Home    Number 6, 2012

Taqiyya and Identity in a South Asian Community

Type of publication: Research Article

About author(s)

Shafique N. Virani | shafi que.virani@utoronto.ca | University of Toronto


Taqiyya, Islam, Hinduism, Guptīs, Ismaili Imam, avatāra, South Asia


The Guptīs of Bhavnagar, India, represent an unexplored case of taqiyya, or precautionary dissimulation, and challenge traditional categories of religious identity in South Asia. Taqiyya is normally practiced by minority or otherwise disadvantaged groups of Muslims who fear negative repercussions should their real faith become known. Historically, the Shī‘a, whether Ithnā-‘asharī or Ismaili, have commonly dissimulated as Sunnīs, who form the dominant community. However, the Guptīs, who are followers of the Ismaili imam, and whose name means “secret” or “hidden ones,” dissimulate not as Sunnī Muslims, but as Hindus. The Guptī practice of taqiyya is exceptional for another reason: Hinduism is not simply a veil used to avoid harmful consequences, but forms an integral part of the Guptīs’ belief system and identity, and the basis of their conviction in the Aga Khan, not only as the imam, but as the avatāra of the current age.


Virani, S.N. 2012. Taqiyya and Identity in a South Asian Community. Etnograficheskoe obozrenie 6: 123-153

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