Northwestern Events Calendar


The Khōjā of Tanzania: Discontinuities of a Postcolonial Religious Identity (Iqbal Akhtar)

When: Wednesday, April 7, 2021
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM CT

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Rebecca Shereikis   (847) 491-2598

Group: Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA)

Co-Sponsor: Program of African Studies

Category: Academic, Lectures & Meetings, Multicultural & Diversity, Global & Civic Engagement


The Khōjā of Tanzania: Discontinuities of a Postcolonial Religious Identity

Join ISITA for a talk by Iqbal Akhtar (religious studies/politics and international relations, Florida International University).

Moderated by Zekeria Ahmed Salem, ISITA director and associate profressor of political science, Northwestern University.


This talk is based upon Dr. Akhtar’s book, The Khōjā of Tanzania: Discontinuities of a Postcolonial Religious Identity (Brill Academic Publishers, 2016), which reconstructs the development a religious identity among the Khōjā, an Indic Muslim merchant caste in East Africa, from their arrival on the Swahili coast in the late 18th century until the turn of the 21st century. This multidisciplinary study incorporates Gujarati, Kacchī, Swahili, and Arabic sources to examine the formation of an Afro-Asian Islamic identity (jamatī) from their initial Indic caste identity (jñāti) towards an emergent Near Eastern imaged Islamic nation (ummatī) through four disciplinary approaches: historiography, politics, linguistics, and ethnology. Over the past two centuries, rapid transitions and discontinuities have produced the profound tensions that have resulted from the willful amnesia of the Khōjā’s pre-Islamic Indic civilizational past for an ideological and politicized ‘Islamic’ present. This study aims to document, theorize, and engage this theological transformation of modern Khōjā religious identities as expressed through dimensions of power, language, space, and the body.

About the speaker

Iqbal Akhtar is an associate professor with a dual-appointment in the departments of Religious Studies and Politics & International Relations at Florida International University. He completed his doctoral studies at the University of Edinburgh's New College School of Divinity in 2013.  At FIU Dr. Akhtar is the research director of the Western Indian Ocean Studies program and director of the Jain Studies program, the first of its kind in the Western hemisphere.  In addition to his book, he has published articles on American Muslim identity and East African Khōjā historiography, including the article “Negotiating the racial boundaries of Khōjā caste membership in late 19th century colonial Zanzibar (1878-1899)” in the Journal of Africana Religions.

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