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Ritual and daily life : transmission and interpretation of the Ismaili tradition in Vancouver Dossa, Parin Aziz


This dissertation explores, within a framework provided by tradition and change, how Ismailis in Vancouver, primarily a religious community, formerly localized and spatially concentrated in East Africa, have been affected by migration into a secular state where they are spatially dispersed. Ismaili tradition is explicated through history and a recourse to documentary materials including the Qur'an, gināns or compositions, firmāns or guidances of the Imām (spiritual leader), and the rituals of the community. The chief feature of tradition may be identified as an overarching cosmology dichotomized as zāhir and bātin, glossed respectively as material (multiplicity and activity) and spiritual (unity and repose) in strict complementarity, the parts of which are activated through a spatial and a temporal movement from and to exteriority (zāhir) and interiority (bāţin). Daily life, family, kin, community rituals and prayers at Jamā'āt Khāna (place of assembly), and the firmāns reflect the complementarities and mediate them. Change is examined in relation to the same features as well as culinary practices which, as do the rituals, further reveal the complementarities between material and spiritual and the ways in which they are mediated. The changing roles and interrelationships of elders, men and women, and youth emphasize changes taking place. The major finding of the study is that the tradition, which was a complex of strict complementarities, has now become compartmentalized, diluting the force of the complementary relationship. This appears as a function of increased participation in the "technical" time (confining social relationships) of external public life as opposed to the "core culture" time (promoting social relationships) of the internal home life of families, and in the attitudes of Ismailis who are accommodating to the larger society and are exclusive in their community life. In addition, women's entry in the public labour force, and a growing separation between youth and adults as well as elders, have significantly affected community rituals, attendance in Jamā'āt Khāna, and familial relationships. While it might be thought that new sets of dialectics are being engaged, this does not in fact appear to be the case. Contraries and contradictions, which might have been thought to imply a dialectic, remain as they were enforcing a further compartmentalization of life choices.

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