Contingency in the Age of Religion: The Hajj and Religion-Making in Colonial and Postcolonial India

in Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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In Union of India v. Bhikan (2012), the Indian Supreme Court ruled that government hajj subsidies violated the Indian Constitution’s secular principles. What is notable about this decision is that the Supreme Court based the ruling on its own interpretation of the Qur’an, privileging direct access to scripture over historically established practices surrounding the pilgrimage in discerning what “Islam says” about the state’s proper role in the hajj. Archival and legal research shows that Union of India v. Bhikan is merely the latest moment in over a century of colonial and postcolonial debates about pilgrimage management. This article employs the theoretical and methodological insights of Jonathan Z. Smith and Talal Asad to explore this history and its effects, using the matter of hajj administration to identify the concrete implications of different methods of “religion-making,” or the construction of religion as an object for consideration and regulation, in the public sphere.

Contingency in the Age of Religion: The Hajj and Religion-Making in Colonial and Postcolonial India

in Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

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1

Jonathan Z. SmithImagining Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press1982): xi.

14

Upon its occupation of Egypt in 1882British officials appointed “advisors” many of whom had begun their imperial service in South Asia to every ministry while technically remaining aloof from direct participation in Egyptian governance. In reality the British Consulate was a central seat of power in occupied Egypt particularly for the period 1882 until partial independence from British control in 1922. Early twentieth century annual reports from Lord Cromer long-time British Consul General in Egypt suggest that the government was implementing regulations designed to restrict “pauper pilgrims” at the behest of colonial officials. See Cromer’s annual reports for 1900 (bnafo 78/5154) 1902 (bnafo 78/5301) and 1903 (bnafo 78/5366).

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