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Inclusive Verities


Radhika Chadha

SUFISM AND SOCIETY IN MEDIEVAL INDIA: DEBATES IN INDIAN HISTORY AND SOCIETY
Edited by Raziuddin Aquil
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2010, pp. xxiv + 184, Rs. 645.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 8 August 2010

Raziuddin Aquil’s book is well put together. It offers an excellent entry point into the subject of Sufism in the medieval Indian con- text to the uninitiated. Its attractive cover and easy-to-read Introduction, delightfully devoid of jargon, make it a delectable offering. The table of contents holds much promise in the impressive range of contributions. Aquil’s Introduction to the subject of Sufism and society in medieval India sets the tone of the volume and stirs up the intended interest in the carefully selected essays. It also situates the theme in the larger contexts of contemporary issues and modern concerns. He points out how the discussion on the Sufis in medieval India has revolved around three related themes—one, their attitude towards politics and relations with the contemporary state, two, their role in effecting the uplift of the lower classes and three, their contribution in inspiring the conversion of large numbers to Islam. He outlines how historical ideas about these issues have moved from those that regarded the most popular Sufi shaikhs as deliberately and advisedly apolitical, shunning all contact with the state, to those that see in even such an attitude conscious political positioning. Again, recent research distances itself from older historical assertions that the Sufi shaikhs chose to set up their khanqas (hospices) in neighbourhoods inhabited by low-caste Hindus in order to offer spiritual uplift to the masses. Rather, it points out that the Sufis chose to settle in centres of political influence, or in areas already made sacred by non-Muslim religious traditions, or in other strategic places along much-trodden trade routes. Also, early scholarship highlighted the fact that the Sufis made no direct conversions of their own but attracted the teeming lower classes to convert through their spirituality and unassuming ways, ushering in, at once, communal harmony and a revolution of sorts. Despite the extremely sensitive nature of the issue in post-partition India, recent scholarship has refrained from such simplistic attitudes and has painstakingly tried to capture the complexity and multi-dimensionality of the issues of interaction and conversion. In going through these debates Raziuddin Aquil seamlessly knits together the nine articles that cover a range of scholarship from the classic positions of K.A. Nizami and S.A.A. Rizvi to the most recently accepted arguments of Richard Eaton and Muzaffar Alam. He does well to include the widely read and oft-quoted essay by Simon Digby ...


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