Adjudicating Muslims: Law, religion and the state in colonial India and post-colonial Pakistan

Author: 
Ahmed, Asad
Year: 
2006

     This dissertation is a historical and ethnographic examination of blasphemy laws, accusations and trials in colonial India and post-colonial Pakistan. I track the institution of Pakistan's blasphemy law from the British project of legal codification, and the attempt to secularize offences against religion, to contemporary blasphemy accusations. The latter are indicative of anxieties over the constituents of Muslimness in a pluralistic Muslim polity. The dissertation seeks to contribute to understanding how the colonial legal system, and court decisions, shaped 'religion' as a discursive entity. The historical part of the dissertation examines how colonial courts in British India elaborated two understandings of 'religion' that were in constitutive tension---a liberal one where it was understood as a private matter of individual belief and a communal one that derived from the structures and practices of colonial governance. In adjudicating the rights of disputing Muslims over the performance of ritual practices and access to sacred sites the courts articulated the membership criteria of inclusion to Muslim community. The ethnographic part of the dissertation examines how contemporary conflicts and controversies over Muslim religious beliefs and cultural practices are figured as 'blasphemy'. These cases disrupt liberal-secular ideologies while refiguring the uneven colonial articulations of liberalism and religion in a post-colonial state.

Advisor(s): 
Kelly, John D.
Department: