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Umma and the Dilemma of Muslim Belonging in Modern South Asia

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The Islamic belief in the universal identity of Muslims, as primarily a religious one, is related to the Islamic faith in the homogenous concept of the umma (international or global community of Muslim believers). However, the empirical reality is that the Muslim umma is fragmented and heterogeneous not only in terms of distinct theological sects like Sunnis and Shias but also along with other variables like class, language, and gender. Therefore, the specific articulation of an imagined idea of the umma has to necessarily go through a process of political construction by the Islamists, which neutralizes the differences within the Muslim community, along caste, class, gender, and ethnolinguistic lines. In this regard, this paper will problematize the idea of umma by examining two sets of events in modern South Asia, the region with the largest concentration of Muslims in the world. Firstly, it will foreground the critique of nationalism by Maulana Sayyid Abul A'la Maududi towards both 'composite nationalism' of Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and the 'Muslim nationalism' of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, highlighting an intellectual debate that occurred in a post-Khilafat Muslim context. Secondly, this paper will locate the limitations of the idea of the umma within the emergence of the Bangladeshi nation-state in a post-colonial setting, on the basis of linguistic nationalism that questioned the unity and integrity of the imagined sense of the Muslim umma in modern South Asia. Finally, the paper will briefly highlight the fractured nature of the Muslim umma by pointing out the prominent categories of caste and language among the South Asian Muslims along with the deep divisions within the Muslim theological and political leadership in contemporary South Asia.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2017

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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