In his introduction, Mushirul Hasan asserts that the book is born out of a deep realisation that hardly any academically worthwhile work is available on ‘Islam in South Asia,' and this, at a time when pernicious misconceptions — such as that ‘Islam is a violent religion' and ‘Muslims are the only trouble-makers' — have crystallised into dominant facts in public mind. Obviously, this book is an attempt to confront these negative stereotypes and place the various elements of Islam and the Muslim society in perspective.
The book is divided into two parts — the first, on ‘Islam and the world,' has nine essays and the second, on ‘Islam in India', has 12, besides an interesting story, ‘I am a Hindu' by Asghar Wajahat, translated by Rakhshanda Jalil from Hindi.
The contributors include not just the well-known names such as Imtiaz Ahmed, Tariq Ramadan and Seema Alavi, but also several young scholars, who need to thank the magnanimous editor for giving them the rewarding experience.
The first part, which covers a wide range of issues such as pluralism in Islamic societies, relationship between Islam and Christianity, and politics of gender discrimination in Islam, discusses how 9/11 has shaped the content of news media, public diplomacy, and the war on terror. The second part is devoted to themes like Sufism in Kashmir, caste in Indian Islam, role of Muslims of Bihar in India's freedom movement, and the tradition of Deoband. It also has an analysis of the revenue and judicial records in the Nizzamuddin dargha and of the Muslim identity in Hindi cinema. The materials presented are so huge that each part could have formed a separate book in itself.
Tariq Ramadan, in his essay on the relationship between Islam and Christianity, argues that people of different faiths, instead of looking for potential converts in the modern world, should work for the betterment of humanity by going back to the roots of their respective religions. The article on ‘Islamic culture and brotherhood' recognises that the real challenge before Islam, in its interface with modernity, lies in how it grapples with the concepts of ‘equality,' ‘democracy,' ‘human rights,' and so on. The one on ‘Islam and gender discrimination' articulates the need for a creative reinterpretation of Islam that would help place the cause of women in a progressive global system. Although the justification for gender hierarchy and discrimination of women could be traced to the evolution of Islamic sciences such as Hadith (prophetic tradition), tafsir (exegesis), and fiqh (jurisprudence), creative analysis and de-contextualised reflections could make Islam compatible with modern ideas of gender equality.
Imtiaz Ahmed, known for his pioneering work on social stratification among Indian Muslims, offers an insightful analysis under the head “Recognition and Entitlement: Muslim castes eligible for inclusion in the category, Scheduled Castes” — a revised version of a paper he presented at a 2006 conference at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. According to him, it would be an over-simplification to argue that dalit Muslims are basically converts from the Scheduled Castes. Instead, he feels, they need to be seen as people who found themselves in such a state because the Muslim elites, possibly, forced them (the newly converted) into it so that they themselves could perpetuate and retain their dominance in feudal, agrarian India.
In an interesting article, Seema Alavi looks at Unani medicine's engagement with the colonial systems of medicine in 19th century India. The author questions the idea of colonial public health being a direct import from the Western model of civil society. It is argued that the local communities using medical literature published in major languages of the time — Persian, Arabic, and Urdu — contributed to the shaping of the public health system as well as to its discourse in civil society. Overall, this collection of essays should serve as a vital source for scholars concerned about the current issues affecting Muslims and Islam.