Book Review: Religion and Secularities edited by Sudha Sitharaman and Anindita Chakrabarti

This book is based on the papers presented in a seminar held at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Kanpur, in October 2014. The book basically deals with what I would call the ‘sociology of Islam’, ie. how Islamic praxis has influenced and has in turn been influenced by the Indian social milieu. The book thus is an inquiry of ‘Indian Islamic’ issues and practices arrived at through ethnographic studies conducted in the states of Bengal, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. The super short summary of the chapters are as follows;

Chapter 1 deals with the issue of how Bengali Muslims negotiate their Muslim identity with their identity as a Bengali.

Chapter 2 deals with how Islamic laws interacted and refashioned the matrilineal traditions of Mappila Muslims of Malabar, especially after the advent of colonial rule and the socio legal changes it brought in this society.

Chapter 3 deals with the Hindu Muslim conflict about the control of the shrine of Bababudhan hills in Chikmagalur in Karnataka, which is a common place of worship for both Hindus and Muslims (much like the Babri dispute). What the essay brings out to the fore is the uniqueness of Indian secularism that the Indian state practices. This secularism is less a separation between religion and politics, but instead religion becomes an object of the state’s regulatory capacity; the state intervening in religion with a purpose to refashion and attune it to the requirements of liberal governance.

Chapter 4 deals with the divergent practices of Islam amongst the Mappila Muslims. The essay highlights as to how attempts are being to refashion society so that ‘genuine’ Islamic/Muslim virtues are cultivated, the revival of the Muslim community takes place and the Islamic community (Ummah) Is strengthened.

Chapter 5 deals with the civic and religious activities of the Solidarity Youth Movement (SYM), the youth wing of the Jamat e Islami in Kerala.

Chapter 6 deals with the question of Muslim personal law in India. The authors explore the process of dispute resolution in marriage, divorce and inheritance amongst Muslim litigants in a Dar ul Qaza (Sharia court), in a large Muslim locality in Kanpur.

Chapter 7 deals with the involvement of the Muslim reformist organisation called Mujahid Movement, in providing palliative care in Kerala and how in doing so they negotiate the boundaries between religious and the secular domains.

A collection of interesting essays.

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