Maps for Modern Muslims: Any investigation of modern South Asian history — and the reimagining of the ‘Islamic’ within it — immediately implicates colonialism

Nauman Naqvi in Outlook India:

Muslims_630_630Two years in a row, in the opening lecture of a class called ‘What is Modernity?’ that I teach at a start-up liberal arts university in Karachi as part of the freshman core curriculum, I asked the assembled cohort of eager students how many of them thought they were modern. My intent, once they had all raised their hands, was to show the importance of investigating the idea of the ‘modern’ as an essential aspect of our sense of ourselves, a peculiar part of our modern identities that by self-definition, sets us apart from all peoples of the pre-modern past. To my utter surprise, out of the roughly one hundred and fifty students who sat there each time, no more than two or three tentatively lifted their hands.

Here’s the scene: all but all of them are in modern apparel, including the women who make up half of each cohort, and who are dressed either in Western clothes, some fashionable version of ‘traditional’ attire, or some combination of both, with a minority of each set wearing the hijab, itself often quite chique, the ensemble at times designed more for frisson than modesty. They are armed to a soul with smartphones if not laptops, and are conversing and being instructed in complex collegiate English. They are, of course, in the second decade of the 21st century, in a city that is among the top ten globally most populous, as well as the economic and financial capital of the sixth largest country in the world. What’s more, they are in a ‘smart’ lecture hall at one of the most elite, state-of-the-art institutions in the nation.

Talk about cognitive dissonance. I was so shocked I tried it again the next year, and was still taken aback when the same thing happened.

More here. [Thanks to Yogesh Chandrani.]