Monday, 15 July, 2024, Reg No- 06
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Perilous Intimacies

Reviewed by Maaz Bin Bilal

Published : Saturday, 6 July, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 585

Perilous Intimacies

Perilous Intimacies

There is little of the lived experience of Hindu and Muslim theologies, or even the political realities of their friendship…

SherAli Tareens new book Perilous Intimacies is a work of deep scholarship on the debates around the possibilities of Hindu-Muslim friendship. However, the framing of the book and its arguments appear to be stilted, its sample studies are greatly limited, and there is a sleight of hand executed in its title and endorsements by the author/editors/publisher that needs to be highlighted to concede the limits and flaws of the book. The subtitle of the book Debating Hindu-Muslim Friendship After Empire is the main culprit and source of (intentional?) ambiguity and confusion that led to a sense of betrayal of expectations for this reader.

At first appearance, the subtitle of the book seems to suggest that this may be a book that would investigate a comprehensive and diverse set of debates and opinions coming from different stakeholders. This impression is added to by one of the key endorsements by the esteemed professor Talal Asad, renowned scholar of the anthropology of secularism, religion and particularly Islam, who claims Tareens book is a learned and thought-provoking contribution to the question of whether there can be a friendship between Hindu and Muslim communities in South Asia.

In complete contrast, Tareen opens his book by stating his book explores the question of how South Asian Muslim scholars, especially traditionally educated Muslim scholars known as the ulama, imagined and contested the boundaries of Islam from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. It examines critical intra-Muslim debates over the limits of Hindu-Muslim relations and friendship. This stated aim should have resulted in the attachment of Muslims at the beginning of the subtitle of the book, since it only examines Muslims debating friendships.

A lacuna
This sample itself continues to baffle, as it has a major lacuna in excluding all Shia ulama or scholars and their theological views as well as the strong political ties Shias have had in South Asia with other religious communities across the political spectrum. Moreover, the very fact that Tareens protagonists whose debates he gives us are limited to clerics elides the fact and so contravenes Asads stated endorsement of this book in that it does not actually examine the real possibility of Hindu-Muslim friendship in India but only its limited scholarly debates. Lived Islam (or Hinduism) cannot be ignored in the practice of friendship. For example, just before his lynching on accusations of consuming beef, the Muslim, Mohammad Akhlaq, called his childhood Hindu friend Manoj Sisodia to save his life when he was attacked by a mob, and Sisodia did his best to call the police and bring them to the site of the attack. Neither Akhlaq nor Sisodia would have consulted any ulama before these practical and ontological acts of friendship towards each other. Similarly, few lived friendships are performed or contested simply by scripture.

Rifts within
Tareen later adds and admits: he ultimate objective of this book is to showcase and detail the depth and complexity as well as the fissures and contestations of Muslim scholarly traditions in South Asia. One wonders why only the case study of the book makes it to the title and not the actual motive. Many of the chapters simply work with readings of Muslim writers on their views of Hinduism, and actual chapters engaging with friendship are few. The books analysis of Muslim ulamas self-fashioning since colonial intervention as Muslim through an excessive stress on the place of Islamic ritual to compensate their loss of political sovereignty may well be correct.

Yet, this makes the books objective one to understand Muslim self-conception largely from the Sunni clerical perspective, alongside the views of Maulana Azad (politician), Mirza Jan-i-Janan (Sufi), and Sir Sayyid (Westernised-reformist), eliding both Shia and other less-privileged lived-Islam views which make the bulk of South Asian Muslims. There is no examination of the lived experience, comprehensive Hindu and Muslim theologies, or even the political realities of friendship between Hindus and Muslims from a truly representative set of positions.

Courtesy: THE HINDU

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