PROQUEST DTG-Cab Driving in the Spirit of Islam

Hussain, Nasser (2018) PROQUEST DTG-Cab Driving in the Spirit of Islam. Post-Doctoral thesis, Columbia University.

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This dissertation uses the taxicab as a vehicle to understand Muslim-non-Muslim encounters in contemporary Britain. Cab Driving in the Spirit of Islam thus explores the everyday lived experience of Muslims where the ‘spirit of Islam’ refers to both the richness of Islamic religious traditions but also their specter, where projections and representations of ‘Islam’ continue to haunt the liberal imaginary. The dissertation is based on an in-depth yearlong ethnography (2013-14) on Muslim cab drivers that live and work in West Yorkshire, northern England. The write-up contextualizes this fieldwork in the broader history of this working-class migrant community. The drivers vary in age as well as place of birth, but most have their heritage in and around the villages of Mirpur, Azad Kashmir. The general paradox that frames this investigation is this: cab driving is, on the one hand, a hyper-individualistic pursuit, the first steps towards integration into mainstream society and the normative acceptability that is accrued in the process; but yet for these working-class South Asian Muslims who reside in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, cab driving has stabilized into a communal infrastructure of sorts, a way of life for over three decades now as integral to them as the two Islamic traditions in their lives, Barelwi and Tablighi respectively. I find that the world of cab driving is an infrastructure where knowledge is shared and passed on, and whereby religious community is continuously produced. Within this ethical community, or Islamic counterpublic as Charles Hirschkind has conceptualized the Islamic Revival, the circulating cab driver occupies a pivotal mediating role, full of potential and promise, but also a position that risks loss and transformation. This counterpublic figure’s embodiment of the Islamic good and critical knowledge of the landscape means that more than just a cab driver, he is an integral religious authority in this sociality, but as a “plain person” in Alasdair MacIntyre’s words, who is available and accessible to dispense communal obligations that go into producing this ethical community. It requires virtue and skill to live according to the sunna, the model of ethicality based on the Prophet’s example, the Prophet motive, rather than being dictated by the profit motive. In doing so, the expert driver turns a possible vulnerability into a potentiality. The dissertation is comprised of five parts. In Formations of the Rude Boy, I present an account of the world of cab driving as it relates to the broader forces at play in the landscape by way of a driver’s narrative that organizes this dissertation, the rude boy turn revert. Rude boys, or “boys,” are figures of resistance and rebellion, who emerge out of the specific configuration of modern education with this migrant community; “boys” become “boys” in school, much like white English working-class kids become “lads” in that disciplinary institution, as Paul Willis described in his classic ethnography. In the absence of a coherent religious authority in this configuration emerges the sovereign-beast, a metaphormosis realized through the critical medium of the car. The boy takes possessions of his fate, the ineluctable predicament of degraded cab driver. However, the significant difference from my research and Willis’ findings is that the world of cab driving mediates Islamic religious traditions to produce the Islamic counterpublic in this landscape, thereby unsettling the normative regime where ‘the school’ complements ‘the workplace.’ The world of pious cab driving is tantamount to an education in the Islamic virtues, the details of which I explore in the second part, Righteous Turn, which enables the rude boy’s ‘reversion,’ an un-becoming Sovereign and a life-altering trajectory shared by a significant constituency of British-born Muslims in this Islamic revival. In his pious turn, the former “boy” sees the other side to the tradition, namely one of care and concern, rather than its’ reduction to policing and constraint, a weltanschauung organized around modern paradigms of “freedom.” The world of pious cab driving is unlike most typical modern workplaces. I describe the practice of Islamic disciplines in this world, such as the requisite bodily training that induces self-control as pertaining to the question of desire and the potential disruptive and divisive effect of participation in the everyday market economy. I describe how the overlay of revivalist discourse and practice transforms the cabbing infrastructure. So for instance, the taxi base turns into a jamaat, a gathering of sorts, where dawa (‘proselytizing’) and salat (‘prayer’) are practiced, two of the integral and intertwined virtues in the revival gripping this landscape. Drivers are more than fellow competitors, but driver-brothers, or even spiritual dependents as I describe them. In Part III, Riding with the Enemy, the spirit of Islam is the specter of Islam. Here, I am more interested in what goes on in the cab itself. Muslim cab drivers work all over England, including what is considered the country proper, villages and market towns whose residents are predominantly non-Muslim whites. The Muslim cab driver is thus at the core of liberalism, both materially and psychologically. In this section I explore how the medium of the cab induces vulnerability: the Muslim cab driver is a marked target, a convenient opportunity and point of access. The result is a concentration of violence in the cab which I attempt to understand by situating it alongside other modes of exclusionary violence in the history of this migrant community, like “Paki-bashing,” and the spatial transformations and movements taking place in these landscapes. This violence, as well as the master-passenger’s ‘ownership’ of the ride, and in the process the driver, goes some way to explaining the obsession with extravagant car ownership within the Pakistani Muslim community, a thesis which resonates with Paul Gilroy’s argument on African American car culture. In the possibility that the cab ride turns into a sexual encounter, the Muslim driver is the “intimate enemy.” I thus investigate the gendered dimension to this mode of everyday violence, tying together the performance of expected gender roles during the cab ride to a resurgent nationalist sentiment that necessitates the need to disavow the Muslim/the migrant within. I trace the emergence of this nationalist subjectivity in the decline of the white working-class. In Part IV, Care Drivers, I consider the driver’s response in this vulnerable predicament as the putatively lacking migrant, an experience that is part of his critical knowledge and learning on the job. The pious cab driver learns to depend and trust in God. He draws upon the significance of the social position of lack and beginning in Islamic tradition, most notably the Prophet’s companion, Bilal, the exemplar par excellence of the embodiment of piety and the practice of sabr, the virtue of endurance, in the position of societal degradation and inferiority. While cab driving as a communal infrastructure has stabilized into a way of life, the articulation of this labor practice with religious tradition does not mean stagnation for this migrant Muslim community. In the final part, Revaluation of the Saints, I describe the shifts and transformations that result from a transnational circulation of goods and people, including a visiting pir, but also the returning émigré-driver who is endowed with a saint-like status himself. The driver’s authority is formed out of the interpenetration of the two dominant South Asian Muslim traditions, ‘Sufi’ Barelwi and ‘Deobandi’ Tablighi, as they are mediated by cab driving and configured in the migration process. The arrival and presence of the visiting pir brings into relief the changes in the religious authority and practices of these Muslims, a matter of knowing the men, their good deeds and actions, as they strive to live Medina in modern England.

Item Type: Thesis (Post-Doctoral)
Subjects: 2x6 Sosial dan Budaya > 2x6.1 Masyarakat Islam > 2x6.13 Interaksi Sosial
2x6 Sosial dan Budaya > 2x6.1 Masyarakat Islam > 2x6.17 Pelayanan kepada Masyarakat
Divisions: Perpustakaan
Depositing User: K Kristiarso
Date Deposited: 30 May 2022 08:23
Last Modified: 31 May 2022 07:25

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