The Shi‘a in Modern South Asia Religion, History, and Politics By Justin Jones and Ali Usman Qasmi, eds. (Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 212 pages.)

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Philipp Bruckmayr

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Abstract

The volume at hand brings together recent advances in and new avenues for
the study of both Ithna ‘Ashari and Isma‘ili Shi‘ism in South Asia. As Francis
Robinson notes in his introduction, the region’s roughly 60 million Shi‘as
were grossly neglected in scholarship until the mid-1980s. Since then, and
particularly from the turn of the twenty-first century onward, the situation has
changed significantly. Indeed, some of the most interesting and promising recent
studies of various historical and contemporary aspects of Shi‘ism in general
have focused on those very communities. Justin Jones, one of the spearheads
of this development, has acted as co-editor of this important collection
of eight thematically highly diverse essays.
After Robinson’s overview of the field’s existing literature and the volume’s
contents, Sajjad Rizvi tackles a major desideratum in the study of Indian
Shi‘i scholarly history by closely examining the life and works of Sayyid Dildar
Ali Nasirabadi (d. 1820). A major scholar of his day, as well as the founder
of a scholarly dynasty and an instrumental figure in establishing the Usuli tradition
in the Shi‘i state of Awadh, his figure and works have, surprisingly, only
received attention in the context of Dildar Alis’s polemics against Shah Abd
al-Aziz of Delhi (d. 1823) and his critique of Shi‘ism. Reviewing Ali’s severely
contested but lastingly influential intellectual attack on Akhbarism, Sufism,
Sunnism, and philosophy, all expressed in the context of rising Shi‘i
power in late eighteenth-century Awadh, Rizvi aptly highlights the importance
of seriously considering major developments in the late pre-colonial period
in order to more fully understand the actual and supposed transformations that
South Asian Shi‘ism underwent during and beyond colonial rule. Needless to
say, this also holds true for the study of other Muslim communities of the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries ...

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