Defending Muḥammad in Modernity

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SherAli Tareen
  • Notre Dame, IN: 
    University of Notre Dame Press
    , January
     506 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In this groundbreaking study, SherAli Tareen presents the most comprehensive and theoretically engaged work to date on what is arguably the most long-running, complex, and contentious dispute in modern Islam: the Barelvi-Deobandi polemic. The Barelvi and Deobandi groups are two normative orientations/reform movements with beginnings in colonial South Asia. Almost two hundred years separate the beginnings of this polemic from the present. Its specter, however, continues to haunt the religious sensibilities of postcolonial South Asian Muslims in profound ways, both in the region and in diaspora communities around the world. Defending Muhammad in Modernity challenges the commonplace tendency to view such moments of intra-Muslim contest through the prism of problematic yet powerful liberal secular binaries like legal/mystical, moderate/extremist, and reformist/traditionalist. Tareen argues that the Barelvi-Deobandi polemic was instead animated by what he calls "competing political theologies" that articulated--during a moment in Indian Muslim history marked by the loss and crisis of political sovereignty--contrasting visions of the normative relationship between divine sovereignty, prophetic charisma, and the practice of everyday life. Based on the close reading of previously unexplored print and manuscript sources in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu spanning the late eighteenth and the entirety of the nineteenth century, this book intervenes in and integrates the often-disparate fields of religious studies, Islamic studies, South Asian studies, critical secularism studies, and political theology.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

SherAli Tareen is associate professor of religious studies at Franklin and Marshall College. He is co-editor of Imagining the Public in Modern South Asia.

Margrit Pernau is a senior researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.


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