Call for proposal for a panel at the ECSAS conference (Paris, July 2018) on 'The sayyids in South Asia: the social and political role of a Muslim elite'

Laurence Gautier's picture

We are organising a panel on the occasion of the ECSAS conference to be held in Paris in July 2018 on 'The sayyids in South Asia: the social and political role of a Muslim elite'.

We welcome contributions from scholars in different subjects, be it sociology, history, political science, Islamic studies or other subjects. The deadline for submission of abstracts is on 30 November 2017

Please find the abstract for the panel below. The full call for papers is accessible online on the ECSAS's website (see P23):


We look forward to receiving your contributions. 


Julien Levesque (CSH, New Delhi)

Laurence Gautier (Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat).


Abstract: Sayyids claim descent from Prophet Muhammad. They are found in nearly all Muslim communities and generally stand at the top of the social hierarchy, a status comforted by moral norms among both Sunnis and Shias that command respect towards Prophet Muhammad’s kin. As a result, sayyids tend to play an important role in public life – notably as religious leaders and intellectuals. In some regions of South Asia, notably in Sindh, this status offers two advantages – charismatic authority and a network of (often powerful) people – that endow sayyids with a leadership role. In Sindh as well as in South (Pakistani) Punjab, sayyids occupy a prominent position among politicians, combining, thanks to their status, worldly power and wealth with spiritual legitimacy. In these regions at least, being sayyid thus appears as a resource that can be mobilized in social relations as well as in the political arena. This does not mean, however, that sayyids’ authority goes unchallenged. In India, for instance, the recent rise of pasmanda movements puts to question the right of elite Muslims – often of sayyid lineage – to represent the ‘Muslim community’. This panel hopes to throw light on what it means and entails to be sayyid in various socio-cultural contexts of South Asia. Because being sayyid is rarely conceptualized in and for itself, we propose to examine in a critical way the sayyid category, its multiple uses and changing meanings, in order to better understand, first, the evolutions of social stratification among South Asian Muslims; and second, the recomposition of Muslim elite networks and Muslim leadership, notably in the political sphere.