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Columns Anthologized


Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed

ISLAM, SOUTH ASIA AND THE COLD WAR
By A.G. Noorani
Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2012, pp. x 469, Rs. 875.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 4 April 2013

The book under review brings together fifty-one book reviews and essays written by A. G. Noorani over the past four decades. These are broadly grouped under three categories: Islam and Muslims (14), South Asian Themes (13) and the Ravages of the Cold War (24). Published in several leading magazines and newspapers like Frontline, The Statesman, Indian Express, The Illustrated Weekly of India and Criterion, a quarterly magazine published in Pakistan, the essays provide a window to the thinking of this prolific scholar and reviewer.   Having a legal background, Noorani has a straightforward secular and liberal approach that is combined with a positivist method of academic analysis. He believes that there is a certain truth to be discerned, and he hacks away relentlessly on the minutiae of various sources to argue his thesis. While this might seem like an outdated method of analysis among many social scientists, there is no doubt that this scholarly work is necessary and is appreciated by his many readers who regularly wait for his fortnightly column in Frontline.   Noorani draws upon a masterly set of resources and quotes extensively giving his arguments a rigour that is rare among newspaper and magazine columnists. At the same time, his pieces are fairly long by the standards of conventional journalism and he has been fortunate to work with editors like N. Ram of Frontline and C. R. Irani of The Statesman who recognized the validity of this form of writing in mainstream journalism. His versatile work is also taken seriously by political scientists, historians and foreign policy mavens.   On Islam, Noorani’s first essay ‘A Liberal Islam in South Asia’ lays out the broad signposts of the arguments that he reiterates in his subsequent essays. A liberal Islam in South Asia was hampered by the clerics, he writes, and argues strongly for ijtihad or an independent interpretation of Islamic law, not bound by the claustrophobic injunctions of Islamic theologians. He hits the nail right on its head when he writes of the angst of the contemporary Muslim living in a secular society: ‘For the lay Muslim, the disconnect between the faith he learns at home, and the rationalism and knowledge he acquires at school and college, is painful. He wants to be a good Muslim; yet finds the Islam preached from the pulpit strange, almost irrelevant.’ Noorani’s suggestion for the contemporary Muslim, evident in his gushing review of Shabbir Akhtar’s ...


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