Café Dissensus, October 27, 2013
On Factionalism and Keralite Islam
In The Coffee House of Surat, written in 1885, Leo Tolstoy brings together a Persian theologian, an African slave, a Brahmin, a Jewish broker, an Italian missionary, a Protestant minister, a Turk office-holder, the Assyrian Christians, Llamas from Tibet, Ismailians, and Fire-worshippers, all arguing about the nature of God and whose country owns the true God. The debate was started by the Persian over a zip of opium and was ended by a Chinaman with a long conversation in which he says: ‘… it is chiefly pride that prevents men agreeing with one another on matters of faith… it is pride that causes error and discord among men…Each man wants to have a special God of his own, or at least a special God for his native land. Each nation wishes to confine in its own temples Him, whom the world cannot contain.’Moving forward chronologically and geographically southward, we arrive at the Malabar Coast in the twentieth century. There, I am tempted to place all these argumentative representatives from diverse ethnic backgrounds into a single religious community of ‘Keralite Islam’, which has been numerously factionalized and fighting each other.