Response & Absorption to Modernity: Religion in India & Pakistan

Dr Hina Azam reviewing Dr Qasim Zaman's insightful work, The Ulama in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change, observes the political thought and advocacy of Pakistani vs Indian Deobandis, or more generally, Pakistani religious elite ("pro-Pakistan Iqbal" and Jamat-e-Islami) vs Indian religious leaders ("Maulana Azad and Wahid-ud-din"):

One cannot help but notice that the religious establishment, perhaps unwittingly, frequently ends up justifying existing state policies.

I believe that this is not very accurate picture of Pakistani religious elites and establishment. In Pakistan, since its inception, we've seen a very strong contest b/w religious elite which advocates state-level implementation of their interpretation of Shariah* vs modernist/secular leadership (although in minority, but very resourceful and powerful).

In India, we don't see religious leaders advocating that. Their framework is "pluralistic secular" political solutions, which obviously is optimal solution for protecting Muslims there.

However, what is very interesting [it's so interesting, i'm quoting whole summary of this argument] is the following argument of Dr Qasim, summarized by Dr Hina:

"Another provocative theme of the book is Zaman’s insight into what happened when the Western notion of “religion” met a traditional Muslim society’s much older understanding of its deen (usually translated as “religion”) in the asymmetrical context of colonial domination. We know that after the time of Hume, Hegel, and Darwin, European thinkers generally conceived of religion as developing, on the metaphor of biological evolution, alongside the progress of human societies from primitiveness to civilization, from simplicity to complexity, from irrationality to rationality, to find its end in either (Protestant)Christianity or in science. In the liberal view, religion is that which is best left to private life, separated from the public, civic sphere. In contrast, the centuries-old tradition of Islamic thought did not draw any firm lines between the sacred and the secular; it conceived the divine command as overseeing both the private and the public domains. What Zaman tells us is how the British carried their ideology of religious evolutionism into India with them, and how out of the marriage of European liberalism and South Asian tradition was born the concept, new for the indigenous Muslims, of their deen as a “religion.” Indeed, says Zaman, the ambivalences created by the tension between religion as private and religion as comprehensive, as well as the doubt created by the idea of “religion” as that which is less than “useful,” continue to express them-selves in self-contradictory approaches to religious education and relations with the state to this day. 

Building on a standing religious studies thesis that Islamic “fundamentalist”movements are in fact thoroughly modern in their technical and political strategies, Zaman adds that, first, the modernity of contemporary Islamic movements is reflected in their very notion of Islam as a subtype of “religion” and that, second, not only the modernists and the Islamists but also the ulama have inherited this new discourse of “religion.” This is seen in their belief in codification and implementation of Islamic law at the statewide level and in the role of the ulama as “specialists” in religion. These efforts are possible, Zaman insists, only due to the reification of Islam that resulted from Muslim absorption of the European idea of “religion” as a fixed content (rather than, say, aprocess of moral transformation or a relationship of spiritual surrender)." [got to know full explanation of this author]


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