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

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Understanding Islam and Its Influences

Essays on Islam and Indian History by Richard M Eaton, Oxford University Press, 2000, Delhi, Rs 595, pp x+275.

Given the size and historical role of the Muslim population in India, one would have expected to find considerable scholarly literature on them. Sadly, this is not the case. A sample survey of the writings over the last two decades or so suggests that much of it has emanated from western scholars based in western institutions and not their counterparts in south Asia. One is immediately reminded of scholars like Stephen Dale, David Gilmartin, David Lelyveld, Barbara Metcalf, Gail Minault, Francis Robinson, Ian Talbot and C W Troll. The neglect of our past, reflected in the steady decline of medieval Indian studies, is extremely disconcerting. Yet our colleges and universities can still take the lead in breaking the intellectual inertia. We need to familiarise our students with and place in perspective the histories of Islam in this country.

For well over three decades, Richard M Eaton, professor of History at the University of Arizona in Tuscon, USA, has explored the richness and variety of the Islamic experience in south Asia. As undergraduates, some of us read his seminal study on the Sufis of Bijapur. In 1993, he published The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760, focusing on the historical encounter between Islamic and Indian civilisations in Bengal. He concluded his book with the assertion that “what made Islam in Bengal not only historically successful but a continuing social vitality has been its capacity to adapt to the land and the culture of its people, even while transforming both”. It would be worth exploring if such a proposition holds true for other regions in south Asia, where Islam gained a foothold in the 13th or even the earlier centuries.

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