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Book Review: Kamran Shahid Ansari’s ‘Emergence of the Islamic State and its impact on the Muslim Organisations in India’

By Fahad Hashmi

Title: Emergence of the Islamic State and its impact on the Muslim Organisations in India
Author: Kamran Shahid Ansari
Publisher: Knowledge World Publishers Pvt Ltd., 2018.

Kamran Shahid Ansari’s Emergence of the Islamic State and its Impact on the Muslim Organizations in India seeks to understand – as the title suggests – the impact of ISIS on the Muslim organisations in India. It’s interesting to note that the author holds an MPhil in International Studies from a Centre of the New Delhi-based Jamia Milllia Islamia that is named after Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar (MMAJ), one of the chief architects of the Khilafat Movement. Jauhar was also one of the founders of the university and its first vice-chancellor.

The book contains four chapters, along with an introduction and a conclusion. Ansari has chosen four Indian Muslim organisations viz. Darul Uloom of Deoband, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, and Tablighi Jamaat, and discusses their ideological orientations before and after India’s Independence. The author concludes that all these organisations have condemned and critiqued the ideology of the IS. However, while discussing the impact of the IS on Indian Muslim youths, he writes:

The exact number of the youths who have joined the IS is disputed, yet the figure is close to 18 in total. Besides, 22 Indian nationals have been prevented from leaving the country to join the IS and another 80 were being monitored till the last year (p. 65).

At a different place, Ansari observers:

Though only time will reveal the extent of the revival of the idea of a caliphate among the Muslims, if one goes by the pattern and the stark dichotomy of ideas in the past and the present, and the power of social media, it seems that it will take an upward trend in the future (p. 105, emphasis added).

The author, however, does not elaborate on patterns, stark dichotomy, and upward trend. And thus leaves us disappointed. He is supposed to substantiate his serious charges. I earnestly hope that the author knows it well that academic pursuit gives us little scope for conjectures and for imagining things. To put the record straight, Rajnath Singh, who is the union home minister in the federal government led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, has said: ‘India is the second largest country as far as Muslim population in the world is concerned. I can say with full responsibility that despite such a large population (of Muslims), the ISIS has not been able to set foot.’

Here I am tempted to quote a couplet of Poet Iqbal, lamenting the fall of Khilafat-e Usmania:

Chak kar di Turk-e-nadan ne Khilafat ki Qaba
Sadgi Muslim ki dekh, auron ki ayyari bhi dekh

One of the flaws of this book is that it does not talk about auron ki ayyari (lit. canniness of others). While the fact is one cannot understand the contemporary South Asia without taking into account the impact of two hundred years of colonialism and its political manoeuvring.

We all know that the notion of Khilafat is not used by Islamists in India. ‘Islamic state’ is the preferred phrase. Ansari doesn’t bother to take into account the most recent works that have tried to comprehend Islamism in the Indian context. Two important arguments that have appeared over a couple of years, despite their limitations, talk about Islamism’s transformation as well as its limits. It would be naïve and ridiculous to compare the Caliphate to the projection of the IS of its mission as caliphate.

Ansari emphasises the notion of ummah (Muslim religious community) and its importance. There is no denying that on an abstract level the idea has been there. However, throughout Islamic history, there has never been such a thing as ummah, or a unified Muslim political or religious set-up that could control Muslims’ affairs across the world. A quick once-over of Islamic history will convince you that the idea of ummah is a farce. Otherwise, how will one explain, for instance, the assassination of Osman and Ali, two out of the four rightly guided caliphs, or for that matter the battle of camel? One fails to understand when one recalls the massacre and bloodshed that went into the making of political feud between Umayyads and Abbasids, or the battle at Karbala, or more recently the dissection of Bangladesh (East Pakistan) from West Pakistan in 1971. The idea of ummah entails only the faith community, not a geo-political unity. This notion, or the idea of ‘Muslim world’ emerged and gained currency only when the European Colonialism began to make inroads into the non-European world, triggering racialisation of Muslim-ness and the subsequent political resistance to this racialised identity.

What one finds lacking in this book is that it does not take into account the transformation of the bi-polar world into a unipolar one, paving the way for the rise of a new hegemon, the USA, and its ramifications across the world. The book talks about the emergence of Taliban and other such groups, yet it lets America off the hook. It does not mention the role of America in the creation of ‘militant’ groups in many Muslim countries! It reminds me of Ronald Reagan once lordly declaring Mujahideen the ‘moral equivalents’ of America’s Founding Fathers. And, historically, these mujahideen were recruited and trained by the CIA to fight in the anti-USSR ‘jihad’ on behalf of the USA.

Besides using Wikipedia contents, the book borrows from Orientalist scholars like Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipe, and Gilles Kepel. The author has also quoted some Indian journalists including Praveen Swami. The ideological orientation of these scholars and journalists is an open secret. In the end, the book turns out to be contradicting its own arguments.

Emergence of the Islamic State and its Impact on the Muslim Organizations in India is available here.

Fahad Hashmi is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi.


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