The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Islam in the Subcontinent: Muslims in a plural society By Mushirul Hasan, Manohar, Rs 995

Muslims and lslam have been the cynosure of media attention in recent times. Apart from articles in newspapers and magazines, publishers have also requisitioned the services of experts in the field to cater to the newfound interest in the community. This book too may have been timed to cater to this interest. But though the title ambitiously proclaims that the book is to do with Islam in the subcontinent, Mushirul Hasanís preoccupation with the Partition is evident. Hasan limits himself to the history of Muslims in India in the 19th and 20th century. What the Muslims in Pakistan or Bangladesh were doing at this time remains outside his purview.

In short, this book breaks no new ground. It is a collection of 17 academic papers by Hasan, a prolific writer. He merely revises and re-writes them. The essays are divided into five parts. Part one begins with the formation of the Muslim identity, as a response to the West, and ends with a reference to the Shia-Sunni riots in Lucknow which exposes the myth of Muslim unity. The four essays in part two deals with the Khilafat movement and pan-Islamicism and there is also a paper on the forgotten leader, Mohammad Ali. Part three tries to explore the rise of the Muslim League.

The book also throws light on the Congress versus Muslim politics of the time. The essay on the Aligarh Muslim University is interesting. The fourth part, which starts with an essay on the Moradabad riots of 1980, is actually an assessment of the legacy of the earlier generation of Muslim leaders. The single essay in part five examines the differences that have created a gulf between India and Pakistan.

These are academic essays dealing with a much-maligned community, that is languishing in darkness. Unfortunately they do not penetrate the pain of being thus vilified, nor do they attempt to understand the community, either in isolation or along with other religious or ethnic groups.

Perhaps the only saving grace of the book, that makes one read on despite the pedestrian theorizing, is its lucidity. But Hasan could have made the book more topical by looking at the recent turmoil that has shaken secularism in India. Even so, it is a valuable addition to the rather insufficient studies of Muslims in the pre-Partition days. Hasanís clear-eyed approach and intensity will attract students, academics and laymen alike.

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