Although it is a three months old, I came across this wonderful piece by brother Yursil who blogs about Sufism and traditional Islam. The article also recounts how the Wahabi influence within the South Asian Muslims in USA can effect the pluralistic nature of Islam from South Asia. One can even view the Wahabi tendencies of demanding a homogenized interpretation of Islam as a form of cultural imperialism.
The lack of textual information about Islam in South Asia certainly did not help. Modern South Asians were brought up appreciating the written word much more than that spoken word, a side effect of making education the largest priority in their lives (a means to escape poverty of the homeland). The idea of following a way of life which couldn’t be immediately checked, verified, and looked up for confirmation led most to the path of various forms of Wahabism.
Of course, most of groups eschewed the name ‘Wahabi’ itself, preferring to claim the title ‘Muslim’ for themselves. Interestingly enough their use of ‘Muslim’ was to the exclusion of their ‘grave worshipping’ ancestors or family members, which they considered to be misguided and confused. Most likely, however, the situation was actually tragically reversed, with modernized South Asians being extremely confused about their faith and the ‘ignorant’ visitors of graves seeing with a spiritual clarity.
Many South Asian parents had not bought into their own intellectual superiority, and hence many had not adopted the Wahabi ideal in order to critique the problems ‘back home’. These parents were quiet on the subjects of question (saints, graves, intercession, etc), and very few had the ability to respond back to the arguments presented by Wahabi philosophies from their children. Growing up their entire lives in that society, it was difficult for parents to forsake that which they had learned was de-facto Islam, an Islam which had run their lives and so many loved-ones lives could not easily be discarded… Saints, Milad, Naats, Qawaali, and all. Largely, they kept their distance from argument and supported the now adjusting faith of their children.
Interestingly enough, this comfortable nature of the different Islam between father and son, mother and daughter, in matters of practice of faith was a direct consequence of the open nature of the parents Islamic faith. It is this same South Asian pluralism which had created large periods of relative peace between Hindus and Muslims over a span of centuries, which now allowed children to look, dress, and act radically different from their parents, with hardly more than a word spoken.
This is not to say that parents did not fear the children would become ‘Christian’ in the West, indeed such fears existed and were a large part of growing up South Asian in the West. However, I would argue the fear towards Christianization was much more focused on the change in culture, and what that would mean for marriage, dress and social standings than what it meant to their soul. The pluralistic values of South Asia centered around a common culture, where often the weddings of the Muslim were not so dissimilar from that of the Hindu, in terms of dress and celebration. Exiting this culture was much more profound an issue than disagreements over details of faith.