Between Qaum and the nation

Vijay Prashad in HimalSouthAsian:

Muslim-zionFaisal Devji and I went to graduate school together at the University of Chicago. We worked with Barney Cohn, a scholar with an adventurous sense of scholarship. Devji’s early studies were conducted at the feet of Fazlur Rahman, the intellectual of Islam (author of Islam, 1966 and 1979), who died in 1988, two years after Devji got to Chicago. Among our small cohort, Devji was the smart one – clear in his head that he wanted to uncover the intellectual foundations of Muslim nationalism in the Subcontinent. His was, however, the experience that haunts graduate students – having travelled the archives, making notes and photocopies, he returned to the US, where his bag with the research notes was stolen. Undaunted, Devji wrote a brilliant intellectual history – Muslim Nationalism: Founding Identity in Colonial India (1993). His study spanned the time from Nazir Ahmad’s Mirat al-arus (The Bride’s Mirror, 1869) to Mohammed Iqbal’s Pas Chih Bayad Kard ay Aqwam-i-Sharq (What Should Then Be Done, Oh People of East, 1936), from the era of post-Mutiny reform to the emergence of a new patriotic confidence. Lingering behind the close readings of Iqbal were his European interlocutors Martin Heidegger and Henri Bergson, enriching the dissertation to a level that was not common among people of our age.

…Reading Muslim Zion is not easy. This is an intellectual’s intellectual history. Even though Devji scorns évènementiel history for its “mechanism”, it is worthwhile to have some grounding in the historical worlds of the Subcontinent to best benefit from this book. Much can be gained when an author takes the risk to tie the loose ends of human life into a coherent story. But for Devji such a narrative might stand in for a continuity that does not exist in the intellectual emergence of the idea of nationalism in the Muslim League and its environs. If he had written a history that began with Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan and ended with Liaquat Ali Khan’s premiership, as so many histories of Muslim nationalism do, it would have seemed that Pakistan was already evident in the pages of the journal Tahzib al-Akhlaq (Refinement of Morals), founded in 1870. Here and there in Devji’s pages is evidence of a conflict between Muslim elites in different cities, rooted in different parts of the colonial bureaucracy and the social relations of capitalism (Devji notes that much is buried in the “unexplored history of Muslim capitalism”). The Pakistan movement was not rooted amongst the heirs of Sir Sayyid among the Aligarh intellectual grandees nor was it rooted in the religious redoubts of Deoband. It had its leadership amongst the western Indian (mainly Shia) elites such as Aga Khan and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and in the royal households of the Gangetic plain, such as Mahmudabad and Jehangirabad.

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