Localising Diaspora: The Ahmadi Muslims and the Problem of Multi-sited Ethnography
Dr Marzia Balzani.
Founded by a charismatic leader in late-19th century India, the Ahmadis are a small but economically and educationally significant diasporic Muslim minority, established today in numerous cities across the globe. In many Islamic countries the Ahmadis have been defined as heretics and persecuted. The Ahmadis are, within limits, culturally assimilationist and provide, in the present global climate, an invaluable perspective on the relationship of Islam and the West. Marginalised by the majority Muslim community, the Ahmadis are active proselytizers for the faith. Converts to Islam in many parts of the world first discover Islam through the Ahmadis.
This paper is centered on two Ahmadi mosques as sites of a fast-expanding network of mosque-building in the West and Africa which parallels and exceeds the destruction of Ahmadi mosques in Pakistan. An understanding of the local ethnographic context of the mosques in London requires a historical understanding of Ahmadi migrations just as much as an understanding of the planning regulations of local Councils. The building of the mosques can be considered as reactions to the local success of the Ahmadis, the organised discontent of local non-Muslim residents, and an act of peaceful defiance against those who would persecute them.
These mosques are also part of a virtual system of mosques linked through Ahmadi websites and MTA (Muslim Television Ahmadiyya). The ethnography is, then, an attempt to undertake a localised study of the two mosques while integrating that study within historical, international and virtual perspectives as an approach to understanding a unique form of Muslim transnationalism.
Dr Marzia Balzani (United Kingdom)
Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology
School of Business, Social Sciences and Computing
University of Surrey, Roehampton
M. Balzani is a senior lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Surrey Roehampton. She has published articles on landscape, pilgrimage and ritual and her recent book, Modern Indian Kingship, is based on ethnography in Rajasthan, India among a ruling Hindu elite. Her current fieldwork is with a diasporic South Asian Muslim community now centred in London, UK.
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)