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This book reflects upon the political philosophy of Muhammad Iqbal, a towering intellectual figure in South Asian history, revered by many for his poetry and his thought. He lived in India in the twilight years of the British Empire and, apart from a short but significant period studying in the West, he remained in Punjab until his death in 1938. The book studies Iqbal's critique of nationalist ideology and his attempts to chart a path for the development of the 'nation' by liberating it from the centralizing and homogenizing tendencies of the modern state structure. Iqbal frequently clashed with his contemporaries over his view of nationalism as 'the greatest enemy of Islam'. He constructed his own particular interpretation of Islam - forged through an interaction with Muslim thinkers and Western intellectual traditions - that was ahead of its time, and since his death both modernists and Islamists have continued to champion his legacy.
On 13 July 1925, over two thousand people gathered at the Victoria Memorial Hall in Singapore to protest against the influx of Ahmadiyya influences into Malaya. The protestors asserted that under no circumstances should Muslims possess any books published by the Ahmadiyya, and called on the government to enforce a ban on the admission of Ahmadiyya literature into Malaya. The Ahmadiyya responded to this call for the curtailment of their publications by arguing that the protestors had failed to realize the important role played by their publications in propagating the message of “true” Islam to the far corners of the world. Indeed, the Ahmadiyya were among the earliest Muslim groups to realize the utility of print media both to respond to criticisms levelled against Islam, and to transmit Islam globally. It was in the light of this that H.A.R. Gibb in his 1932 survey of modern Muslim movements credited the development of the modern Muslim apologetic to this group. Apart from winning adherents to their association (jama‘at), their effective use of the print media enabled the Ahmadiyya to play an important role in shaping modern Muslim thought in early twentieth-century Southeast Asia. Their tracts, journals, and books proved to be important models for a host of modern publications by Islamic organizations such as the Muhamadiyyah and Sarekat Islam.
This chapter examines the centrality of publishing to the emergence of the Ahmadiyya movement and its expansion beyond South Asia, particularly to Southeast Asia. More broadly, it seeks to provide insights into the impact of print technology on religious life, as well as to the transmission of Islamic concepts and the development of new Muslim organizations. In contrast to Benedict Anderson's assertion that the rise of print ushered in a shift in literary and mass consciousness from a religiously based culture to secularized discourses, the proliferation of religious journals and tracts during the period studied in this chapter clearly demonstrates the ability of religious communities to adopt modern communications technologies. These technological changes, however, did usher in wide-ranging changes in religious discourse and conceptions of authority.
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