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Recovering Minority Pasts: New Writings on Muslims in South Asia

Thursday 11 January 2018, by siawi3


Südasien-Chronik - South Asia Chronicle
S. 375-397
© Südasien-Seminar
der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin ISBN: 978-3-86004-286-1

Recovering Minority Pasts: New Writings on Muslims in South Asia

by Razak Khan

Arshad Alam,
Inside a Madrasa: Knowledge, Power and Islamic Identity in India.
New Delhi: Routledge, 2011, 220 pages, 9780415678070,
Price £70.00.

Anna Bigelow,
Sharing The Sacred: Practising Pluralism in Muslim North India.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, 328 pages,
9780195368239, £45.00.

Justin Jones,
Shia Islam in Colonial India: Religion, Community and Sectarianism.
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012, 304 pages,
9781107004603, Price £60.00.

Ali Usman Qasmi,
Questioning the Authority of the Past: The Ahl al-Quran Movements in the Punjab.
Karachi: Oxford University Press,
2011, 500 pages, 9780195473483, Price £15.99.


Muslim identity politics in colonial India has been a subject of rich scholarly debate. Existing studies have contributed towards building our understanding of South Asian Islam. However, these studies have privileged the grand master narrative that assumes the overarching uniform
impact of political and religious movements. The scholarly emphasis has
been on how the diversities of local identities and histories were submerged in the formation of a homogeneous Muslim religious community
and the project of a Muslim nation state. Thus, categories like “Islamic
Revivalism” (Metcalf 1982) and “Muslim Separatism” (Robinson 1974)
have become landmarks to map diverse Muslim experiences of politics
and religion in colonial India. While these categories have provided an
important entry point, they have also brought undesired closures to the
other possible ways of understanding Muslim negotiations with politics
and religion. Much focus has also remained on the textual and ‘normative’ aspect of Islam which often neglects ‘lived’ local diversities of Muslim identities and histories.

The persistence in using Islam as a yardstick to understand diverse
lives of Muslims is uninformed, if not completely wrong. The emphasis
has been to define a universal category of Muslim identity with shared
similarity and marked difference. As critics have pointed out neither
such commonalities nor differences are universal but rather negotiated
in local contexts. We discover Islam and Muslim as one category neither in the archive nor in the field. What we find instead is Islam as a
constantly debated discursive tradition in and across various local and
translocal contexts. These everyday negotiations of Islam in the realm
of thinking and acting are deeply contextual and individual (Marsden

The books under review are new attempts to illuminate the richness
of South Asian contexts and responses they generated in formations
and contestations of Muslim identity.

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