The blog “Law and Other Things” recently featured a book review of Governing Islam: Law, Empire and Secularism in South Asia (2018), written by Jeffrey Redding. The book, authored by Julia Stephens, explores the colonial underpinnings of contemporary struggles between Islam and secularism in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Here is an excerpt of the book review:
Stephens’ intent in this book is to weave together the secular and the Islamic, rather than to repeat common “pattern[s] of opposing Islam and secularism” (p. 3). However, in this book, Stephens also aims to suture two different narratives of secularism itself. The first narrative is a ‘top-down’ and patriarchal one, represented by both the colonial and post-colonial South Asian state, each of which has aimed to put women ‘in their proper place.’ Here, then, this book’s concluding image of Dhaka’s shifty Lady Justice is relevant and remarkable. The second narrative is a more ‘bottom-up’ one where secularism’s Others—most notably, Muslims, and Muslim women in particular—occupy and shift the logics of colonial secularism in often deeply subversive ways. The book’s opening image of Delhi’s musaawaat musammaat is apropos in this respect.