Reconsidering Islam in a South Asian Context By M. Reza Pirbhai (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2009. 370 pages.)

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Francis Robinson



This is an ambitious book, as M. Reza Pirbhai attempts to lift our understanding
of Islam in South Asia, or indeed of Islam anywhere, both out of
the essentializing straitjacket in which western Orientalist scholarship has
placed it and out of a similar straitjacket in which many modern Muslims,
often influenced by western scholarship, have also placed it. He is concerned
to demonstrate that what he calls “doctrinal Islam” is
multidisciplinary and variable within disciplines. Theology includes concepts
of immanent monism, transcendental monism, monotheism and
absolute transcendentalism. Jurisprudence is rooted in four Sunni and two
Shi`a schools, most accepting concepts of independent reasoning and
consensus, some extending to notions of public utility, equity and the virtual
inclusion of customary law as an additional source of the shari`a.
Mysticism ranges from concepts included in theology and jurisprudence
to the addition of anti-nomian and latitudinarian doctrines…. (pp. 337-38)
The rich possibilities of the Islamic tradition are set before us – indeed,
the potential for there to be many “Islams.” In making sense of these possibilities,
he brings forward two particular worldviews: the “Sober Path”
and the “Intoxicated Way.” The former divides the world into “Muslim”
and “non-Muslim” and has its distinctive forms of hospitality and hostility
to the resources it finds in any locality. The latter also contains a range of
approaches, some intersecting with the sober path and others leading on to
antinomian or latitudinarian ground. What is crucial, he insists, is that all
remain equally valid expressions of doctrinal Islam, provided that no value
judgment is made about what is orthodox Islam ...

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