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Ismailism and Islam in Modern South Asia
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Book description

This book explores the evolution of a Shia Ismaili identity and crucial aspects of the historical forces that conditioned the development of the Muslim modern in late colonial South Asia. It traces the legal process that, since the 1860s, recast a Shia Imami identity for the Ismailis, and explicates the public career of Imam Aga Khan III amid heightened religious internationalism since the late-nineteenth century, the age of 'religious internationals'. It sheds light and elaborates on the enduring legacies of questions such as the Aga's understanding of colonial modernity, his ideas of India, restructured modalities of community governance and the evolution of Imamate-sponsored institutions, key strands in scholarship that characterized the development of the Muslim and Shia Ismaili modern, and Muslim universality vis-à-vis denominational particularities that often transcended the remits of the modular nation and state structure.


‘By far the most substantial and sophisticated study of the Ismailis in modern times, Mukherjee's book is at the same time a significant contribution to the study of South Asian forms of intellectual, cultural, religious and economic globalisation. By attaching these processes to the debates and institutions that came to define a small Indian community from the nineteenth century, he is able to ground them historically in such a way as to show how the most minor of groups may come to broach and develop in a distinctive fashion some of the major movements of our time.'

Faisal Devji - University of Oxford

‘This is a fascinating study of the emergence of a new identity of the Shia Ismailis under their versatile leader, Aga Khan III, in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. This sect had its centre in Mumbai but its members also settled in Africa. They are prosperous traders who pay one tenth of their income to the Aga Khan who is thus in a position to support schools and hospitals etc. which are of use to the Ismaili community. But the Agha Khan not only took care of the material needs of his community, he also was their chief mentor and defined their identity in a changing world. British colonial jurisdiction was of great importance in this sphere. Mukherjee has paid special attention to this aspect of the Aga Khan's work. He has also traced the international activities of this spiritual leader who was a cosmopolitan thinker and who tried to negotiate a position of his community both in the world of Islam and in a global context. In his political ideas, Aga Khan III differed from the Indian nationalists of his time and recommended the Swiss constitution as a suitable model for India in his book India in Transition published in 1916. Aga Khan III was a ‘pluralist' and Mukherjee explores this aspect of his thought in detail. His book is a valuable contribution to a ‘post-national' discourse.'

Dietmar Rothermund - Universität Heidelberg

‘Mukherjee traces the growth of the Nizari Ismaili community from its nineteenth-century centre in Bombay to the globalized community it has become today, with specific interests in serving society, focusing on human development, religious pluralism and sustainability. At the same time he sets out the specific role of Aga Khan III in leading the community in this direction. Among other things he sees the Ismailis as the forerunners of a global civil society, raising crucial issues along the way such as cosmopolitanism and religious authority. Sensitive to ideas in a wide range of fields, this is an important contribution to our understanding of modern Islam.'

Francis Robinson - Royal Holloway, University of London

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