becoming present
My Own Disappointment
Several months into my fieldwork in Lahore, my roommate, another scholar
from an U.S. institution, decided to shorten her stay in Pakistan because it
was not as productive as she had hoped. In the midst of telling me of her
plans to leave early, she stopped to take in my look of shock and in an
impulsive gesture she asked me to leave with her. ‘‘It makes no sense for you
to study Muslim religiosity in this place,’’ she said. ‘‘People are not really
religious. Many haven’t even read the Qur’an. I wager that I know more
about Islam than they do.’’ I must confess that I was sorely tempted. In my
months in Lahore I had uncovered a dizzying variety of religious conflicts
and violence centered on neighborhood mosques. My conversations with
Pakistani intellectuals and state o≈cials were not leading me anywhere
either, as most seemed determined to cast a blind eye to such conflict, seeing
it as lowly infighting among the lower reaches of their society.
Although leaving Pakistan was never a serious option, I made a conscious
decision to stay. While my roommate’s remarks raised the question of what
her picture of knowing Islam was, I wanted to learn what it meant to know
Islam in Pakistan and why this knowing was so easily brushed aside. At the
same time as I was overwhelmed by the intensity of fights within religious
life in Pakistan, I was also drawn to what I was hearing and learning. The
theological issues, the nuances of religious praxis, the thickness of textual
references, the literary allusions, the sensorial details, the bureaucratic inter-
lacement, the political and legal overlay, even the psychological portraits of
individuals and communities that I was being provided both staggered and
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