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From religious to social conversion: how Muslim scholars conceived of the Rites de Passage from Hinduism to Islam in seventeenth-century South Asia

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The common understanding of Islam tends to consider religious conversion as a matter of individual and rational belief and consisting, first and foremost, of attesting to the oneness of God (shahada). In this paper I argue that divergences exist among schools of Islamic Law concerning the modes and types of conversion. Contrary to Muslim jurists in the first centuries of Islam, jurists from later epoques shifted the debate about Islamic conversion from a theoretical and individual attitude towards conversion to include more practical and collective considerations. I refer to this change in attitude as a change from religious to social conversion. Taking the Fatawa al-Hindiyya al-Alamjiriyya, a compendium of Islamic law from seventeenth-century South Asia, as a case study, I argue that the structure of South Asian society impacted seventeenth-century Muslim jurists' perspective regarding conversion to Islam.
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Keywords: Alamjir; Conversion; Fatawa; Hanafi law; Hindu system of castes; Islam; rite de passage

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Languages, Free University, Berlin, Germany

Publication date: April 1, 2011

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