Discussions of everyday Islamic religiosity commonly distinguish two distinct forms of Muslim religiosity, one 'normative' and 'formal,' the other 'accommodative' and 'informal.' It is invariably the latter form that is identified as the site of engagement with other religious traditions. This paper sets out to question the common association of 'popular' Islamic religiosity with 'syncretism' by analysing the methods by which Muslims defend contentious practices in everyday life. Drawing on fieldwork among Tamil-speaking Muslims in India and Southeast Asia, various strategies for defending contentious practices will be analysed, most important among which are references to Islamic scripture and scholarly tradition. Concomitantly, the discourse surrounding the defence of contentious practices and beliefs shows a heightened concern with authenticity, resulting in an often stridently anti-syncretic rhetoric. Finally, the paper will deal with an alternative way of defending contentious practices particularly salient in Southeast Asia, which tries to remove contentious practices from the sphere of 'religion' to that of 'culture.' In all cases, the respective defensive strategies clearly inhabit the same discursive space as the criticism levelled at contentious practice, revealing the problematic nature of the assumed binaries of Muslim religiosity.
Practices of saint-veneration among Muslims are often perceived as thoroughly localized traditions, which cannot be transplanted to other localities. For this reason, much of the scholarship on the diasporic Muslim communities has assumed that practices of saint-veneration would decline in the Diaspora. Yet, most of this scholarship focused on the relatively young Muslim communities in Western countries. This paper aims to assess this theory by investigating saint-veneration among Tamil Muslims in Singapore, who have been a part of Singaporean Muslim society since the early nineteenth century. It will argue that, contrary to current theories, saint-veneration among Tamil Muslims did not decline among the Singaporean Tamil Diaspora. Rather, Tamil Muslims participated in creating a landscape of shrines in the city by inking their practices with those of other Muslim communities, while at the same time maintaining attachments to saints and shrines back in India.
This article explores how the encounter of Arabic with Tamil discourses on language limited as well as enabled a particular instantiation of Islamic discourse. It argues that, rather than allowing a hyperglossic extension of Arabic grammatical and poetical discourses to Tamil, Muslim Tamil poets clearly demarcated the respective domains of Tamil and Arabic grammar, thereby making each relevant only to the language it originally defined. The prime space of interaction between the two languages was afforded by Arabic vocabulary, as Tamil grammar implicitly permitted the utilization of Arabic words in Tamil poetry. The equalization of the two languages in the realms of grammar and poetics was, however, threatened both by Arabic’s simultaneous status as a divine language and by the porousness of the boundary between the two languages occasioned by ignorance of the system of equivalences created through learned discourse.