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Life of a Nationalist Muslim

Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed

By Barbara D. Metcalf
Oneworld Publications, Oxford,, 2009, pp. X +174,


Barbara Metcalf’s work on Husain Ahmad Madani is part of a series called ‘Makers of the Muslim World’ published by Oneworld Publications and edited by Patricia Crone. The volumes in this series are biographical profiles of prominent Muslims through Islamic history who have ‘...made a significant contribution to the political, intellectual and religious landscape of the Muslim world.’ With an emphasis on easy readability so that it appeals to a wide range of readers, the series profiles a diversity of Muslims with an effort to represent prominent Muslims from the expansive geography of Islam through time. There are five Muslims from the South Asian region who have been represented in the series. Of this, one, Amir Khusraw (by Sunil Sharma) was a poet and scholar who lived in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The second person profiled is Akbar (by Andre Wink), the great Mughal monarch, who died in 1605. The remaining three are, interestingly, ulema (theologians) from north India who were active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and who were keenly aware, and familiar, with each other’s activities. The presence of three theologians from the modern era clearly shows the interest that the lives and actions of traditionally trained Muslims, those that have been trained as clerics in madrasas, is attracting in academic scholarship internationally. The three ulema are: Ahmad Raza Khan Barelwi (d. 1921) (by Usha Sanyal) who was the chief influencer of the ‘Barelwi’ movement which aggressively perpetuated the space for the sacerdotal rituals and beliefs of South Asian Muslims in the intra-Islamic wars of the late nineteenth century. The second alim is Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi (d. 1943) (by Muhammad Qasim Zaman), a towering Islamic cleric from Deoband who wrote prolifically and cast his long shadow on the construction of the Deobandi discourse on Islam. The third alim, Husain Ahmad Madani (1879-1957), forms the subject of the book under review. Madani was born in a small town in north India close to Faizabad. Seeped in an atmosphere of Sufism, he went to study in Deoband. Before he could fully complete his education, he left with his father for Medina where he had lived for almost two decades and arrested along with a leading figure from Deoband—Mahmudul Hasan. Madani had never hesitated to vociferously support the Ottomans against the British and this support seems to have been enough for the British, fearful as they were ...

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