Politicizing Islam

The Islamic Revival in France and India

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Z. Fareen Parvez
Religion and Global Politics
  • London, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , February
     2017.
     288 pages.
     $81.50.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780190225247.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

A comparative ethnography of Islamic revival in France and India—home to the largest Muslim minority populations in Western Europe and Asia—Z. Fareen Parvez’s Politicizing Islam: The Islamic Revival in France and India presents a compelling argument for a closer examination of the politics of class in the study of Muslim political movements. Parvez argues that, while policies and politics at the national level determined the scope and manner of Muslim mobilization, class relations within Muslim communities provided for different outcomes, most consequentially for women who are poor. Ethnographic fieldwork in Hyderabad (India) and Lyon (France) allow Parvez to explore an important, yet neglected, issue in the study of Muslim mobilization: internal divisions between middle-class and elite Muslims as well as poor and subaltern Muslims. In Hyderabad, Parvez found that government neglect of Muslim poverty led to competitive legitimacy-seeking among elite Muslim groups, and a relationship with the poor—women in particular—characterized by “patronage, paternalistic affection, and disciplining” (4). However, in Lyon, state surveillance and hostility towards Muslims was met with elite Muslim disavowal of poor and subaltern Muslims, and a retreat to the private sphere amongst poor Muslim women—what Parvez terms “antipolitics” (5). Redistribution and recognition (20)—as inextricable and pivotal concerns—run throughout the core of the book.

Crucial to Parvez’s argument are the class and structural consequences of the different models of secularism within each state—assimilationism in France, pluralism in India—and these are, therefore, the focus of chapter 2. The next chapters—examining elite and subaltern Muslims from each site—illustrate how Muslim identity politics are neither products of internal self-definition, nor of state imposition. Instead, they are processes in reaction to the conditions set by the state, with both subjective and material bases. The book concludes with two appendices—one on ethnography, the other for interviews. The critical self-reflection of Appendix A—which serves as a valuable resource for training and pedagogy on ethnography in Muslim communities—emphasizes the lack of similar detail in the interview methods of Appendix B, though arguably, the complexity of the interviews, and the author’s position with regard to the interviewees, receives greater exposition in the chapters. 

Parvez engages long-standing debates on Muslim piety and politics from the viewpoint of Muslim minorities, for whom antipolitics constitutes an active rejection of the state and the political realm. To “politicize” Islam, therefore, involves two quite separate strands of mobilization: “either an instrumental practice of making claims of the state or a noninstrumental practice of community” (27). Hostility and regulation at the state level, combined with a disconnection from middle-class Muslim politics at the community level, resulted in antipolitics as a strategic and conscious decision to withdraw from instrumental politics in Lyon. As a result of the intense public scrutiny of Muslim women, “Salafi” women turned to cultivation of the private sphere—and men—towards economic activities, making issues of gender “invisible” (179) in Lyon, whereas in Hyderabad, the middle class “made gender visible from above, and subaltern men and women made it visible from below” (121). Taking the experiences of her study’s subjects seriously included accounting for the costs and gains of politics according to their own calculations: in the peripheries of Lyon, antipolitics “enables self-protection and preservation of faith” (187). At the same time, Parvez sees limited political and transformative potential for antipolitics, as the retreat into the private sphere left a communities trust weakened and a public realm impoverished. For Parvez, since “women’s political community is a form of feminist practice” (189), antipolitics presents a limited horizon. The lessons of Hyderabadi mobilization are that trust and solidarity across class lines matters—more so for noninstrumental politics—and that avoiding the state does not entail a rejection of the public sphere; on the contrary, community building leads to civil as well as Islamic revival.

At times, the language of class, discipline, and hegemony used to characterize variations in the position and politics of Muslims runs somewhat counter to the narrative of civil trust and community building outlined by Parvez—particularly in the context of the extreme wealth and power disparities of Hyderabad. Repeatedly, efforts at economic redistribution there seemed to stand in for the achievement of structural and affective conciliation (75, 82, 93, 121). However, the variety and complexity of viewpoints, as well as the tensions they both bridge and contain, shines through in each chapter. The clarity of Muslim voices—and the sensitivity with which the author treats them—makes this book a rich and humane resource for the undergraduate and graduate classroom.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Iza Hussin is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge.

Date of Review: 
April 30, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Z. Fareen Parvez is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she teaches courses on social theory, religion, and ethnographic methods. She has done extensive field research on Islamic movements in India and France and pilot research on the intersection of Islamic revival and religious healing in Morocco. Parvez was a fellow of the New Directions in the Study of Prayer initiative at the Social Science Research Council and a visiting researcher at the University of Lyon in France. Her work has been translated into French and awarded by the American Sociological Association. Prior to pursuing academic work, she worked in the field of urban welfare in New York City.

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