CONTESTING MEANINGS AND AUTHENTICITY: INDIAN ISLAM AND MUHARRAM "PERFORMANCES" IN DURBAN, 2002
This paper examines Muharram rituals in present-day Indian Islam in South Africa. Historically, pressure from the authorities and "community leaders", and the impact of urbanisation, education, economic mobility, and new ideas has resulted in changes in the meanings, symbolism, and authenticity of Muharram. Some aspects of Muharram have been toned down, others eliminated, and yet new features added. Participants are constantly re-negotiating the meanings of Muharram rituals and symbolism, and re-creating authenticity as their notion of what constitutes correct belief, rituals and practice transforms. The festival provides a lens through which to view the contestation of Muslim identity, performance, and notions of piety and purity. Muharram's "truths" reflect the deep social, historical, and cultural differences among Muslims. There is tension between a reformist tradition that proscribes public expression of Muharram, but also differences among those who continue to engage in Muharram festivities. Such conflict centres on what Muharram means, how it should be observed, which practices with cognates in South Asia are acceptable and which are not, and what is authentic about Muharram ritual and what is invented. All groups consider their perspective hegemonic. Rather than one Muharram, this paper argues, multiple muharrams exist simultaneously, thus reflecting the reality that "Muslim" is an umbrella category that masks diversity.