challenges British Muslims face. Many British South Asian Shia Muslims view these piety narratives with contempt. They consider that the narratives on living a piety-led life privilege Islamic lifestyle like praying and reciting the Qur’an daily over Muharram ritual commemorations. These Shia Muslims see the growing popularity of piety-narrative as an apologetic response by Shia reformists to the growing influence of Salafis and the Tablighi Jamaat in Sunni Muslim public spheres.
The centrality of commemorating Muharram rituals in Shia Islam becomes contested when reformist Shia Muslims extend the piety-led lifestyle beyond the month of Muharram. Thus, iltizam (commitment in Shia community) for the reformists and religiously upwardly mobile Shia Muslims means subscribing to a globally standardized interpretation of practicing Shia Islam that compliments the aspirations of Iran-based Shia religious establishment. For other Shia Muslims, iltizam with Shia Islam is in (i) reenacting the continuity of South Asian ways of commemorating Muharram ritual in Britain and, (ii) opposing the Wahhabi trends in Shia Islam that are endorsed and encouraged by reformist British South Asian Shia Muslims.
By: Sufyan Abid Dogra, 2019