Muslim Nationalism: Founding Identity in Colonial India

Devji, Faisal Fatehali

     I write the history both of the nation's impossibility as a fulfilled positivity and of India's impossibility as a hegemonic ideology. . . . I . . . explore how the Muslim assumes particularity as a structural position within an Indianness marked by the distinctions of the political and the civil, of the public and the private, of the universal and the particular." This exploration begins "by delineating the relationship between Indian and Hindu nationalism in terms of their positioning of Islam within an ideological site that makes the violence of its management possible." It is argued that "Indian Islam . . . is founded as a national identity, which is to say as a polity based on the affiliation of abstract Muslim individuals. It emerges during the second half of the nineteenth century among a salaried gentry (mostly working with the colonial administration) in north India. The Aligarh Movement . . . set the terms for all 'Islamic' politics down to this day -- not necessarily through an active process of ideological expansion, but by privileging a totalizing vision of Muslimhood that was appropriated by others. . . . Therefore I write a history of Aligarhism . . . to relate the politics of ontology in a way that interrupts the monologue of a modular nationalism."
     The study describes the "invention of Muslim India," how "Muslim politics . . . situated the qawm (nation) . . . within the rhetoric of colonial violation." For the Aligarhists, "[m]ore than simple conquest, the intellectual or spiritual seduction of colonial rule posed for the nation a problem of authenticity. But as woman, the nation was not only someone seduced, she was also seductive -- although her history of violation made this status, too, problematic. How was the nation to be valued? What was she/it worth? These questions, which locate the qawm within a veritable erotology of power, mark the directions in which this chapter proceeds." This first chapter is also concerned with "the political and intellectual shifts that made this polity [the Muslim qawm] possible in the first place."
     The study then discusses "the ruin of the moral city" which occurred with "the establishment of a colonial public sphere" and whose decay left "behind only institutions like the mosque, school, and shrine to provide a foundation for the new sharif nation." The next chapter shows how "the Surafa of the nineteenth century were for the first time able to conceive of a dynamic if ambiguous practice (politics) which defined or determined their religious and educational reforms and their relations with siyasat. And I . . . explore such practices conducted in the shadow of politics, and . . . examine the kinds of relationships they constructed with siyasat as sovereign law." The study then considers the "uses of the past." A shift in thought occurred, "a movement from thinking in terms of accumulation to a thinking in terms of cumulation. . . [T]he notion of a fundamental break within history or a canon gave rise to an evolutionary movement of time and knowledge. And this process of alienation from origins brought to the fore authenticity as the paramount problem of the Shurafa. How was genuineness possible in the foreign and rapidly changing colonial world? History . . . emerged as a major way of dealing with this problem -- to the extent that Muslim identity itself came to be conceived of only in historical terms."
     The study also addresses the issue of "the Muslim subject." It describes how the "body . . . came to be delimited as a solitary and unified object governed by law . . . . And all of this was made possible by a fundamental shift in which nature as physis or disposition was transformed into a thingliness to be understood only by the abstraction of natural law. It was this natural law, then, that the Shurafa used to manage the colonial world and to create their nationhood in the process." Finally, the study describes "the increasingly evident failure of a parochial Muslim nation in the new, all-India politics of the Raj. . . . Faced . . . with an India-wide Congress and the mushrooming of independent Muslim organizations among non-sharif elites in other parts of the country, the Aligarhist nation suddenly came to seem 'unrepresentative' of Indian Muslim interests." The study looks at the Aligarhist response to this situation and the emergence of "Muhammad Iqbal's dynamic concept of Muslim nationality.