Hostname: page-component-8448b6f56d-t5pn6 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-20T17:05:23.767Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Introduction: Islamic reformism in South Asia1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 March 2008

Department of Anthropology, University of Sussex, Brighton, BNI 9SJ, United Kingdom E-mail:
Department of Anthropology and Sociology, School of Oriental and African Studies, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London, WCIH OXG, United Kingdom E-mail:


The authors in this volume discuss contemporary Islamic reformism in South Asia in some of its diverse historical orientations and geographical expressions, bringing us contemporary ethnographic perspectives against which to test claims about processes of reform and about trends such as ‘Islamism’ and ‘global Islam’. The very use of terminology and categories is itself fraught with the dangers of bringing together what is actually substantially different under the same banner. While our authors have often found it necessary, perhaps for the sake of comparison or to help orient readers, to take on terms such as ‘reformist’ or ‘Islamist’, they are not using these as terms which imply identity—or even connection—between the groups so named, nor are they reifying such categories. In using such terms as shorthand to help identify specific projects, we are following broad definitions here in which ‘Islamic modernism’ refers to projects of change aiming to re-order Muslims' lifeworlds and institutional structures in dialogue with those produced under Western modernity; ‘reformism’ refers to projects whose specific focus is the bringing into line of religious beliefs and practices with the core foundations of Islam, by avoiding and purging out innovation, accretion and the intrusion of ‘local custom’; and where ‘Islamism’ is a stronger position, which insists upon Islam as the heart of all institutions, practice and subjectivity—a privileging of Islam as the frame of reference by which to negotiate every issue of life; ‘orthodoxy’ is used according to its specific meaning in contexts in which individual authors work; the term may in some ethnographic locales refer to the orthodoxy of Islamist reform, while in others it is used to disparage those who do not heed the call for renewal and reform. ‘Reformism’ is particularly troublesome as a term, in that it covers broad trends stretching back at least 100 years, and encompassing a variety of positions which lay more or less stress upon specific aspects of processes of renewal; still, it is useful as a term in helping us to insist upon recognition of the differences between such projects and such contemporary obsessions as ‘political Islam’, ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and so on. Authors here are generally following local usage in the ways in which they describe the movements discussed (thus, Kerala's Mujahid movement claims itself as part of a broader Islahi—renewal—trend and is identified here as ‘reformist’).2 But while broad terms are used, what the papers are actually involved in doing is addressing the issues of how specific groups deal with particular concerns. Thus, not, ‘What do reformists think about secular education?’, but, ‘What do Kerala's Mujahids in the 2000s think? How has this shifted from the position taken in the 1940s? How does it differ from the contemporary position of opposing groups? And how is it informed by the wider socio-political climate of Kerala?’ The papers here powerfully demonstrate the historical and geographical specificity of reform projects, whereas discourse structured through popular mainstream perspectives (such as ‘clash of civilizations’) ignores such embeddedness.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2007

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Ahmad, I. & Reilfeld, H. (eds.) 2004. Lived Islam in South Asia: Adaption, Accommodation and Conflict. Oxford University Press, Delhi.Google Scholar
Ahmad, I. (ed.) 1981. Ritual and Religion among Muslims in India. Manohar, Delhi.Google Scholar
Ansari, M. T. 2005. ‘Refiguring the Fanatic: Malabar 1836–1922’. In Mayaram, S., Pandian, M. S. S. & Skaria, A. (eds.) Subaltern Studies XII. Permanent Black, New Delhi, pp. 3677.Google Scholar
Asad, T. 1986. The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam. Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Washington.Google Scholar
Assayag, J. 2004. ‘Can Hindus and Muslims Coexist?’ In Ahmad, I. & Reilfeld, H. (eds.) Lived Islam in South Asia: Adaption, Accommodation and Conflict, Oxford University Press, Delhi, pp. 4058.Google Scholar
Bayly, S. 1992. Saints, Goddesses and Kings: Muslims and Christians in South Indian Society 1700–1900. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
Beatty, A. 1996. ‘Adam and Eve and Visnu: Syncretism in the Javanese Slametan’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2, 2: 271288.Google Scholar
Blank, J. 2001. Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity among the Daudi Bohras. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
Bowen, J. R. 1989. ‘Salat in Indonesia: The Social Meanings of an Islamic Ritual’. Man (ns) 24, 4: 600619.Google Scholar
Brenner, S. 1996. ‘Reconstructing Self and Society: Javanese Muslim Women and ‘the Veil’. American Ethnologist 23, 4: 673697.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Das, V. 1984. ‘For a Folk-Theology and Theological Anthropology of Islam’. Contributions to Indian Sociology (ns) 18, 2: 293300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Deeb, L. 2006. An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi'i Lebanon. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Devji, F. 2005. Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity. Hurst & Co., London.Google Scholar
Eickelman, D. F. & Salvatore, A. (eds.) 2004. Public Islam and the Common Good. Brill, Leiden.Google Scholar
Eickelman, D. F. & Piscatori, J. 1996. Muslim Politics. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ewing, K. 1997. Arguing Sainthood: Modernity, Psychoanalysis and Islam. Duke University Press, Durham.Google Scholar
Fuller, C. J. 1992. The Camphor Flame. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.Google Scholar
Gaborieu, M. 1989. ‘A Nineteenth-Century Indian ‘Wahhabi’ Tract Against the Cult of Muslim Saints: Al Balag al Mubin’. In Troll, C. (ed.) Muslim Shrines in India. Oxford University Press, Delhi, pp. 198239.Google Scholar
Gardner, K. 1995. ‘Mullahs, Migrants and Miracles: Travel and Transformation in Rural Bangladesh’. Contributions to Indian Sociology (ns) 27, 2: 213235.Google Scholar
Geertz, C. 1960. The Religion of Java. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
Giddens, 1999. Runaway World: How Globalisation is Reshaping our Lives. Routledge, London.Google Scholar
Green, N. 2005. ‘Mystical Missionaries in the Hyderabad State: Mu'in Allah Shah and his Sufi Reform Movement’. The Indian Economic and Social History Review 42, 2: 187212.Google Scholar
Hansen, T. B. 1999. Wages of Violence: Naming and Identity in Postcolonial Bombay. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.Google Scholar
Hansen, T. B. 2007. ‘The India that does not Shine’. ISIM Review 19: 5051.Google Scholar
Hefner, R. W. 1985. Hindu Javanese: Tengger Tradition and Islam. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.Google Scholar
Henkel, H. 2007. ‘The location of Islam: Inhabiting Istanbul in a Muslim Way’. American Ethnologist 32, 1: 5770.Google Scholar
Hermansen, M. 2000. ‘Fakirs, Wahhabis and Others: Reciprocal Classifications and the Transformation of Intellectual Categories’. In Malik, J. (ed.) Perspectives of Mutual Encounters in South Asian History, 1760–1860. Brill, Leiden pp. 2348.Google Scholar
Hirschkind, C. 2006. The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics. Columbia University Press, New York.Google Scholar
Houtman, G. 2006. ‘Double or Quits’. Anthropology Today 22, 6: 13.Google Scholar
Howell, J. 2001. ‘Sufism and the Indonesian Islamic Revival’. Journal of Asian Studies 60, 3: 701729.Google Scholar
Keenan, J. 2006. ‘Conspiracy Theories and ‘Terrorists’: How the ‘War on Terror’ is Placing New Responsibilities on Anthropology’. Anthropology Today 22, 6: 49.Google Scholar
Keenan, J. 2007. ‘My Country Right or Wrong’. Anthropology Today 23, 1: 2627.Google Scholar
Kresse, K. 2007. Philosophising in Mombasa: Knowledge, Islam and Intellectual Practice on the Swahili Coast. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.Google Scholar
Mahmood, S. 2004. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.Google Scholar
Mahmood, S. 2006. ‘Secularism, Hermeneutics, and Empire: The Politics of Islamic Reformation’. Public Culture 18, 2: 323347.Google Scholar
Makris, G. P. 2007. Islam in the Middle East: A living Tradition. Blackwell, Oxford.Google Scholar
Mamdani, M. 2004. Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror. Pantheon, New York.Google Scholar
Manger, L. 1998. Local Islam in Global Contexts. Curzon, LondonGoogle Scholar
Marsden, M. 2005. Living Islam: Muslim Religious Experience in Pakistan's North-West Frontier. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
Mayaram, S. 1997. Resisting Regimes: Myth, Memory and the Shaping of a Muslim Identity. Oxford University Press, Delhi.Google Scholar
Metcalf, B. 1982. Islamic Revival in British India. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.Google Scholar
Miller, R. E. 1992 (1976). Mappila Muslims of Kerala: a Study in Islamic Trends. Orient Longman, Madras.Google Scholar
Minault, G. 1984. ‘Some Reflections on Islamic Revivalism vs. Assimilation among Muslims in India’. Contributions to Indian sociology (ns) 18, 2: 301305.Google Scholar
Minault, G. 1998. Secluded Scholars: Women's Education and Muslim Social Reform in Colonial India. Oxford University Press, Delhi.Google Scholar
Otayek, R. & Soares, B.. 2007. ‘Introduction: Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa’. In Soares, B. & Otayek, R. (eds.) Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa. Palgrave-Macmillan, Basingstoke.Google Scholar
Robinson, F. 1993. Separatism among Indian Muslims: the Politics of the United Provinces Muslims 1860–1923. Oxford University Press, Delhi.Google Scholar
Robinson, F. 1983. ‘Islam and Muslim Society in South Asia’. Contributions to Indian Sociology (ns), 17, 2: 185203.Google Scholar
Robinson, F. 1986. ‘Islam and Muslim Society in South Asia: a Reply to Das and Minault’. Contributions to Indian Sociology (ns), 20, 1: 97104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Robinson, F. 2001. The ‘Ulama of Farangi Mahal and Islamic Culture in South Asia. Permanent Black, Delhi.Google Scholar
Roy, A. 2005. ‘Thinking over ‘Popular Islam’ in South Asia: Search for a Paradigm’. In Hasan, M. & Roy, A. (eds.) Living Together Separately: Cultural India in History and Politics. Oxford University Press, Delhi, pp. 2961.Google Scholar
Sanyal, U. 1996. Devotional Islam and Politics in British India: Ahmed Riza Khan and his Movement,1870–1920. Oxford University Press, Delhi.Google Scholar
Sikand, Y. 2002. The Origins and Development of the Tablighi-Jama'at (1920–2000). Orient Longman, New Delhi.Google Scholar
Simpson, E. 2006. Muslim Society and the Western Indian Ocean: The Seafarers of Kachchh. Routledge, London.Google Scholar
Soares, B. 2005. Islam and the Prayer Economy: History and Authority in a Malian Town. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.Google Scholar
Stewart, C. 1991. Demons and the Devil: Moral Imagination in Modern Greek Culture. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.Google Scholar
Troll, C. W. (ed.) 1989. Muslim Shrines in India. Oxford University Press, Delhi.Google Scholar
Troll, C. W. 1978. Sayyid Ahmad Khan: a Reinterpretation of Muslim Theology. Vikas, New Delhi.Google Scholar
Van Der Veer, P. 1992. ‘Playing or Praying: A Sufi Saint's Day in Surat’. The Journal of Asian Studies 51, 3: 545564.Google Scholar
Van Der Veer, P. 1994. Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in India. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.Google Scholar
Verkaaik, O. 2004. Migrants and Militants: Fun and Urban Violence in Pakistan. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Waseem, M. (ed. & trans.) 2003. On Becoming an Indian Muslim: French Essays on Aspects of Syncretism. Oxford University Press, Delhi.Google Scholar
Werbner, P. 2003. Pilgrims of Love: The Anthropology of a Global Sufi Cult. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN.Google Scholar
Werbner, P. & Basu, H. (eds.) 1998. Embodying Charisma: Modernity, Locality and the Performance of Emotion in Sufi Cults. Routledge, London.Google Scholar
Woodward, M. 1988. The Slametan: Textual Knowledge and Ritual Performance in Central Javanese Islam’. History of Religions 28, 1: 5489.Google Scholar
Zaman, M. Q. 1999. ‘Religious Education and the Rhetoric of Reform: the Madrasa in British India and Pakistan’. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 41, 2: 294323.Google Scholar
Zaman, M. Q. 2002. The Ulama in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.Google Scholar