More information about the AAS South Asia Graduate Paper Prize can be found here:
‘Act in the Living Present’: The Anjuman-i Himayat-i Islam Lahore and the Quest for a Modern(ist) Islam
My paper explored how Islam was understood and debated by members of the Anjuman-i Himayat-i Islam (Society for the Defense of Islam), the largest and most well-known Muslim voluntary association of colonial north India. Established in 1884 in Lahore by traditionally-trained religious scholars, the AHI was soon taken over by members of the new colonial middle classes and turned into an outlet for their reformist energies. By establishing schools, colleges and orphanages, and actively using the printing press, the Anjuman created a platform for public debate and civic engagement dedicated to the spread of a “modernist” Islam. It also actively worked to reshape notions of Muslim identity and self-understanding, eventually contributing the formation of a Muslim community that saw itself as being “separate” and distinct from other religious communities at the time. My paper focused particularly on debates about Islamic piety, ritual practice, religious instruction and religiously inspired ethics within the Anjuman’s school system. To that end, I analysed hitherto untapped Urdu sources, including the Anjuman’s meeting minutes, monthly newsletters and annual reports, as well as speeches and writings by its members, vernacular newspaper reports, and written comments on the Anjuman’s work by outside observers. Ultimately, the paper attempted to deepen our understanding of Muslim religious thought in late colonial north India and examine those currents of modernist Islam which contributed to the emergence of a separate Muslim nation-state in the region.