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Coopting Indian Ethos Into An Islamic Worldview

M. Asaduddin

By Muzaffar Alam
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2004, pp. xiii 244, Rs. 575.00


The Indo-Muslim encounter was a remark- able cultural and civilizational encounter in human history. The advent of Muslims in India and the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal rule for several centuries paved the way for a profound cultural exchange that left hardly any strand of Indian life untouched. Indian culture and all its expressive forms encompassing its languages, literatures and fine arts carry the indelible imprint of this encounter. The question arises as to how Islam which, in the contemporary times, is generally understood to be rigid in its sharia laws that are incompatible with alien environments and cultures, and Islamic people who are painted by the media as intolerant bigots could leave behind such an enduring legacy? Muzaffar Alam’s well-researched and delightfully readable book, originating from his S.G. Deuskar Memorial Lectures, addresses significant facets of this issue. Though the declared objective of the book is the examination of the processes through which political Islam adjusted itself to Indian traditions and the arguments of the book are mainly focussed on elite Islam, it touches on aspects of the Muslim cooption and accommodation of the Indian ethos in the Islamic worldview, a process that has been fraught with challenges and that may be said to have laid the foundation of the pluralistic and composite nature of Indian culture.   The ‘Introduction’ which constitutes the first chapter lays out the field and gives the reader a clear idea about the discursive strategy employed by the author to drive his points home. He rightly points out that the exigencies of governing a country with a vast non-Muslim population compelled the Muslim rulers to devise strategies of governance that would alienate neither the subject people, i.e., the Hindus nor the ulama from whom the Muslim rulers sought legitimacy. The phrase ‘Political Islam’ in this context has been used to mean not the radical brand of the present-day Islam but the way the Muslim rulers tried to formulate their policies within the broad framework of Islam. In the second chapter Alam shows how writers and thinkers like Ziya al-Din Barani, Mir Syed Ali and Nasir al-Din Tusi provided this framework through their works that fall in the category of ‘akhlaq literature’, “whose concerns were statecraft, political culture, and philosophy, not merely practical and pragmatic, but also theoretical.” Barani attempted to resolve—in theory at least—the conflict between the demands of sharia and ...

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