Frank Korom is to address the Bangla Academy in Dhaka, Bangladesh on the auspicious occasion of the Bengali New Year, which falls on April 15 this year.
The title of his talk will be “Sufis as Folk Preachers in South Asia: The Curious Case of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen,” the gist of which will be that Sufism is well-known as being a driving force for the growth and development of Islam in the Indian Subcontinent. Much less, however, is known about the actual mechanisms used by Sufis to spread the message of Islam. The lecture will present a micro-ethnograpic analysis of the life and career of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, an elusive figure from the Tamil-speaking regions of northern Sri Lanka. The presentation will focus on his preaching style, and how linguistic eclecticism served as a vehicle for him to propagate his ideas among non-Muslims, especially among the low-caste Hindus he served during the earliest days of his career. That same style served him well even after he became an international sensation, when he settled in Philadelphia in 1971, establishing a mosque there some years later. His transnational ministry suggests that he used the rhetorical techniques of an oral storyteller to sway people in his direction. This, coupled with his charisma, led to the growth of his followers around the world during his lifetime.