Beyond Stereotypes
Amit Dey
ISLAM IN SOUTH ASIA IN PRACTICE by Barbara D. Metcalf Permanent Black, 2010, 474 pp., 795
August 2010, volume 34, No 8

The volume under review includes the work of more than thirty scholars of Islam and Muslim societies in South Asia. The representation is very balanced in the sense that along with many eminent scholars in the field some budding scholars have also contributed to this book. So some of the research findings are refreshingly new. The contextualization of primary texts contributes to a new appreciation of the lived religious and cultural experiences of the world’s largest population of Muslims. The contributors have consulted sources available in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, Gujarati, Hindavi, Dakhani, and other languages which highlight a wide variety of genres, many rarely found in standard accounts of Islamic practice. Drawn from premodern texts, modern pamphlets, government and organizational archives, new media, and contemporary fieldwork, the selections reflect the rich diversity of Islamic belief and practice in the subcontinent. Each reading is introduced with a brief contextual note from its scholar translator, which has enhanced the value of the book.

Ali Asani (chapter I) explains that Ismaili reformers in the colonial era challenged community practices in order to align Ismaili doctrines and expressions with less sectarian oriented and regionally specific beliefs and practices. This appropriating nature of Islam is actually a celebration of South Asia’s cultural pluralism which was earlier anticipated by the medieval Indian sufis. 

Continue reading this review