Religions of South Asia, Vol 12, No 3 (2018)

Engaging Tolerance: Privacy and Publicity in the Inter-religious Engagement of Mumbai’s Ismaili Muslims

David J. Strohl
Issued Date: 18 Oct 2019


This article reassesses the importance given by theories of multiculturalism and religious pluralism to understanding difference. I examine Ismaili Muslims’ social interactions with other Indians in everyday life, the public sphere and civic engagement. These interactions are marked by what I call an ‘engaging tolerance’, which privatizes some forms of difference while simultaneously creating moral obligations cutting across religious and class lines. Ismaili tolerance thus encourages their solidarity with other members of Indian society, while leaving the contents of their religious differences unknown. I further analyse the ways that Ismaili tolerance pushes us to rethink some of commonplace assumptions about inter-religious and inter-cultural engagement, particularly the idea that mutual understandings of difference are necessary for social cohesion in plural societies.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £18.00 )

DOI: 10.1558/rosa.37059


Aga Khan IV. 1998. ‘The Constitution of the Shi‘a Imami Ismaili Muslims.’

—2008. Where Hope Takes Root: Democracy and Pluralism in an Interdependent World. Vancouver, BC: Douglas and Macintyre.

—2014. ‘Address of His Highness the Aga Khan to Both Houses of the Parliament of Canada in the House of Commons Chamber, Ottawa.’ (accessed 29 August 2015).

Appiah, Anthony. 2006. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: W. W. Norton.

Asad, Talal. 2003. Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Asani, Ali. 2003. ‘“So That You May Know One Another”: A Muslim American Reflects on Pluralism and Islam.’ Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 588 (1): 95–123.

—2011. ‘From Satpanthi to Ismaili Muslim: The Articulation of Ismaili Khoja Identity in South Asia.’ In Daftary 2011: 77–92.

Beckerlegge, Gwilym. 2015. ‘Sevā: The Focus of a Fragmented but Gradually Coalescing Field of Study.’ Religions of South Asia 9 (2): 208–39.

Benthall, Jonathan. 2005. ‘Confessional Cousins and the Rest: The Structure of Islamic Toleration.’ Anthropology Today 21 (1): 16–20.

Blank, Jonah. 2001. Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity among the Daudi Bohras. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bornstein, Erica. 2012. Disquieting Gifts: Humanitarianism in New Delhi. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Bowman, Glenn. 1997. ‘Identifying versus Identifying with “the Other”.’ In James Allison, Jenny Hockey and Andrew Dawson (eds.), After Writing Culture: Epistemology and Praxis in Contemporary Anthropology: 34–50. London: Routledge.

Brenner, Suzanne. 2011. ‘Private Moralities in the Public Sphere: Democratization, Islam, and Gender in Indonesia.’ American Anthropologist 113 (3): 478–90.

Brown, Wendy. 2006. Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Calhoun, Craig. 2002. ‘Imagining Solidarity: Cosmopolitanism, Constitutional Patriotism, and the Public Sphere.’ Public Culture 14 (1): 147–71.

Chandhoke, Neera. 2013. ‘Descriptive and Normative Pluralism: Making the Transition.’ In Jyotirmaya Tripathy and Sudarsan Padmanabhan (eds.), The Democratic Predicament: Cultural Diversity in Europe and India: 191–211. New York: Routledge.

Cody, Francis. 2011. ‘Publics and Politics.’ Annual Review of Anthropology 40: 37–52.

Coleman, Peter T. 2003. ‘Characteristics of Protracted, Intractable Conflict: Toward the Development of a Metaframework-I.’ Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology 9 (1): 1–37.

Copeman, Jacob. 2009. Veins of Devotion: Blood Donation and Religious Experience in North India. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Daftary, Farhad. 1990. The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

—2011. A Modern History of the Ismailis: Continuity and Change in a Muslim Community. London: I. B. Tauris.

Deeb, Lara. 2006. An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi‘a Lebanon. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Durkheim, Emile. 1995 (1912). The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Trans. Karen E. Fields. New York: Free Press.

—2014 (1902). The Division of Labor in Society. New York: Free Press.

Eck, Diana. 2006. ‘What is Pluralism?’ (accessed 8 July 2019).

Elisha, Omri. 2011. Moral Ambition: Mobilization and Social Outreach in Evangelical Megachurches. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books.

Gonzalez, Roberto. 2007. ‘Towards Mercenary Anthropology? The New US Army Counterinsurgency Manual FM 3–24 and the Military-Anthropology Complex.’ Anthropology Today 23 (3): 14–19.

Hayden, Robert. 2002. ‘Antagonistic Tolerance: Competitive Sharing of Religious Sites in South Asia and the Balkans.’ Current Anthropology 43 (2): 205–31.

Hirji, Zulfikar. 2010. ‘Debating Islam from Within: Muslim Constructions of the Internal Other.’ In Hirji 2010: 31–42.

Hirji, Zulfikar. 2010. Diversity and Pluralism in Islam: Historical and Contemporary Discourses among Muslims. London: I. B. Tauris.

Hussain, Shafqat. 2012. ‘Multiple Sovereignties and Transnationalism in a Nation-State: Aga Khan Development Network in Hunza Pakistan.’ In Boris Petric (ed.), Democracy at Large: NGOs, Political Foundations, Think Tanks and International Organizations: 190–204. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kaiser, Paul. 1996. Culture, Transnationalism, and Civil Society: Aga Khan Social Service Initiatives in Tanzania. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Kassam, Tazim. 1995. Songs of Wisdom and Circles of Dance: Hymns of the Satpanth Ismaili Muslim Saint, Pir Shams. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Khan, Dominique-Sila. 1997. Conversions and Shifting Identities: Ramdev Pir and the Ismailis in Rajasthan. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers, Centre de Sciences Humaines.

Latour, Bruno. 2005. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lazar, Sian. 2013. ‘Group Belonging in Trade Unions: Idioms of Sociality in Bolivia and Argentina.’ In Long and Moore 2013: 83–100.

Long, Nicholas, and Henrietta Moore. 2013. ‘Introduction: Sociality’s New Directions.’ In Long and Moore 2013: 1–24.

Long, Nicholas, and Henrietta Moore (eds.). 2013. Sociality: New Directions. New York: Berghahn Books.

Malik, Jamal, and Helmut Reifeld. 2005. Religious Pluralism in South Asia and Europe. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mahmood, Saba. 2012. ‘Religious Freedom, the Minority Question, and Geopolitics in the Middle East.’ Comparative Studies in Society and History 54 (2): 418–46.

Masselos, Jim. 1978. ‘The Khojas of Bombay: The Defining of Formal Membership Criteria during the Nineteenth Century.’ In Imtiaz Ahmad (ed.), Caste and Social Stratification among Muslims in India: 1–19. New Delhi: Manohar Publications.

Mauss, Marcel. 2000 (1954). The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. Trans. W. D. Halls. New York: W. W. Norton.

Momen, Moojan. 1985. An Introduction to Shi‘i Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi‘ism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Mottahedeh, Roy. 1992. ‘Towards an Islamic Theology of Toleration.’ In Islamic Law Reform and Human Rights: 25–36. Oslo: Nordic Human Rights Publication.

—2010. ‘Pluralism and Islamic Traditions of Sectarian Divisions.’ In Hirji 2010: 31–42.

Purohit, Teena. 2012. The Aga Khan Case: Religion and Identity in Colonial India. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rapport, Nigel. 2011. ‘The Liberal Treatment of Difference: An Untimely Meditation on Culture and Civilization.’ Current Anthropology 52 (5): 687–710.

Rogozen-Soltar, Mikaela. 2012. ‘Managing Muslim Visibility: Conversion, Immigration, and Spanish Imaginaries of Islam.’ American Anthropologist 114 (4): 611–23.

Ruthven, Malise. 2011. ‘The Aga Khan Development Network.’ In Daftary 2011: 189–220.

Sachedina, Abdulaziz. 2001. The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism. New York: Oxford University Press.

—2010. ‘Prudential Concealment in Shi’ite Islam: A Strategy of Survival or a Principle?’ Common Knowledge 16 (2): 233–46.

Salvatore, Armando. 2007. The Public Sphere: Liberal Modernity, Catholicism, Islam. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Shodhan, Amrita. 2001. A Question of Community: Religious Groups and Colonial Law. Kolkata: Bhatkal & Sen.

Shryock, Andrew. 2004. ‘In the Double Remoteness of Arab Detroit: Reflections on Ethnography, Culture Work, and the Intimate Disciplines of Americanization.’ In Off Stage/On Display: Intimacy and Ethnography in the Age of Public Culture: 279–314. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Smith, Christian, and Katherine Sorrell. 2014. ‘On Social Solidarity.’ In Vincent Jeffries (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity: Formulating a Field of Study. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Soares, Benjamin. 2006. ‘Islam in Mali in the Neoliberal Era.’ African Affairs 105 (418): 77–95.

Sözer, Hande. 2014. Managing Invisibility: Dissimulation and Identity Maintenance among Alevi Bulgarian Turks. Leiden: Brill.

Steinberg, Jonah. 2011. Isma’ili Modern: Globalization and Identity in a Muslim Community. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.

Todorov, Tzvetan. 1999 The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

van der Veer, Peter. 2004. ‘Secrecy and Publicity in the South Asian Public Arena.’ In Public Islam and the Common Good: 29–52. Leiden: Brill.

Walzer, Michael. 1999. On Toleration. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email:

Privacy Policy