Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Islamic Modernists and Muslim Minority: The Geohistory of a Concept, 1857-1940

My dissertation focuses on a diverse group of Islamic thinkers in the Indian subcontinent, so called 'Islamic modernists,' and their engagement with intellectual movements across the British Empire, Ottoman/post-Ottoman Arab regions of West Asia and Soviet Russia and Central Asia in response to the identification of Muslims as "minorities" in the period between the 1857 Indian Rebellion and the 1940 Lahore Resolution, as empire gave way to the idea of territorially bounded nation-state. By recovering the overlooked history of how Indian Muslims responded to and experienced becoming a minority, I also explore how the Indian subcontinent, which had long supported an extensive network of multilingual scholars of Islam, was transformed by its encounter with imperial bureaucracy, revolutionary ideas of freedom and emancipation, and social practices of self-fashioning. These transformations can be best apprehended as an effort by Islamic modernists to balance claims about the global identity of Muslims against ideas about "Muslim minority" as a key legal and political category of modern governance that structured rights, identity, and political community across empires (and the nation-states that succeeded them). Islamic modernists also imagined political identity in novel ways, by developing new forms of Islamic thought and practice that transcended previous religious and ethnic allegiances and channeled diverse intellectual currents, from Arabic reform movements to Marxism-Leninism. In contrast to previous studies of the 'minority question' that privilege a European story of protection of non-Muslim communities, my dissertation forefronts Islamic modernists' contribution to the concept of minority. I do so by drawing on unexplored sources in Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Russian, English and Hebrew that suggest that minority was not merely as a political and legal category, but also an experience informed by everyday practices and affective attachments.