The Tragedies and Ambiguities of Islam in Pakistan
This review essay describes and engages key themes, arguments, and interventions of a major recent monograph in the study of religion and Islam: Muhammad Qasim Zaman’s “Islam in Pakistan: A History.” In addition to detailing various strands of Islam in Pakistan and the ambiguities that mark those strands, this book also advances a powerful and politically productive critique of the paradoxes and tensions haunting the career of Muslim modernism in colonial South Asia and Pakistan. Despite their disagreements with and critiques of the ‘ulama’, Muslim modernists of the late nineteenth century were yet quite attuned to and familiar with ‘ulama’ traditions of knowledge. This situation, however, has transformed dramatically. The epistemic and social gap as well as the mistrust dividing the ‘ulama’ and the modernists has considerably widened in more recent history. For Zaman, this trend represents among modernism’s most profound and consequential failures. Taking my cue from this observation, in this essay, I propose and suggest that “Islam in Pakistan”can be productively read as a text imbued with a tragic sensibility that offers important and instructive historical lessons critical to refashioning futures less imprisoned to ideologically rigid and doctrinaire registers of identity and politics. I also highlight the significance of this work in the fields of religious studies, Islamic studies, and the study of South Asia.Keywords
ambiguity, modernism, ‘ulama’, ethics, Pakistan.
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