History Department
History Department

Prof. Minault publishes book on Muslim history in South Asia

Mon, February 1, 2010
Prof. Minault publishes book on Muslim history in South Asia
Gail Minault

The essays have been written over the long span of more than 30 years and edited by Minault herself, published by Permanent Black (November, 2009). One of the most significant features of Minault’s work, and of this volume too, is that she has resisted sensational grand narratives about ‘Islam’ and ‘modernity,’ a popular trend among emerging scholars today.

Her insights are drawn exclusively from the recovery of voices and specific actions of Muslims in their own particular social and political contexts and not from doctrinal or theoretical generalizations. As she has said, “Islam is what Muslims do.”
The first set of essays culled under ‘Gender’ contain discursive analysis of Sayyid Mumtaz Ali’s Huquq un-Niswan involving issues of marriage, purdah and women’s education and a brief enunciation of the ideology of reform by male intellectuals such as Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanavi. Other articles in this section highlight the contribution of major Urdu women’s journals like Ismat, Khatoon and Tahzib un-Niswan to questions of religious and social reform and the extremely significant ratification of a series of laws pertaining to marriage such as the Muslim Personal Law of 1937 and the Dissolution of Marriage Act of 1939.

Minault stresses Urdu journalism and its role in mobilizing men and women around ideologies of reform in the section on ‘Language.’  She gives a brief biography of Rashid ul-Khairi and his major concerns in his journal Ismat which helps to highlight relevant differences between male and female reformers. Maintaining her focus on women, Minault also illuminates a vibrant and lively culture of women’s lives through a deconstruction of begamati zaban or words and idioms employed in women’s conversations.

Returning finally to questions of education and instruction that have shaped much of Minault’s work is a section on ‘Learning.’ Here she explores not only the extensive efforts of Shaikh Abdullah and Sayyid Karamat Husain for the education of women and girls but also larger efforts in the Muslim community for education and greater political participation in the democratic polity through campaigns for a Muslim university at Aligarh in an article researched and co-authored with David Lelyveld.

With detailed historical evidence and systematic analysis, these articles illustrate the interconnections between gender, language, and culture to reveal challenges and issues that confronted South Asian Muslims during their encounter with the British Empire. Through these interconnections, they show the broader transforming arc of history in the fields of journalism, education, law, family and politics. They therefore should interest not only students of South Asian history but anyone engaged with themes of learning, reform and identity under conditions of colonialism.

Minault was recently a co-convener of the first of three international workshops on Women's Autobiography in Islamic Societies: Defining the Genre on Jan. 28-30 at the University  of Texas campus in Austin. The workshops are part of an international network of scholars collaborating on this important topic that is being funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom.

The second workshop will be held in late 2010 in India and the third will be held in the UAE in late 2011.

Story by:
Asiya Alam
Asian Studies doctoral candidate

Related Links:
Gail Minault
Gender, Language and Learning: Essays in Indo-Muslim Cultural History


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