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Islamic Reform and Modernities in South Asia1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 March 2008

FRANCIS ROBINSON*
Affiliation:
Royal Holloway, University of London Email: F.Robinson@rhul.ac.uk

Extract

From the beginning of the Islamic era, Muslim societies have experienced periods of renewal (tajdid). Since the eighteenth century, Muslim societies across the world have been subject to a prolonged and increasingly deeply felt process of renewal. This has been expressed in different ways in different contexts. Amongst political elites with immediate concerns to answer the challenges of the West, it has meant attempts to reshape Islamic knowledge and institutions in the light of Western models, a process described as Islamic modernism. Amongst ‘ulama and sufis, whose social base might lie in urban, commercial or tribal communities, it has meant ‘the reorganisation of communities . . . [or] the reform of individual behavior in terms of fundamental religious principles’, a development known as reformism. These processes have been expressed in movements as different as the Iranian constitutional revolution, the jihads of West Africa, and the great drives to spread reformed Islamic knowledge in India and Indonesia. In the second half of the twentieth century, the process of renewal mutated to develop a new strand, which claimed that revelation had the right to control all human experiences and that state power must be sought to achieve this end. This is known to many as Islamic fundamentalism, but is usually better understood as Islamism. For the majority of Muslims today, Islamic renewal in some shape or other has helped to mould the inner and outer realities of their lives.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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References

2 Lapidus, Ira M., A History of Islamic Societies, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2002), p. 457Google Scholar.

3 It should be noted, however, that some sufis adjusted their practices not just to take account of reform but also to embrace its transformative processes. Nile Green, ‘The Politics of Meditation in Colonial South Asia’ in this volume, pp. 283–315, is a good example of the former. The classic study of reform led by a sufi and his Naqshbandi followers is: Mardin, Serif, Religion and Social Change in Modern Turkey: The Case of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (State University of New York Press, New York, 1989)Google Scholar.

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6 This is done in book VII titled: On Comportment and Character, Reward and Punishment; Barbara Daly Metcalf, Perfecting Women: Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi's Bihishti Zewar: A Partial Translation With Commentary (California University Press, Berkeley, CA, 1990), pp. 177–239.

7 Haniffa emphasises the indissoluble connection between piety and social action. Farzana Haniffa, ‘Piety as Politics amongst Muslim Women in Contemporary Sri Lanka’, in this volume.

8 Speech of Sayyid Ahmad Khan quote in Altaf Husain Hali, Hayat-i-Javid, K. H. Qadiri and David J. Matthews (trans.) (Idarah-i-Adabiyat-i-Delli, Delhi, 1979), p. 172.

9 Nadwi, S. Abul Hasan Ali, Life and Mission of Maulana Muhammad Ilyas, Kidwai, Mohammad Asif (trans.) (Academy of Islamic Research and Publications, Lucknow, India, 1979), p. 108Google Scholar; Huq emphasises the seriousness with which a contemporary women's Islamic student organisation in Bangladesh takes the Day of Judgement. Maimuna Huq, ‘Reading the Qur'an in Bangladesh: The Politics of “Belief” Among Islamist Women’, in this volume.

10 Barbara Daly Metcalf, ‘Weber and Islamic Reform’, in T. E. Huff and W. Schluchter (eds.), Weber, pp. 217–29, no. 1.

11 Francis Robinson, ‘Religious Change and the Self in Muslim South Asia Since 1800’, pp. 108–10; Barbara Daly Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, p. 2690, no. 4.

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13 Iqbal, M., The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore, 1954), p. 154Google Scholar.

14 For a discussion of this, see Francis Robinson, ‘Other-Worldly and This-Worldly Islam and the Islamic Revival’, p. 54, no. 1.

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19 Ibid., pp. 511–22.

20 Francis Robinson, ‘Islam and the Impact of Print in South Asia’, pp. 80–81, no. 1.

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22 Nasr, Seyyed Vali Reza, Mawdudi & the Making of Islamic Revivalism (Oxford University Press, New York, 1996), p. 138Google Scholar; for a general discussion of Mawdudi's authority, see pp. 126–38.

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24 Cited in Devji, Faisal Fatehali, ‘Gender and the Politics of Space: The Movement of Women's Reform, 1857–1900’, in Hasan, Z. (ed.), Forging Identities: Gender, Communities and the State (Kali for Women, New Delhi, 1994), pp. 3536.Google Scholar

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26 Francis Robinson, ‘Religious Change and the Self in Muslim South Asia Since 1800’, p. 9, no. 1.

27 W. C. Smith, Islam in Modern History (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1957), p. 89. In harmony with Smith's insight, Haniffa emphasises how the women's piety movement in Sri Lanka has made its Muslims into ‘a highly energized force of some magnitude within Sri Lanka's polity’. Farzana Haniffa, ‘Piety as Politics', in this volume, pp. 347–375.

28 Sikand, Yoginder Singh, Bastions of the Believers: Madrasas and Islamic Education in India, Penguin India, (New Delhi, 2005) pp. 218–21Google Scholar.

29 Ibid., pp. 221–22.

30 Ibid., p. 136.

31 Taylor, Charles, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989), p. 111Google Scholar.

32 Ibid., p. 14.

33 Barbara Daly Metcalf, Perfecting Women: Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi's Bihishti Zewar: A Partial Translation With Commentary, p. 234, no. 6; Farzana Haniffa, ‘Believing Women: Piety and Power Amongst Muslim Women in Contemporary Sri Lanka’, no. 7, and Maimuna Huq, ‘Reading the Qur'an in Bangladesh: The Politics of “Belief” Among Islamist Women’, no. 9, are both excellent studies of projects designed to construct a new Islamic self-hood amongst women.

34 See, for instance, Webster, Tom, ‘Writing to Redundancy: Approaches to Spiritual Journals and Early Modern Spirituality’, in The Historical Journal, Vol. 31, 1, 1996, pp. 3536Google Scholar.

35 Ali, Mohamed and Iqbal, Afzal (ed.), My Life: A Fragment: An Autobiographical Sketch (Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore, Pakistan, 1942). Syed Mahmud's spiritual reflections may be found in the Farangi Mahall Papers, KarachiGoogle Scholar.

36 Watt, W. Montgomery, The Faith and Practice of al-Ghazali (Oneworld: Oxford, 1994)Google Scholar.

37 Francis Robinson, ‘Religious Change and the Self in Muslim South Asia Since 1800’, pp. 24–25, no. 1.

38 Smith, Wilfred Cantwell, Modern Islam in India: A Social Analysis (Gollancz, London, UK, 1946), pp. 6467Google Scholar. See also Amit Dey, The Image of the Prophet in Bengali Muslim Piety, 1850–1947, PhD thesis, University of London, 1999.

39 Francis Robinson, ‘Religious Change and the Self in Muslim South Asia Since 1800’, pp. 10–11, no. 1.

40 Troll, Christian W. (ed.), Islam in India: Studies and Commentaries, 3: The Islamic Experience in Contemporary Thought (New Delhi, 1986), p. 153.Google Scholar

41 Book VI of Thanawi's Bihishti Zewar, for instance, specifically discusses the whole issue of custom; Barbara Daly Metcalf, Perfecting Women: Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi's Bihishti Zewar: A Partial Translation With Commentary, pp. 89–161, no. 6.

42 ‘At every turn’, Haniffa records, ‘I was told by members of Al-Muslimaat that they were Muslims by choice as well as by birth’. Farzana Haniffa, ‘Piety as Politics’, pp. 347–375.

43 Francis Robinson, ‘Islam and the Impact of Print in South Asia’, p. 91, no. 1.

44 Eickelman, Dale F. and Piscatori, James, Muslim Politics (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1996), pp. 3745Google Scholar.

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46 Giddens, Anthony, Sociology, 4th ed. (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001), p. 545Google Scholar.

47 Francis Robinson, Secularization, Weber, and Islam, pp. 236–7, no. 1.

48 Maulana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi, Aap Beeti: Autobiography, Vol. 2, pp. 314–6, no. 12; Marsden makes a similar point about reform-minded Muslims in Chitral. Marsden, Magnus, Living Islam: Muslim Religious Experience in Pakistan's North-West Frontier (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005), p. 241CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

49 Francis Robinson, Secularization, Weber, and Islam, pp. 239–41, no. 1.

50 Francis Robinson, ‘Other-Worldly and This-Worldly Islam and the Islamic Revival’, pp. 54–58, no. 1.

51 Robinson, Francis, ‘Fundamentalism: Tolerance and India's Heritage’, in Journal of the Asiatic Society, Vol. XLV, 3, 2003, pp. 513Google Scholar.

52 For a sceptical approach to Islamic ‘Protestantism’ as a preparation for modernity, see Martin Reixinger, ‘How Favourable is Puritan Islam to Modernity? A Case Study on the Ahl-i Hadith (late 19th/early 20th centuries)’, unpublished paper.

53 Troeltsch put this argument to the ninth conference of German historians at Stuttgart in April 1906 when he gave the lecture that Weber had been supposed to give on the meaning of Protestantism for the rise of the modern world. Troeltsch, Ernst, Protestantism and Progress; The Significance of Protestantism for the Rise of the Modern World (Fortress Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1986), p. 100Google Scholar.

54 Gellner, Ernest, Muslim Society (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1981), p. 170Google Scholar; twenty years later the argument is put much more forcibly by I. M. Lapidus, History of Islamic Societies, pp. 817–22, no. 2.

55 Lawrence, Bruce B., Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age (I. B. Tauris, London, 1990)Google Scholar.

56 Euben, Roxanne L., Enemy in the Mirror: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Limits of Modern Rationalism: A Work of Comparative Political Theory (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1999), p. 124Google Scholar.

57 Ibid., pp. 45–92, 154–67.

58 See, for instance, Utvik, B. O., ‘The Modernizing Force of Islamism’, in Esposito, J. L. and Burgat, F. (eds.), Modernizing Islam: Religion in the Public Sphere in the Middle East and Europe (Hurst, London, 2003), pp. 4368Google Scholar; Utvik, B. O., The Pious Road to Development: Islamist Economics in Egypt (Hurst, London, 2006)Google Scholar; Abdo, Geneive, No God But God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000)Google Scholar; Adelkhah, F., Being Modern in Iran (Hurst, London, 1998)Google Scholar; White, Jenny B., Islamist Mobilization in Turkey: A Study in Vernacular Politics (University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA, 2002)Google Scholar.

59 Farzana Haniffa, ‘Piety as Politics’, in this volume. This point has also been made at length and to great effect by Mahmood, Saba, Politics of Piety; The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2005)Google Scholar.

60 Eisenstadt, S. N., ‘Changing a Space: Reflections on India, Literature and Culture.’, in Daedalus, Vol. 129, No. 1, Winter 2000, pp. 130Google Scholar; Chaudhuri, Amit, Chaning a Space: Reflections on India, Literature and Culture (Peter Lang, Oxford, UK, forthcoming)Google Scholar.

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