Radical self-examination

Ayesha Jalal, the Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University, has written extensively on matters that increasingly concern the subcontinent, especially these days.

Partisans of Allah, her new book published by Harvard and Permanent Black, New Delhi, "surveys this rich and tumultuous history of South Asian Muslims and its critical contribution to the intellectual development of the key concept of jihad. Analyzing the complex interplay of ethics and politics in Muslim history, the author effectively demonstrates the preeminent role of jihad in the Muslim faith today.

The idea of jihad is central to Islamic faith and ethics, and yet its meanings have been highly contested over time. They have ranged from the philosophical struggle to live an ethical life to the political injunction to wage war against enemies of Islam. Today, more than ever, jihad signifies the political opposition between Islam and the West. As the line drawn between Muslims and non-Muslims becomes more rigid, Ayesha Jalal seeks to retrieve the ethical meanings of this core Islamic principle in South Asian history.

Drawing on historical, legal, and literary sources, Jalal traces the intellectual itinerary of jihad through several centuries and across the territory connecting the Middle East with South Asia. She reveals how key innovations in modern Islamic thought resulted from historical imperatives. The social and political scene in India before, during, and after British colonial rule forms the main backdrop. We experience the jihad as armed warfare waged by Sayyid Ahmad of Rai Bareilly between 1826 and 1831, the calls to jihad in the great rebellion of 1857, the fusion of jihad with a strand of anti-colonial nationalism in the early twentieth century, and the contemporary politics of self-styled jihadis in Pakistan, waging war to liberate co-religionists in Afghanistan and Kashmir."

Commenting on the book, Homi Bhabha, Professor of Humanities at Harvard has this to say: Jalal restores the much used concept of jihad to its enabling history of radical self-examination in the pursuit of justice and freedom, treading a fine balance between religious faith and secular belief. This is a courageous and brilliant book for a hopeful future beyond the quagmire of those who believe in the clash of civilisations.

We can only hope that those who need to read it, on all sides of the religious and political divides will find it possible to do so.

Rs 300, 400 pages, in paperback. ISBN: 9788178242743

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