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Khaled Ahmed

Edited by Imtiaz Ahmad and Helmut Reifeld
Social Science Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 308, Rs. 695.00


As hardline orthodox religion makes its comeback in South Asia, the tradition of social accommodation and integration between faiths that had gone on for centuries is threatened. Clergies are busy stiffening their theologies to drive out and mop up communities that had learned to coexist on the border (line) of formal, potential hostile religions. These ‘liminal’ communities are today stigmatized as ‘marginal’ heresies that deserve to be stamped out to create a pure state. Will the ‘pure’ state last after having destroyed the ‘lived’ pluralism of these communities? Needless to say, the process of ‘exclusion’ so favoured in South Asia’s new politics does not bode well for the survival of the state. The Muslim experience in Pakistan and further West at the end of the twentieth century should serve as a lesson because orthodox Islam has most potential for ‘exclusion’ in the region.      The book under review has grown out of a Konrad Adenauer Foundation seminar in Germany in 2002, and is being presented by the Foundation’s repre-sentative in New Delhi, Helmut Reifeld, and JNU’s Imtiaz Ahmad. Reifeld believes that ‘in the context of contemporary Islam, there has been multicultural and multireligious coexistence’, but goes on to dissociate his Foundation from the views expressed in the articles collected in the book. The articles also say the same thing about Hinduism which had a more pronounced inclination to ‘liminality’ in the past but which is now in the process of pushing the state towards an imitative ‘purification’ and exclusion’. The scholars point to this process in both Hindu and Muslim communities. The majority community isolates and excludes while the minority community particularizes and withdraws from the integrative chemistry of ‘limination’.     Imtiaz Ahmad introduces the theme competently by differentiating between formal and popular religion: ‘the ideology articulated by intellectuals and the religious elite; and the ideology which consists of local and popular interpretations of a religious tradition’. Peter Gottschalk in his ‘Mapping Muslims: Categories of Evolutionary differences and Interaction in South Asia’ deals with the complex existential function of classification and asks secular scholars to be more careful in defining the Muslims in the light of their ‘roots’ (acculturation) and ‘routes’ (extraterritorial memories). Shail Mayaram in her ‘Beyond Ethnicity? Being Hindu and Muslim in South Asia’ refers to the identity overlaps in Afghanistan (Pushtunwali plus Islam that got celebrated in Tagore’s Kabuliwallah), the Baul-singing Muslims in Eastern India and ...

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