Most of the scholarship on Indian Muslims produced in the last 50 years mimics the Orientalist approach in two important ways: it views one of the largest Muslim populations in the world as a homogenous and unified group; and, for the most part, it views that population through the lens of the north Indian urban elite.
Books such as Hasan Suroor’s His work, instead, focuses largely on middle-class, urban, north Indian Muslims as he argues that there has been an “awakening” among India’s Muslims which is driving them away from their supposed historical insularity and conservatism.
Also read: Strangers in the house: The adverse effects of solidifying ethnic boundaries The first, by Hilal Ahmed takes an innovative approach to understanding the evolution of Muslim politics in north India.
The author focusses, in particular, on the discourse related to Indo-Islamic historic buildings such as the Jama Masjid in Delhi and the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya as a means for understanding the construction of Muslims as a political group by a variety of actors.
A new generation of scholars is emerging from different disciplines whose work is grounded in empirical research.
Two recent books, for instance, shed light on the complexity and diversity among Muslims in India through the lens of political history.
In order to underscore his argument, he implies that there are two categories dividing the Muslim population of India: “good Muslims”, who are liberal and moderate in their political and religious leanings, and “bad Muslims”, who are conservative and fundamentalist in their outlook.
Such a division is not just without any scholarly basis, it is also troubling as it drastically reduces the myriad political and religious views prevalent among Muslims living in different parts of India.
To use the word ‘minority’ for them, therefore, is misleading: they are the third-largest Muslim population anywhere in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan.
Minority status, however, refers to a group’s relative power vis-à-vis other groups rather than to its numbers alone (note the case of women everywhere or blacks in South Africa during the apartheid).