How Heresy Makes Orthodoxy

The Sedimentation of Sunnism in the Ahmadi Cases of South Africa

in Sociology of Islam
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This article explores the on-going construction, or “sedimentation,” of Sunni orthodoxy by paying attention to the boundary role of “insider-Others.” To highlight how boundary positions of heretical communities shape the category of orthodox Islam, this paper focuses on the social processes excluding the “heretical” Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in South Africa. The paper undertakes a qualitative analysis of two Supreme Court cases involving Ahmadis and the Muslim Judicial Council of South Africa, local representatives of orthodox Sunnism. These two cases stand out in a contentious history that has led to extreme ostracism of Ahmadis by Sunni Muslims in the country. The analysis identifies three features of Sunni orthodoxy that crystallized in the process of conflict with the Ahmadiyya: alienation, transnationalism, and Archimedean moral authority. These features help make sense of social processes marginalizing Ahmadis around the world, and offer new insights into construction of global Sunni orthodoxy.

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Established in 1945, the mjc was not the only representative Islamic body in the country. Over time the influence of other bodies – such as the Islamic Council of South Africa – dissipated. By 1990 the mjc was the largest organization representing Muslims and their interest in South Africa. In 2014, mjc controlled over 80% of the approximately 170 mosques in the Western Cape.

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