Tag Archives: History

Book: Interpreting the Sindhi World: Essays on Culture and History

Michel Boivin & Matthew A. Cook (Ed.), Interpreting the Sindhi World: Essays on Culture and History, Karachi, Oxford University Press, 2010.

The book edited by Michel Boivin (CNRS, Paris) and Matthew Cook (North Carolina Central University) provides an array of papers dealing with society and history. The topics are thus varied. Some of them are devoted to Pakistan, others to India and also to the Sindhi diaspora. One of the main effects of the book is to show that Sindhi studies are growing all over the world, since the authors belong to a world wide diversity of academic institutions. Among the most innovative papers, one has to mention Lata Parwani’s study of Jhule Lal. She “deconstructs” the myths of Jhule Lal, a regional Hindu god who was made the community God of the Hindu Sindhis of India. It played a leading role in the construction of a Sindhi Hindu identity in India. Paulo L. Horta highlights how Sindh was a salient experience in Richard Burton’s formation in Orientalism. He was nevertheless highly embedded in the British colonial agenda in asserting poetry as the expositor of the Sindhis.

Book: A Modern History of the Ismailis

Farhad Daftary (Ed.), A Modern History of the Ismailis. Continuity and Change in a Muslim Community, London New York, I. B. Tauris Publishers in association with The Institute of the Ismaili Studies, 2011.

The book edited by the well-known scholar Farhad Datary, the co-director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, is a welcome one. It is indeed the first synthesis proposing academic papers on a number of Ismaili traditions in the Modern period. The 400 pages book is divided into four parts: Nizari Ismailis in Syria, Central Asia and China; Nizari Ismaili in South Asia and East Africa; Nizari Ismaili in Contemporary policies, institutions and perspectives; and Tayyibi Mustalian Ismailis. FD coins the volume as a “modest first attempt at piecing together a history of the Ismailis during approximately the last two centuries”. According to him, the Modern period was distinguished by two main features implemented by the Ismaili imams, better known as Agha Khans. First is the construction of a “distinctive Ismaili identity” and second a focus on reform and modernization (pp. 12-13). Interestingly, the book highlights the diversity of the Ismailis in terms of cultural area, although the majority of the papers are devoted to the Khojas, the South Asia Ismailis. Last but not least, the book ends with three papers on the Tayyibi Ismailis, authored by Bohra scholars belonging to the other South Asia Ismaili community who does not acknowledge the Agha Khan as their spiritual head.

Michel Boivin

MA dissertation: Hurs and the Historiography of Sindh

Abdul Haque Chang, The Issue of Hur: Representation in the Historiography of Sindh, MA thesis in Cultural Anthropology, University of Texas, Austin, 2010.

“This thesis aimed at understanding how certain narratives about the Hurs of Sindh generated by British colonial administers have become dominant tropes of the Hur identity and representation. However, the present study sought to question established assumptions and argue that the British construction of Hur identity has also been accepted uncritically by Sindhi historians, writers, nationalist as well as scholars trained in western academic discourses. Two novel are presented here – one by H. T Lambrick The Terrorist (1972) and another by Muhammad Usman Deplai, Sanghar (1963) – in order to show how both authors have articulated the Hur identity in a particular way and how these writings became later standard texts to write fictional and non-fictional narratives of the Hurs. The thesis also argues that some trends that have emerged recently to salvage the Hur history and re-write it from a Sindhi nationalist perspective, should also be subjected to critical questioning. Different genres of writing are discussed here to show that within Sindh different scholars and literary traditions exist, that are embedded in modernism, nationalism, and the Marxist tradition, and take different positions on modernity, development and social change. The thesis is concluded with the argument that the issue of Hur representation needs to be studied within the broader perspective of representation and history of Sindh, by bringing in oral narratives, public memory, Subaltern Hur voice and by critically examining dominant and alternative Hur narratives.”

Book review: Objects of translation by Finbarr Barry Flood

Finbarr Barry Flood, Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval « Hindu-Muslim » Encounter, Princeton-Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2009, 366 p.

Flood’s Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval « Hindu-Muslim » Encounter is according to me, that is to say according to a young historian of pre-modern South Asia and ‘Islamic’ cultures, the book one has to read if interested in the history (that is to say possible comprehension of) and more particularly in the genesis of the Indo-Muslim worlds and cultures, and beyond, if interested in trans-cultural processes, forms, perception, and reflection about them.

The book, which is composed of six thematic chapters dealing both with commercial and political (notably through looting and gifting) trans-cultural contacts through artefacts, coins, dress, paintings, inscriptions, and architectural structures, or literary translations, is an invaluable contribution to Indo-Islamic studies, which widely breaks away from the still traditional division between “Islamic” and “Indianist” or “Indic” fields. The material it considers, presents and analyses, – including pre-Islamic, Ghaznavid and Ghurid Afghanistan –, is extremely vast and rich, and it thus offers a unique and complete synthesis about the first Indo-Islamic artistic productions and their historical significance, from the beginning of the eighth to the early thirteenth centuries.

Flood’s recent work in general has largely participated in the making of a “new” history and new forms of history regarding pre-modern South Asia, giving material culture and complex perception and understanding a more important place. This book is both a broadening and deepening of this approach and reasoning. One can find here for example his study of Ghurid monuments in the Indus Valley, displaying an important Indo-Islamic composition both in their forms and patterns. But it also constitutes, as the author himself declares he is “forging a dialogue between those interested in the relationships between precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial history and historiography”, an important theoretical and reflexive (or epistemological) contribution by knowingly reflecting and using contemporary theories. Rejecting, and arguing against the Manichean and teleological views of history that have been flourishing in Indian historiography under colonial and nationalist banners, the static and narrow conception of pre-modern Ages, and the monolithic perceptions of religions, cultures, and identities, it first recalls the vast mobility and fluidity that existed during the period (Roots or Routes? in the introduction), – which is again highly displayed through the different material productions analysed in the book –, and ends (Conclusion: In and Out of Place) by calling new ways of negotiating the present challenges, notably regarding transregional cultural flows, contingent cosmopolitanisms, subaltern diasporas, and trans-cultural elites, i.e. globalization, or one may say, identities on multiple scales.

Johanna Blayac (EPHE/MIFS, Paris)

Other publications

Piety and Politics in the Early Indian Mosque, Edited volume in the Debates in Indian History and Society series, Oxford University Press India, 2008.

“From the Prophet to Postmodernism? New World Orders and the End of Islamic Art”, In Elizabeth Mansfield, ed., Making Art History: A Changing Discipline and its Institutions, Routledge, 2007.

“Signs of Violence: Colonial Ethnographies and Indo-Islamic Monuments.” in ‘Art and Terror’, a special issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, 5.2, 2004.

The Great Mosque of Damascus: Studies on the Makings of an Umayyad Visual Culture, Brill, 2000.

“Ghurid Architecture in the Indus Valley: the Tomb of Shaykh Sadan Shahid,” Ars Orientalis, 36, 2001, 129-166.

PhD thesis: Indo-Islamic Societies through Arabic and Persian inscriptions

Johanna Blayac, Genesis and history of the first Indo-Muslim and Indo-Islamic Societies through Arabic and Persian inscriptions (7th-14th centuries), PhD thesis in History, EPHE, Paris, 16 December 2009.

“Islamic inscriptions of the Indian subcontinent, that were collected and published since the end of the 18th century, have not been studied with a global problematic until now. The first two-hundred and ninety-six Arabic and Persian known inscriptions from the region (7th-14th centuries) are put together here, – listed, (re)edited, and analysed, to study the formation and history of the first Indo-Muslim and Indo-Islamic societies, through the multiple aspects of epigraphic sources, both textual or philological and material. This thesis thus begins by showing the various political, social and economic processes operating during the different phases of Muslim and Islamic penetration and implantation in the different regions of the Indian subcontinent through the chrono-geographic  distribution of the inscriptions. It subsequently studies, by region and then by dynasty during the Delhi sultanate period, the composition and the representations of the Indo-Muslim elites, merchants, religious men, statesmen and soldiers, from the very texts of the inscriptions and the names and duties they provide. At last, it considers the first regional architectural remains, greatly composite, and the epigraphic programmes of the main monuments ordered by the sultans of Delhi, as “architectural” discourses, and thus reflects of the articulations and “tension” between the Islamic phraseology and the social, political and religious contexts.”

Keywords: Medieval India, Islamic epigraphy/inscriptions, Islamic conquest, Muslim settlement, Delhi sultanate, Indian Ocean, Sind, Gujarat, Kerala, Indo-Islamic societies, composite cultures.

 

Book: Piety and Politics in the Early Indian Mosque

Finbarr Barry Flood (ed) (2008) Piety and Politics in the Early Indian Mosque. New Delhi, Oxford University Press.

This book is a reader that will be of great interest not only for scholars but also for teachers and students. It brings together the different historical approaches of mosques contructed after North-West India came under control of the Ghurid sultanate originating from Afghanistan in the 1190s. In his long introduction, the author wonderfully articulates the multiple contexts through which the earliest mosques in South Asia were constructed. All this to better understand how different historical approaches and discourses around the category of mosques have been shaped over time. It is not surprising then that this book found a place in the OUP series entitled “Debates in Indian History and Society.

Rémy Delage

More infos

http://www.oup.com

Book launch in Karachi, AFK, 15 October 2008

 

On the occasion of the visit of MIFS members to Pakistan, the French Alliance of Karachi (AFK) hosted an evening with Michel Boivin who presented his new edited book:

Michel Boivin (ed) Sindh though History and Representations. French Contributions to Sindhi Studies. Karachi, OUP, 2008.

The AFK, the MIFS and OUP co-organised on that occasion the second seminar conference on the cultural and historical legacy of Sindh and Pakistan:

Dr Michel Boivin, CNRS (Paris)
Introduction to the book “Sindh Through History and Representations”

Dr Rémy Delage, CNRS (Paris)
Sehwan and Sindh through the maps

Dr Michel Boivin, CNRS (Paris)
Managing the sources for writing Lal’ Shahbâz Qalandar’s biography

Sohail Bawani, Karachi University
Ethnographic Reflections on the performance of the dhammâl at the shrine of La’l Shahbâz
Qalandar

Ameena Sayyid at the gathering

Special Guests

Ameena Sayyid, Managing Director of OUP

Dr. Fateh M. Burfat, Head of Department of Sociology, University of Karachi