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Stereotypes Analysed

Mohammad Sajjad

Edited by Usha Sanyal , David Gilmartin, Sandria Freitag 
Yoda Press, Delhi, 2014, pp. xi 320, Rs. 695.00


In this age of the assertion of subordinated and marginalized identities, the volume under review is talking only of the voices of aristocratic and semi-aristocratic segments of the South Asian Muslims. Though not a festschrift, this volume claims to have come out in honour of Barbara Metcalf’s contributions towards exploring certain aspects of the modern history of South Asian Islam. This could possibly be said to be complementary to a volume edited by Barbara Metcalf, Islam in South Asia in Practice (Princeton, 2009).1 However nearly on the same theme, Ayesha Jalal’s Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam Since 1850 (OUP, Delhi, 2000) explores the historical processes involved in the making of the Muslim identities more particularly in the Punjab where Muslim, Hindu and Sikh identities interacted with each other in specific ways.  Divided into three broad thematic sections, the volume under review consists of ten essays, besides an ‘Afterword’ from Kamran Asdar Ali, whose concluding remarks about the utilities of such explorations sets us thinking for its apparently ‘revivalist’ overtones. Underlining the significance of some sections of this volume, he prescribes, ‘These portrayals of mid-nineteenth century Muslim society in north India with its imagined tolerant social space where religious leaders and courtesans could co-exist can help us re-think contemporary conflicts through a re-reading of adab...It may also help us to excavate a politics of hope, a spirit of co-living where—disagreements can be lived with—in a general gesture of kindness and tacit concurrence with others about how to get by.’ He further proposes that homogenized categories of understanding the societies offer inadequate palliatives for the emerging problems and threats in the subcontinent. Each section is introduced by a scholar, viz., the first section, ‘Thinking About Authority in Changing Contexts’ is introduced by Sandria Freitag, the second section, ‘Creating New Communities’ is by Farina Mir, and the last one, ‘Remaking the Self’ is by Rachel Sturman.  The editors and most of the contributors are well known for their studies on South Asian Islam. Yet, the subjectivity involved in picking up the texts testify to a preponderance of the contributing authors to demonstrate the reluctance of South Asian Muslim intellectuals in coming to terms with modernity. This intellectual politics of stereotyping the South Asian Muslims is much more evident in the chapter contributed by Francis Robinson, ‘Strategies of Authority in Muslim South Asia in the 19th and 20...

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