Islam, modernity, and educated Muslims : a history of qasbahs in colonial India

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2008-08
Authors
Rahman, M. Raisur
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Abstract

Qasbahs have remained outside academic purview and been neglected, despite an acknowledgement of their importance by scholars of South Asia. Loosely translated as small towns or large villages, qasbahs in South Asia form an interesting area to study in order to understand socio-cultural aspects of South Asian Muslim life and modernity. As official British sources unanimously suggest, qasbahs were important historically for their role in revenue collection. But that is definitely not their sole claim to significance for no one can deny the role that people from the qasbahs, particularly the ones in North India, have played in social, literary, and intellectual life. Crediting qasbahs and their inhabitants for their role in history and making a case for qasbah studies, this dissertation advances the argument that qasbahs were important intellectual centers. Combining the close-knit and warm social structure of villages and the intense intellectual activity of cities, they distinguished themselves from both village and city. Inhabited mostly by Muslims, qasbahs were not only the inheritors of an intellectual culture but were also equally instrumental in carrying that tradition forward through an unmatched level of literary production. The various genres of literature that they produced, mostly in Urdu, can greatly enhance our understanding of the fascinating history of a less known area. This dissertation also argues that since Muslims have been living in the qasbahs since the eleventh century, their long history of cross cultural encounters make qasbahs an exemplary site to understand modernity. Their encounter with the West was just another encounter for them, and, hence, their modernity was rich in experience and highly interactive in nature. As an underlying argument, this dissertation suggests that qasbahs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century filled up the cultural vacuum created by the collapse of regional states in much the same way that regional states had become cultural centers upon the demise of the Mughal Empire in Delhi.

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