Skip to main content

Introduction: Islamic reformism in South Asia1


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.

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

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Modern Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0026-749X
  • EISSN: 1469-8099
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-asian-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 2
Total number of PDF views: 71 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 312 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th April 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.