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Of Religion, History, Empire


Arshad Alam

IN THE NAME OF ALLAH: UNDERSTANDING ISLAM AND INDIAN HISTORY
By Raziuddin Aquil
Penguin Viking, New Delhi, 2009, pp. xi+289, Rs. 499.00

THE ISMAILIS IN THE COLONIAL ERA: MODERNITY,EMPIRE AND ISLAM, 1839-1969
By Marc van Grondelle
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2009, pp. xvi+139, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 8 August 2010

Raziuddin Aquil makes his intentions clear right in the very beginning which is to rescue the history of subcontinental Islam from the modern categories of secularism, communalism and separatism. Aquil argues that the history of Islam in India has been hostage to political correctness from the secularists while the communalists have studied Islam to paint it as the eternal ‘other’. Both have done collective violence to the study of Islam in India. Aquil is frank in accepting that Muslims rulers did not bring any revolutionary changes but their presence played an important part in the Islamization or Persianization of political culture. He points out that some temples did get destroyed by the Muslim rulers but is quick to remind us that there is also the historical tradition that these rulers also built and maintained many temples. The spread of Islam was not sudden but more in the nature of a gradual diffusion which accommodated various regional and linguistic cultural traditions giving rise to a plural Islam and various syncretic traditions. In large measure, the foundation for such syncretism was prepared by Sufism rather than the ‘liberal’ agenda of the medieval Indian state. Yet the crucial role of the Sufis in conversion and Islamization is overlooked by historians and the author argues that Sufism was not just a purely humanist dialogic effort by Muslim divines but also had some definite political outcomes. Aquil takes us through the various contentious debates among the Muslim elite of medieval India over the question of music and painting and notes that there was no consensus on these matters even among the Sufis. We come to know that the famous Sufi disciple, Amir Khusro, who is celebrated by today’s secularists, had a very dim view of fellow Hindus. Further elaborating on this in chapter three of the book, Aquil argues that the Hindu as the other had existed in Muslim epistemology right since the time of Delhi Sultanate. There existed a broad consensus that they had to eventually come into the fold of Islam; the only difference was that of the method. Thus while some of the Ulema favoured conversion even by the sword, the Sufis predominantly wanted an acculturative conversion. Thus even while the enumerative colonial state did sharpen the boundaries between Hindus and Muslims, the divisions had existed from before and brushing these uncomfortable issues under the carpet (...


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