In 1969, the University of Edinburgh launched the 'Islamic Surveys' series. Volume seven by
Aziz Ahmad was intended to 'help to counteract the relative neglect until recently of the
achievements of Islam in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent.' The need was great because, as W.
Montgomery Watt, General Editor of the series observed.
South Asia is not a mere frontier of Islam, but an integral part of the Islamic
world, making a distinctive contribution to the life of the whole. For many centuries it has
been interacting with Hinduism by way of both attraction and repulsion, but it has not
severed its links with the heartlands of Islam. More recently Indian Islam preceded the
heartlands in receiving and responding to the European impact.
Some years ago a friend asked me: 'Is there any recent book on Islam in South Asia?'
After all, the friend added, Islam is the religion of over 140 million people in India
alone. The fact is the we have allowed decades to pass without asking ourselves many
important questions about them, not because we did not have the time but because we were
either unconcerned or because at heart we took for granted that we had all the answers. As a
result, wide areas of the Muslim traditions-like movements, institutions, liberal thought,
reformers, and so on-are represented by only a handful of articles or the occasional book.
Moreover, despite Islam's vibrancy in the region, India's Muslims are neither among the
'Makers of Contemporary Islam nor do they represent 'The New Voices of Islam'. It matters
little that Muslim scholars and thinkers have contributed substantially to the production of
knowledge or that the Muslims in South Asia have expressed their finest sensibilities in
creative arts, architecture, poetry and literature. Even the traditional medieval India
where such knowledge was produced-the India of the Sultans of Delhi and the Mughals-is dead
and possibly beyond resurrection.
In order to address the lack of writings on India's Muslims and their emerging
identities apart from questioning analytical frameworks and epistemological assumptions, the
present need is to be aware of Islam in South Asia as a living tradition, however defined,
and as a dynamic force. The volumes in this Omnibus bring together the variety of
thought-patterns and practices instrumental in the evolution of identities among India's
Muslims on pan-Indian as well as regional and local levels.
Barbara D. Metcalf, the historian now based in the University of Michigan, studies
the analytical platform for exploring Islamic knowledge and training in late-nineteenth
century India. The second volume on The Bengal Muslims 1860-1906 by Rafiuddin Ahmad depicts
the evolving identities and contesting ideas of the community from a regional perspective
while my Legacy of a Divided Nation considers the challenges of adaptation and negotiation
the Muslims faced in the times after the independence and partition of India.
Barbara Metcalf's work on the generation of ideas and education system of the
Deoband School is one of the fine examples of the epistemological engagement with the manner
in which the realm of ideas mould and at the same time represent the societies that give
rise to them. In the late 1970s, the relationship between codes for behaviour derived from
Islam and codes of behaviours derived from other sources was discussed at two conferences in
the United States. Even though their concerns were far removed from the people's lives, the
participants paid adequate attention to educational institutions. The reasons are not far to
seek. India has been the home of traditional learning since the advent of Turkish rule.
During the reign of Muhammad bin Tughlaq (1325-51), Delhi alone had a thousand madaris.
There were at least thirty in Jaunpur, and a sixteenth century traveler visiting Thata-near
Karachi in Pakistan-reported 400 large and small madaris. An elaborate curriculum was
developed at these institutions, though Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughal emperors,
reprimanded his former teacher for having taught him Arabic, grammar and philosophy rather
than subjects more practical for a future ruler of a vast empire. Syed Ahmad Khan, the
founder of the M.A.O. College. Held that the Muslim schools of the old sort were 'altogether
useless' because their syllabus and books 'deceive and teach men to veil their meaning
describe things wrongly and in irrelevant terms
to leave the history of the past uncertain,
and to relate facts like tales and age and to the spirit of the time, and thus instead of
doing good they do much harm to the Muhammadans.
Traditional schools made substantial adjustments in religious thought and
organization in the nineteenth century. A number of writers compiled the histories of such
initiatives in Urdu. Much was written on Deoband's Dar al-ulum, but these well-drilled
arrays of 'historians' hardly ever went beyond extolling the ulama and the Dars-I Nizamia as
the model curriculum. It was different with Barbara Daly Metcalf's book, Islamic Revival in
British India: Deoband 1860-1900. She closely looked at Deoband's ulama, especially those
who were engaged in a self-conscious reformulation of their religious thought-a
reformulation that involved new emphases and new concerns from within the framework of their
own received tradition. Her account of their rise in the nineteenth century and of the
origins of the Dar al-ulum are particularly useful since they show that the ground work for
the setting up of a religious seminary had already been prepared by scholars whose names
have been forgotten. She unfolds their world and the ways in which they experienced colonial
rule, acquaints the reader with a teacher's life, the growing up of a student thrown into a
particular social milieu and the evolution of religious ideas, and introduces their
interpretation and their impact on the construction of a society modeled on the Shariat.
Lastly, she is able to show that Islam in nineteenth-century India did not stagnate and that
significant cultural change took place only through the adoption of Western values.
According to Barbara Metcalf, the Deoband movement illustrates that there are long
and deep traditions of Islamic apoliticism and a de facto embrace of democratic and liberal
traditions. Second, it demonstrates that the goals and satisfactions that come from
participation in Islamic movements may well have little to do with opposition or resistance
to non-Muslims or 'the West.' Last, what they offer their participants may be the
fulfillment of desires for individual empowerment, transcendent meaning and moral sociality
that do not engage directly with national or global political life at all.
Islamic Revival in British India is the product of meticulous scholarship and
testifies to a remarkable erudition. Francis Robinson, the reviewer, wrote: 'Now we can
share in the life and the workings of an Indian madrasa, the world of the nineteenth-century
alim and Sufi loses some of its mystery, and the men themselves emerge as men of flesh and
That we do, for Metcalf employs an empathetic view to decode the meaning-systems
behind the ideas of the Deoband ulema. Instead of plainly criticizing the traditional view,
Metcalf's narrative depicts the ulama as godly men, Spirited, and self-sacrificing. The
piety and learning of the ulama in a world torn by materialism is emphasized in her work and
her idealization of the Deobandi ulama runs contrary to the widespread critique of their
conduct and performance. Metcalf explains the response of the 'ulama to the colonial
dominance of the British and the collapse of Muslim political power and discusses the ways
in which they enhanced a sense of cultural continuity in a period of colonial rule. However,
the implicit critique of 'Enlightenment', and 'modernity' exists simultaneously with an
emphasis on the traditional view. This view does not account for the impact of 'ulema's
conservative modes of thinking on gender justice, on other aspects of family life, or on the
processes of Deoband's negotiation with other communities and movements in the Indian
To ensure that the Deobandi and the Firangi Mahalis alone are not seen to represent
the authentic voice of Islam, Usha Sanyal produced a detailed account of Ahmad Riza Khan
Barelwi and his movement. Before her, C.W. Troll, a German Jesuit based in New Delhi,
reflected on various Islamic trends in South Asia. The collection of essays on the dargahs
was one of the early works on the subject. Barbara Metcalf's study of the revivalist
movement in Deoband, therefore, represents a body of literature which contributed to develop
an understanding of the crystallization of thought and identity in centres of Islamic
Along with this increasing understanding of traditional Islamic views in the context
of the Indian subcontinent, historical scholarship has helped to free, at least to some
extent, minds from sweeping generalizations and from tendentious exaggerations regarding the
practice of Islam and Muslim communities in South Asia. To give an example, it has been
regional variations and changes over time. Indeed there are, and always have been, many
Islams. The Islam of theologians remains very much with us, though the doctrine they present
varies with time and place, from school to school, and from scholar to scholar. Then, there
is the Islam of the subalterns, who have been alternately drawn by a 'great tradition' and a
'little tradition'. The great tradition itself is fissured by the Shia-Sunni divide.
Furthermore, the 'orthodoxification' of the little traditions between the great and little
traditions is not a divinely ordained imperative. Nonetheless, the ensuing contest for the
sacred as well as the secular space is an Islamic tradition, and is still very much with us.
We see evidence of this in Delhi in the first-half of the nineteenth century, especially in
the encounter with the colonial system. While the Shaias believed that they inherited the
Prophetic traditions, some leading Sunni ulama only grudgingly accepted them as brothers of
faith. Indeed, a great deal of literary evidence for such a reaction can be found in
contemporary memoirs, correspondence, novels, and poems. After 1857, in particular, Syed
Ahmad Khan, Maulvi Nazir Ahmad and Maulvi Zakaullah, the pillars of what came to be known as
the 'Delhi Renaissance,' mirrored these trends.
Past and present polemics apart, the historian and the anthropologist place cultural
practices in their historical as well as socio-economic contexts, thereby establishing that
culture and its manifestation are not immutable. Others argue that, in its regional and
local specificity, Islam and its followers are susceptible to a variety of influences, and
that they absorbed, as in Kashmir, many social and cultural practices of pre-Islamic origin.
T.N. Madan, for example, has shown how in the Kashmir valley the relationship between the
scriptural and the Rishi tradition is hierarchical: the latter may seem opposed to the
former but is in fact encompassed by it.
Studies on specific regional trends in the development of Islamic thought and
practice has revealed the significance of specificities in the process of
identity-formation. Rafiuddin Ahmed elaborated on the regional perspective to the changes in
Islam and Muslim community which is testimony to its dynamism. Islam in Bengal took many
forms and assimilated values and symbols that did not necessarily conform to Koranic
precepts. Thus Rafiuddin Ahmed examined how the Muslims of Bengal made new adjustments to
life. At the same time, he and the historians who followed in his footsteps unfolded the
complex process of Islamization and its implications on inter-community relations. Although
we have been familiar with the big picture on Haji Shariat Allah and the 'Wahhabi' Movement,
Rafiuddin Ahmed highlighted how the itinerant religious preachers and mullahs sensitized the
rural Muslims to their Islamic rather than their local or national identity. This was done
at baha meetings and the rural anjuman. The author also pointed to the basic contradiction
between the predominantly Muslim peasantry and their oppressors, the high caste landlords
and moneylenders. Based on an examination of the Bengali Muslim religious literature known
as puthis, the book develops the central thesis that for the Muslim masses, the appeal of
the Islamic revivalists proved a source of strength as well as weakness: it roused them to
action but made them susceptible to communal propaganda.
Even if Islam had become the defining element in the lives of some individuals and
groups, the internal differentiation among it followers, exacerbated in course of time by
the growth of print culture and the distribution of polemical literature on theological
disputes, made nonsense of the appeals to 'Muslim unity'. An average Bengali Muslim largely
preferred to fashion his life on the basis of local ties, traditions and relationships. For
the ulama-theologian, the shariat demarcated the boundaries of the community, but not for
the Muslim peasant. Syncretic tendencies continued to feature in his life despite the
reformist-revivalist movements directed against the 'Hindu' accretions. Rafiuddin Ahmed,
too, argued that the objective differences between the Hindus and Muslims at the mass level
were themselves not strong enough to induce mutual conflict, and that 'it was only through a
skilful manipulation of certain religious symbols and constant ideological propaganda that
the latent differences could be articulated and later used as a potent instrument in the
conflict between the two elite groups.
Religious syncretism, in fact, posed the greatest threat to pietism and the
stringent fulfillment of the injunctions of Islam in the veneration of the numerous Sufi
sheikhs, syeds and pirs. As the Deccan's Sufi and other expressions of Islam. More
generally, the Asaf Jah Deccan was the heir to a unique regional culture that, while deeply
imbued with Muslim tradition, had nonetheless nurtured a distinctively Deccani approach to
Islam and even at times transcended religious denominations altogether.
In independent India the politicization of community identities draws upon
historical traditions and perceptions. My own writings unfold the bewildering diversity of
Muslim communities and the variety in their social and cultural traits and engage with
identity and representational issues and their relevance to the rise of Muslim nationalism.
In Legacy of a Divided Nation: India's Muslims since Independence, I discussed the
indeterminacy of social identity and of the importance of the secular in the history of
social life in the subcontinent, I did so without glossing over the close imbrications
between nationalism and a majoritarianism on the religious distinction. The history of
nationalism was explored to illustrate how the myth of Muslim unity and the revanchism of
the Hindutva forces gradually alienated large sections of Muslims, some of whom turned to
the Pakistan movement in the mid-1940s while other felt the edge of 'difference' in the
violence of the subcontinent's partition in 1947. from the book of the preface to the last
paragraph, I question the essentialist view of Islam and take recourse to 'matter-of-fact
narration' of regional and local variation in values and perceptions. I argue that, for
India's largest minority, being a Muslim is just one of several competing identities for any
individual; that there has never been a homogeneous 'Muslim India', whether in doctrine,
custom, language or political loyalty; and that to make the most of their potential, Muslims
must rally around those who hold firmly to the idea of a society committed to social justice
and freedom. I conclude the preface with the following observation :
Some of these arguments have been carried forward in Will Secular India Survive
(2004) and Living with Secularism (2006). Even though Satish Saberwal, co-editor, questions
the optimism reflected therein, the glue that binds all these together is the debates around
secularism and the challenges posed by the Hindutva forces. In this debate the battle lines
are drawn, for at stake is the very survival of a pluralist society, a society that has
prided itself on nurturing a substantial tradition, largely Hindu, of argument and
Today, more and more social scientists are engaged in 'understanding' Islam and
'observing' Muslim societies within historically informed social contexts. With one-third of
the world's Muslims now living as members of a minority, they are busy exploring their
responses to globalization, westernization, and the impact of living in a minority. To what
extent does globalization cause the old traditional points of reference to disappear? To
what extent it reawakens passionate affirmations of identity that often emerge on withdrawal
and self-exclusion? These questions can still arouse interest in our colleges and
universities. They are important questions that touch deep-seated chords of feelings.
I started with a plea to draw Islam in South Asia into the contemporary discourses
on colonial and postcolonial writings. The Cambridge historian Herbert Butterfield had
reminded us long ago that we should see ourselves not quite autonomous or unconditioned, but
a part of the great historical process; 'not pioneers merely, but also passengers in the
movement of things.
From the Jacket
India's Muslim communities, comprising almost one hundred and forty million people, have
significant political, cultural, and religious identities in contemporary times. The
processes of their emergence, formation, and the articulation of community identities,
before and after independence, have been researched and interpreted in many ways by
This omnibus brings together three analytical frameworks-the empathetic view to
identity formation, the regional articulation of identity, and developments at the national
level. The book analyses several important aspects-the Deoband School, the Aligarh Movement,
the Muslim league, the Lucknow Pact, the Lahore Declaration, Partition, the Shah Bano case,
the demolition of Babri Masjid-providing a multifaceted and nuanced picture of the lives of
Barbara Daly Metcalf's Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900 studies
the vitality of Islam in late-nineteenth century north India by focusing on the most
important Islamic seminary of the time. Metcalf explains that during the collapse of Muslim
political power and colonial rule the 'ulama ensured cultural continuity crucial to the
emergence of modern Muslim identity.
Rafiuddin Ahmed in The Bengal Muslims 1871-1906 concentrates on the evolution of
popular consciousness through an examination of the Bengali Muslim religious literature
known as puthis. His study raises doubts about any simple explanation that emphasizes either
the historical conflict between Hinduism and Islam, the doctrine of divide and rule, or the
central role of constitutional initiatives.
In Legacy of a Divided Nation, Mushirul Hasan analyses India's polity and its
relationship with Muslims. He deliberates on the secular platform on which to build bridges
in times when positions have hardened and battle lines drawn.
In his introduction to the omnibus, Mushirul Hasan locates these important studies
in the extant literature and emphasizes the need to drawn Islam in South Asia into the
contemporary discourses on colonial and postcolonial writings. Students, teachers,
researchers of modern Indian history, sociology, political science, and the general reader
interested in the emergence and growth of Muslim identity in India will find this informed
volume an important addition to their bookshelves.
Barbara Daly Metcalf is Alice Freeman Palmer Professor of History and
Director of the Center of South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Rafiuddin Ahmed is Matsumiya Professor of Asian Studies, Elmira College, New
York and Adjunct Professor, Cornell University.
Mushirul Hasan is a Padma Shri awardee and Vice-Chancellor, Jamia Millia
Islamia, New Delhi.
Back of the Book
'An impressive book
well-researched, ably documented
most significant are the implications
approach and methodology.'
'With the publication of this excellent book, studies in English of the 'ulama in
have come of age.'
'Combining the highest standards of western scholarship with
an extensive knowledge
of the Urdu sources, she has considerably advanced
[Hasan is an] excellent, thorough and exhaustive historian. This encyclopaedic
is a story worth telling
' -Late S. Gopal, historian and former President,
Indian History Congress
Hasan's concern is genuine
[he] combines scholastic enquiry with personal
[and] is up against many myths about the Muslim community.' Gautam
Bhadra, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.
the best work on the subject to appear since Mujeeb['s]
The author renders no
small service in exploding
the myth of the Muslim "monolith".' A.G. Noorani,
constitutional law expert.
'It is a powerful, impassioned, purposeful, and at times polemical, book.'
Andrew Whitehead, former BBC correspondent, Delhi
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