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Engaging with Islam

M. Asaduddin

By Francis Robinson
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 308, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

South Asian Islam has a unique and fascinating history. Quite unlike many other places in the globe that came under Islamic influences the multicultural and plurilinguistic tapestry of South Asia made it necessary for Islam to negotiate and often cohabit with a host of local customs and traditions which gave the religion a special complexion and a special flavour. The interface with indigenous practices in art and literature gave birth to a phenomenon known as Indo-Islamic culture which left no facet of life in South Asia untouched. The Islamic literature emanating from this geopolitical entity has also been rich and variegated. Robinson is one among several notable scholars whose rigorous engagement with Islam in general and its manifestations in South Asia in particular has resulted in the building up of an archive of knowledge that is truly commendable. With such books as The Cambridge Illustrated History of the Islamic World (1996), Islam and Muslim History in South Asia (2000) to his credit, apart from his work on the Farangi Mahallis of Lucknow, Robinson has acquired the reputation of a credible scholar of Islam who deserves to be heard and responded to.   The volume under review has been arranged in two parts: the first part contains eight articles written by the writer over a period of time. The second part contains 16 reviews of books, published mostly in the TLS touching different facets of the core issue. In their broad sweep the articles and reviews give the reader a fair idea of the way Islamic civilization has transformed the lives of the Muslim people around the globe, and specifically, the way it has impacted the lives of the people in South Asia. The essays endeavour to chronicle the story of Islam’s ascendancy and subsequent decline in several parts of the globe from the perspective of a sympathetic scholar of Islam from the West. In his introduction the author says that his concern was to give his audience ‘a historical framework in which to place the Muslim world’. To that effect he reminds the reader that the Muslims had inhabited the dominant world system for a thousand years, that over the past hundred years they were subject to, first the European empire and then to American hegemony, and that mourning of lost power has become a feature of many Muslim societies. Muslims must stop mourning and start acting in a concerted way if they ...

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