ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Voices and Choices of Muslim Women

Scholars of Faith: South Asian Muslim Women and the Embodiment of Religious Knowledge by Usha Sanyal, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2020; pp xvi + 394, `1,496 (hardcover).

Reeling in an ambience of burgeo­n­ing global Islamophobia and the raging controversy over the “hijab” (veil), Usha Sanyal’s, Scholars of Faith: South Asian Muslim Women and the Embo­diment of Religious Knowledge underscores a silver lining. Generally, two discourses about Muslims have a predominating influence on the imagination of people across the globe. One strand of literature conjures up images of “Islamic” fundamentalism and terro­rism, while the other is intrigued by its abysmally low socio-economic development; the yardstick of both being Muslim men. In the aftermath of the grim exposes of the Sachar Committee report, Sanyal posits that in spite of the absence of corroborative data on all counts, one may safely assume that there has been a national upsurge in Muslim girls’ education in India, both secular and religious, as purported by several stu­dies. “Why are South Asian Muslim girls and women seeking opportunities to ­acquire religious learning today?” she inquires. The book reflects upon the inc­reased access of Muslim girls and women to religious education and the purposes sought by them to which they could put this learning.

The study hones its thrust upon ethnographic fieldwork in two institutions of religious learning, namely the Jami’a Nur madrasa in Shahjahanpur, North ­India and Al-Huda International Welfare Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that offers online courses on Islam, especially the Qur’an and the shari’ah. Sanyal argues that Islamic religious education, today, is thoroughly “modern” and it is this modernity that is reflected in old and new interpretations of Islamic texts, which allows young South Asian Muslim women to evaluate and redefine their place in traditional structures of patriarchal authority in the public and private spheres in novel ways. The “obj­ectification” and “functionalisation” of Islam is a legacy of the colonial government that was bequeathed to posterity as a coherent system of secular mass edu­­­ca­tion. Both the madrasa and the institution (Al-Huda) are representative of this legacy in their own private capa­cities. These are often inferred as an ­outcome of reformist trends in South Asia in the 18th century and symptom­atic of “rationalisation of religious belief and practice.”

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Updated On : 1st Aug, 2022
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