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Anthropological Fieldwork in Afghanistan and Pakistan Compared

Part of the Muslims in Global Societies Series book series (MGSS,volume 6)

Abstract

Marsden’s chapter also explores the complexity of studying everyday Islam in the equally heterogeneous religious and political context of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. He describes two modalities, however, of his attempts to deal with this heterogeneity during fieldwork. These modalities built upon him learning from his own informants’ attitudes. In Chitral, northern Pakistan, where he conducted work in a village and small town home to Sunni and Shi’a Ismai’li Muslims, his informants did not let him participate in many forms of religious life. During research in northern Afghanistan, however, Marsden describes the process of being taught by his informants the art of balancing competing dimensions of life and holding any display of complete loyalty or commitment in suspended tension.

Keywords

  • Ethnographic Fieldwork
  • Islamic Teaching
  • Muslim Society
  • Islamic Tradition
  • Muslim Identity

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    On the complexity of such identity formations in the context of Vietnam see Kwon (2010: 93).

  2. 2.

    A Springer anonymous reviewer misunderstood this point. She/he suggested that I pretended to be a Muslim in the field, and failed to ask questions about how this might effect the safety of the people I was with. By contrast, my interlocutors, without informing me, tell others that I am a Muslim, in the interest of my own safety, and theirs. This raises ethical issues of a different order than those that simply relate to how far my actions have implications for the safety of my interlocutors. They bring to light, rather, the ways in which ethical responsibility for any particular act always need to be understood in terms of the social relationships in which it was embedded, rather than as the outcome of an act of autonomous, individual agency (see Laidlaw 2010).

  3. 3.

    A one-time supporter of the pro-Soviet 1980s government of Dr Najibullah, who was serving as the personal secretary of the former jihadi MP, appeared to be more worried about my visiting mosques than the Islamist politicians for whom he worked: he advised me to stay out of the mosques, the course of action that subsequently followed with some degree of relief.

  4. 4.

    Clothing, indeed, is widely recognised by many in the country as an important dimension of the political strategies of Afghan politicians. The MPs and his advisors often discussed where posters that pictured him in a suit and tie should be displayed, and where those of him dressed in Afghan clothes and mujahid cap be placed: the former being posted in villages with significant populations of both Ismai’li Muslims and past supporters of the People’s Democractic Party of Afghanistan, and the latter sent to valleys whose inhabitants had largely supported the mujahidin.

  5. 5.

    On the concept of the ‘unthought’ in the Islamic tradition, see Arkoun (2002).

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Correspondence to Magnus Marsden .

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Marsden, M. (2012). Anthropological Fieldwork in Afghanistan and Pakistan Compared. In: Marsden, M., Retsikas, K. (eds) Articulating Islam: Anthropological Approaches to Muslim Worlds. Muslims in Global Societies Series, vol 6. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-4267-3_11

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