Sayyid Pakistani en de bruiloft van de dood
Political violence and Islam in Pakistan
Anyone wanting to understand what has been going on in the world of Islam during recent years would do well to read the new book by anthropologist Oskar Verkaaik. The central theme is political violence and Islam in Pakistan. Because the author’s style is descriptive and anthropological rather than analytical, this book suggests very different underlying reasons for the events described from those normally given by social scientists, journalists, politicians and other foreign analysts - such as poverty, political aspirations or religious fanaticism.
Verkaaik meets political militants working for various ethnic and religious movements, students at Koran schools and intellectuals, but above all he interviews ‘ordinary people’. His subjects are presented as human actors trying to make sense of the world they live in. The result is a picture of people trying to cope with Islam in modern times, in which religion is increasingly a matter of consciousness, struggle and self-definition rather than a given and unproblematic tradition.
In this way we get to know the tailor master Sayyid Pakistani, the two friends and political activists Javed and Adil, one of whom gets married while the other seeks a martyr’s death, the Koran students Habib and Imdad, whose aim in life is to follow in the steps of the Prophet, the erudite Ibrahim Saqi, who knew Gandhi and Jinnah and who is taking flute lessons in his old age, and the cosmopolitan woman journalist Fauzia, who displays a provocative concern with radical Muslim youth.
As a professional anthropologist with many years of field experience in Pakistan, Verkaaik is not just another foreign observer. He speaks fluent Urdu and is a well-informed interviewer who regularly confronts the people he encounters with his own point of view on Islam and Pakistani culture. This makes the book a rare and attractive combination of belles lettres, anthropology, travelogue and investigative journalism. Sayyid Pakistani and the Wedding of the Dead is exceptionally beautifully written and sheds an intimate light on a world with which Verkaaik is thoroughly familiar.