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Deconstructing Monolithic Islam and Homogeneous Muslim Community

Vinod K. Jairath

Edited by Asim Roy
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 224, Rs. 525.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

In relation to South Asia, the basic story goes like this: Once upon a time, there existed a composite or syncretic culture among the Hindus and Muslims. Then, sometime during the eighteenth or nineteenth century, in some cases even the twentieth century – depending upon the place and the context, the ‘frail’ composite culture was fractured. The broad trajectory of this fracture was influenced by, one, the conversion and purification movements of Shuddhi and Tabligh, two, by the emerging politics of representation in the process of ‘democratisation’, and finally by the demand for clear-cut identities by the British colonial government. These changes have increasingly led to support of the idea, which has gained prominence globally, of a monolithic Islam and a homogeneous Muslim community. This, in turn, has encouraged reinventing of histories, emphasizing the natural and foundational separation between Hindus and Muslims. The volume under review here, edited by Asim Roy, attempts to deconstruct the theses of ‘monolithic Islam’ and ‘homogeneous Muslim community’ by looking at complexities in various aspects of lived South Asian society where a very large part of the world Muslim population lives.   The volume has seen a decade in its publication in 2006 since the papers were presented at a symposium in 1996. ‘The essays included in this volume have, with some exception, been the outcome of the first major international symposium on South Asian Islam held in Australia, presented at the forum of the South Asia section of the Asian Studies Association of Australia Biennial Conference, 1996’ (p.x). Some of the more than fifty papers presented at the symposium were then brought out in a 1999 special issue (volume XXII) of South Asia, the Journal of South Asian Studies. That special issue was finally turned into the present book because of ‘far too limited international accessibility of the journal version of a major contribution of its kind…’ The volume has eleven chapters, apart from the Introduction by Asim Roy. The three chapters by Asim Roy, including his Introduction, take up more than one-third of the book. Out of the remaining nine, two essays, presented towards the end, deal with the political history of Pakistan; the other seven are located in colonial India. All the essays do not hold together easily. Therefore we will introduce all of them very briefly.   Roy, in the Introduction, is concerned about the global (mis)understanding of Islamic radicalism. He identifies two basic problems in ...

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