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Censorship, Urdu literature, Islam, and progressive secular nationalisms in colonial India and Pakistan have a complex, intertwined history. Sarah Waheed offers a timely examination of the role of progressive Muslim intellectuals in the Pakistan movement. She delves into how these left-leaning intellectuals drew from long-standing literary traditions of Islam in a period of great duress and upheaval, complicating our understanding of the relationship between religion and secularism. Rather than seeing 'religion' and 'the secular' as distinct and oppositional phenomena, this book demonstrates how these concepts themselves were historically produced in South Asia and were deeply interconnected in the cultural politics of the left. Through a detailed analysis of trials for blasphemy, obscenity, and sedition, and feminist writers, Waheed argues that Muslim intellectuals engaged with socialism and communism through their distinctive ethical and cultural past. In so doing, she provides a fresh perspective on the creation of Pakistan and South Asian modernity.


'Waheed innovatively uses the court battles of the Urdu progressive writers, across the partition divide, to reorient historical interpretations of the role of the left in conceptualizing the creation of Pakistan. She shows compellingly how the influence of these writers – and the controversies they engendered – was shaped by their deep engagement with Indo-Persian ethics, as much as by leftist internationalism.'

David Gilmartin - North Carolina State University

'Incisive and capacious, Hidden Histories of Pakistan, offers an extraordinarily timely new take on the Urdu-phone, left leaning Progressive Writers Association, opening with Angare (1930s) and stretching to the feminist Pakistani poet Fahmida Riaz (2000s). Densely historical, it is replete with fresh archival material, rejiggered political and social contexts and confluences and breaking points. Richly theoretical, the book summons ethics – the lineages of Islamic ethical resonances and references that shape political poetics – to slice right through the heart of the manicheanisms, such as religious versus secular, modern against traditional, which have hamstrung so many earlier accounts. Taking on the literature on censorship to speak to the registers of what is seen, what is permissible rather than merely what has been eschewed, Sarah Waheed’s monograph, is a must read at this moment when Progressive poetry is being recuperated to herald revolutionary futures in South Asia and elsewhere, unattended by a sufficiently robust analytic of left political lyricism.'

Geeta Patel - University of Virginia

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