Later today, I will give a talk on my Gujarat project at Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University Lucknow. While preparing my notes for this lecture, I realized that I somehow missed to put any extensive english summary of this project online til today. To fill this gap: here come today's notes (which in turn build on earlier talks and conference papers); please refer, however, to my published work, especially my monograph, if you want to cite my findings -- these notes are rough and not meant for further distribution.1. In the meantime, however, I am curious for your comments below, as always...

Being Muslim and working for peace on Prezi

Let me begin by thanking BBAU for inviting me to speak today. I also want to thank my collaborators and interlocutors in Gujarat, without whose willingness to share their stories I would not be here today. Their braveness and ongoing struggle even ten years after the pogrom is exemplary for us all.

The research I will talk about today is in its final stages, first papers are published and the monograph is under review. I am nonetheless honestly curious for critical feedback still - not least since my current research project in Lucknow continues many threads from Gujarat, especially my theoretical interest in "belonging". What I will do in the next 45 minutes is, firstly, present you an overview of my project and its main findings, which basically consist of a typology of four ways of "being Muslim and working for peace" in Gujarat. While presenting these four ways, I will in a second step focus on one type in more detail: that of the "secular technocrat" who, I feel, can relax some of our heated debates on secularism in India. Finally, I will think through some of the implications of the typology at large and its genesis for how we could think about the personal experience of the "ambivalence of the sacred" (a term coined by Scott Appleby2). Here, I will argue that we should clearly distinguish "ambivalence" from "ambiguity" - and that we should pay more systematic attention to the diversity of personal experience.

As you all know, Gujarat saw the worst communal riots in India since decades in 2002. With more than tacit support by the state government of Narendra Modi, over 2000 people - most of them Muslims - were murdered and ten thousands permanently displaced. 3456 Sizable stretches of Gujarati civil society reacted with reluctance or even ignorance to the pogrom, including - in the Mahatma's homeland - quite many Gandhian organizations. Others however quickly formed a small yet impressively striving 'peace community'.7891011 Initially concerned with relief and rehabilitation, this community soon branched out in diverse directions, ranging from inter-personal and inter-community reconciliation, judicial advocacy and human rights work, through to spiritual reconstruction.

In this context, I undertook a wider research project on the diversity of belief, belonging and political agency of the Muslims among those peace activists.12131415 My main question was: in which various ways does one's "being Muslim" impact one's "working for peace" and vice-versa? Methodologically, my research was mostly based on narrative interviews and psychometric questionnaires. Theoretically, all my work is anchored in a Weberian micro-level perspective and the emerging discipline of political anthropology. To facilitate analysis - and to integrate numerical psychometric data with narrative textual data -, I then employed a rather complex typologizing strategy (which is however not the focus of my talk today).

With this research interest and methodological strategy in mind, I went to Ahmedabad and Panchmahal in 2008. There, I met not types or conceptual constructs, but real people, a diverse set of individuals, with their own lived experience of belonging, their own, often far from straightforward relation to religion. I emphasize this point because I feel that this personal diversity is too easily overshadowed by scholars' fixation on discourse and institutions, in particular when we talk of Muslims. To take this picture as an example - taken in old Ahmedabad's central mosque - the "va salaam allah" looms larger than the individual sitting beneath it. There is no problem with focusing on the message per se. But there is a problem if we assume that "va salaam alaah" is all there is to say about the gentleman depicted - which at least implicitly seems to be the case rather often. With biographic narratives and psychometric scales, I thus deliberately focused on this individual. Not to stay at an isolated, individualistic, impressionist, picture - but to use this emphasis on individual persons as solid foundation for my empirical quest for patterns of social life.

How does this typology look like, then? As said before, the diversity among my interlocutors was in the end most meaningfully moulded into four more or less distinct ways of "being Muslim and working for peace". You will notice, first, a rather familiar type of Muslim peace activist: the faith-based actor. Faith-based actors draw strength from their ingroup, from comprehensive moral beliefs and from orthodox ritual practices. They interpret their activism through dogmatic foils - i.e. they take their daily guidance from the Quran and Hadith - and experience themselves as collective subjects - as part of the Ummah much more than as individuals. So these are the men most people have in mind when we think of politically active Muslims. And while this uniform facade hides considerable variation in religio-political orientation - including a minority of fundamentalist actors - I was not very surprised when I found these men during my fieldwork. (By the way: I won't talk quantities here - mine was a typologizing, not a generalizing research design -, but we know from other studies such as Dipankar Gupta's recent book11, that these faith-based actors were indeed the most active people after the riots in relief and rehabilitation, if not in peace work at large.)

Secular technocrats, on the other hand - the second type - represent in many ways the straight opposite way of "being Muslim and working for peace". They are neither influenced by religious beliefs nor by group identification. But neither are they anti-religious with a fervour - they share what I call a secularized secularism, a secularism which is a relaxed property of their everyday actions16 more than an ideological belief of quasi-religious nature. Being Muslim but religiously unmusical, as Max Weber called it,17 they are an interesting blind spot of both religious actors and non-Muslim civil society. They are also interesting, I would argue - to reframe academic debates on secularism in the Indian context. Let me therefore stick to them for a while in more detail.

My starting point for the following discussion is the simple observation that "secularism" is usually thought of as a specific ideology, built around a set of core beliefs. My paper however explores what happens if we rather consider "secularism as a property of action" 16 and focus on the micro-level experiences and practices of those calling themselves "secular". Let us first listen to Hanif, a well established NGO worker in Ahmedabad. When I introduced myself and my project, his first statement was:

Actually, I am not a religious person. I have no idea what faith is all about. I say that frankly. I read the Quran. Well, the [teaching] of peace is in each and any religion. Take any sacred book. [...] I also went to a madrassa [...] but made so much hubbub there that they threw me out.

For people like Hanif, neither religious beliefs nor dynamics of belonging play any role in their activism. Whenever I asked him about these things, my questions were politely but rather quickly dealt with. In his psychometric profile, he also showed a comparatively low identification with other Muslims, and even though he was born as Muslims and categorizes himself as such, he stayed aloof from community affairs before 2002. Another activist, the well-educated, cosmopolitan Hilal, chipped in to this conversation and recalled his first encounter with the beneficiaries of his relief and rehabilitation project:

I lived so many years in [location], but the Muslim community did not knew I am Muslim. If at all then I went there for Friday namaz, and after praying, I returned to my home or [business]. [...] So when I entered the community with my car [after the riots], those people confronted me: who are you?

When asked directly whether religious beliefs have any relevance to their activism, neither Hilal nor Hanif took more than a few sentences to negate. Lacking personal religious experiences to narrate, they often shared their general impression of religion in conflict, presumably to be polite and avoid disappointing me, the researcher who asks odd questions about faith. Only Umar, a senior trade union activist in Ahmedabad, made his standpoint clear from the outset:

Nowhere is peace in the name of God. Wherever peace is clad in the name of religion, reality looks quite different. In my opinion, peace will only develop when the workforce makes labour relations a topic.

While this sounds anti-religious on first impression, the overall account of this born Muslim turned Marxist interviewee was contradictory, however. In later interview sections, and when dealing with theology more explicitly, Umar lauded Islamic ethic:

Assistant: is there any idea in Islam which is most important for you, anything in Islam which touches your heart? - yes, what is close to me in Islam is that, when the rich of his time came to Prophet Mohammad, he gave them a blaze in the Quran. "Allah is Allah", and whatever those create is only dust. [...] I do not believe in God or Allah -- he might exist or not, nobody has seen him. [...] [Yet] this [ethic] pleases me very much.

This sounds quite different indeed: is "nowhere peace in the name of God" or is that God a fighter for justice through his Prophet, who "gave the rich a blaze"? These contradicting claims can only be reconciled if we take the generality of both statements into account - which are little more than an overall call to do the morally good. And who would not agree that religion has the general potential to escalate conflict as much as it highlights social injustice? The generality in his statement above all confirms that religion is nothing Umar connects to.

This finding surprises. A vast body of academic literature (and even more so public discourse) in contrast assumes that Muslims are a) always religious and b) always act out of religious motivation. Fewer studies acknowledge the existence of staunchly secularist Muslims, who switched their religion from Allah to the shrines of modernity. Activists like Hilal, Hanif, Fatima or Umar however don't fit either picture: neither are they religious, nor religiously secularist - they just could not care less about these things. They would rather agree with the famous words of Max Weber: "I am religiously absolutely unmusical and can neither create any religious edifice in my soul nor do I need one -- this is just impossible, and I refuse it. But precisely? I am neither anti-religious nor unreligious".17

Importantly, their being "religiously unmusical" does not make these activists particularly fierce ideologues of secularism. To the contrary: secularism as an ideology is as irrelevant to them as religion. Secularism thus emerges here as a relatively relaxed embodied practice rather than a matter of strong opinions, ideological or otherwise. For these activists, secularism becomes secularized, stripped of its quasi-religious zeal. Secularized secularism then is a form of everyday social practice, not another creed - it is "secularism as a property of action".16

In sharp contrast, we see a heated academic and political debate about secularism over the last decades: "secularism, the argument goes, has not only failed to deliver the goods, but exacerbated the very problems that, in the first place, it was devised to overcome".18. For brevity I only point to the seminal volume edited by Rajeev Bhargava18, which contains probably the most articulate recent criticisms towards secularism as state ideology. To be clear: I am not arguing that thus debate is a waste of energy - to the contrary. But, in agreement with Isacco Turina, I suggest a "reconsideration of secularization not as a long-term historical process but as a property of action: any action or a whole domain of action [...] is therefore secularized if in carrying it out people are not influenced by religious doctrines or feelings about the way it should be done, and if it is not justified on this same basis".16 If you replace "religious doctrine" with "secularist ideology" in this quote, you you see where I am getting at...

So while religio-political traditions might very well experience a second revival in times of a contested secular polity, the individualistic spin inherent in "religion" since colonial times above all diversifies identities, fostering multiple religious revivals while at the same time nourishing the liberal and secular trends among Muslims as much as among other Indians. The relaxed attitude of Hanif, Hilal, Fatima and Umar, for whom secularism is not another creed but a matter of course, is instructive: beyond heated academic debates, secularization made inroads in Indian society. Secularization can in fact be found in the most unexpected places - for example among Muslim peace activists in Gujarat itself! This might inspire hope or despair respectively in defendants or opponents of secularism as an ideology - for me it above all relieves a debate which at times overheats.

But let me return to the typology from Gujarat again - there are two more types which I'd like to introduce you to: emancipating women and doubting professionals. Let me focus on them a little more extensively as well, since it is from them, I shall argue, that we can learn an important lesson about belonging. First the kind of Muslim peace activist whom I call "emancipating women". These are mostly grassroot workers, who overcome the passivity of their own victimization in the riots through peace activism. This heightened public profile brings them increasingly in a struggle against religious patriarchy, however - an transforms their peace activism into women's rights activism in many cases. While they initially rely on Islamic feminism to support their agenda, to draw strength for everyday challenges (and to justify their work vis-a-vis their traditional community leaders), most of them ultimately discard religion - to the extent possible psychologically. Let us listen to the voice of one of these women:

[I take strength] from religion. I mean: after all what happened, I haven't lost my faith [...] I have not given it up. [...] If you pray, your problems fade. I pray the morning prayers at eight o'clock on my own [...] and feel very calm and relaxed, feel that my day and my work will turn out well. [...] And I also [take strength] from the community, through the community. I would never question the community. [But] the community says until today that I should do this or that as a widow [and] whoever turned an activist was accused ``but you are a Muslima!'' and I am also a widow, a lone woman, so everyone demanded that it ain't good if I work, have a job. Womenfolk should not enter the public. [After a long while] Being Muslim is so deep in my heart, there develop such tensions now -- what should I do?

"There develop such tensions now - what should I do?" The ambivalence of belonging becomes quite tangible in this quote. While religion - both as faith and as community - gives many of these "emancipating women" the necessary strength to sustain their work for peace, it also rips them apart in the form of patriarchial objections. Similarly, they want to rely on their Gujarati state for protection of their rights - but can't, given that this states is not too bothered about Muslims, and tends to abuse such demands for womens' rights by Muslim women as just another justification for its own anti-Islamic machinations. In the end, therefore, these women above all long not to belong anymore - but can't either. That is ambivalence at its worst.

But there is more to this ambivalence of belonging, and we see this when we now turn briefly to the last type of "being Muslim and working for peace" - that of doubting professionals. These former secular technocrats, NGO workers, etc. now emphasize the complexity and ambivalence of religion in communal conflict. And not just professionally, personally, too they start to become interested in religion, and embrace an aesthetical spirituality, a spirituality which emphasizes neither beliefs (metaphysics) nor morals (ethics), but rather the beauty of both beliefs and ethics, the beauty of Islam (aesthetics). In terms of belonging, they feel responsible for their ingroup without identifying strongly. Above all, however, they begin to challenge their earlier certainties about the assumed irrelevance of religion in development and about their own being Muslim. They replace these earlier certainties with a very fine-grained sense for the ambiguity of belief and belonging alike. Again a typical example of what one of them told me:

So all this was happening and then of course this 2002. What happened in 2002 it was really, really [pause] I mean it shook us all [...] I felt that I am a strong person and humanity and all that. One felt that - but we became so vulnerable. Because suddenly I felt that I wanted to work on this issue [of communal peace], I felt that it was very important, you know, to involve Muslims, and to work on this whole issue of conflict between Hindus and Muslims and even as one did not know how to go about it, it was very important to work on this issue. But I became very, kind of vulnerable, because I wasn't sure how the team was going to respond. And then one really started thinking: is this what [NGO] should be all about? [...] So as a result of all this, what we felt: it is, it is absolutely important to work on this issue, and this is the first time that I felt, I am saying: I am going to take a stand and a position.

The world-changing shift of 2002 is rather tangible here - it shook these well-established activists so much that you can even trace the effects on the grammatical level: something was happening, one started thinking, we felt, and then I am saying, I am going to, etc. Yet other than for the emancipating women introduced above, this shaking experience did not result in irreconcilable ambivalence for doubting professionals. They rather actively and explicitly embrace this ambivalence and transform it into ambiguity. They object moral fixation, but long for an aesthetical spirituality which tolerates, or even incorporates ambiguities. I think this distinction between ambivalence and ambiguity is actually quite crucial. To bring it to a close formula: ambivalence is a relation of "either - or", ambiguity one of "neither - nor"; my study shows that the sacred can be experienced either way. Ambivalence can transform agency - as it does in the case of emancipating women - yet agency can also incorporate ambivalence, eventually transforming it into ambiguity - as doubting professionals demonstrate.

One could now of course think a lot about why certain people experience their being Muslim as ambivalent, while others experience it as ambiguous. One aspect here would be material security, another aspect would be psychological disposition. I unfortunately lack time to go into this - and neither is my research design adequate to deliver answers to such questions. Let me thus, by means of conclusion, reiterate my main points - before I take your questions and suggestions.

Now, what to conclude from all this? I think there are three implications of my study. The first is to acknowledge secularism as a lived practice rather as an ideology - and to look for it in unusual places, such as among politically active Muslims.

Secondly, I deem it important to clearly distinguish between ambivalence and ambiguity as two distinct manifestations of religion's relation to violence - and as two distinct manifestations of the complexities of belonging on the personal level. Ambivalent groupism rips you apart, is a relation in which belief and belonging are experienced as both very good and very bad. Ambiguous belonging, on the other hand, signifies a relation where one's being Muslim, one's being Gujarati, maybe even one's "being" as such is experience as neither very good nor very bad - but as an ambiguous, at times uncomfortable, at times creative in-between. Indian Muslims (and Islam historically) might be a particularly interesting case to investigate both ambivalence and ambiguity.19

The third conclusion is finally methodological in nature: in order to take personal diversity seriously, it pays to have an explicit statistically aided typologizing strategy in an abductive research design. I did speak little about this latter aspect today, but suffice it to say that the two most interesting types among the four ways of "being Muslim and working for peace" discovered in Gujarat - the two types of doubting professionals and emancipating women, who led me to distinguish ambivalence and ambiguity more carefully - would not have been discovered without a very specific, and systematic research design which fosters empirical typology extraction and unplanned discoveries.

I will leave it at that for now - and am curious for your questions. Thank you for your kind attention.