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This essay examines the relationship between democratic politics and secularization in British India. Empirically, it focuses on the relationship between the controversial Ahmadiyya community and Muslim/Pakistani nationalism in colonial India and postcolonial Pakistan. It argues that the roots of anti-Ahmadiyya politics in Pakistan can be traced to historical specificities of institutionalization of mass democratic politics in British India. By pegging electoral politics to religious community, the British colonial state made questions about religious authenticity central to Muslim political life. This dynamic has continued to shape the political field in Pakistan, leading a broader trajectory of desecularization characterized by state-sanctioned exclusion of religious minorities from full citizenship.
The movement away from secularist practices and toward political Islam is a prominent trend across Muslim polities. Yet this shift remains under-theorized. Why do modern Muslim polities adopt policies that explicitly cater to religious sensibilities? How are these encoded in law and with what effects? Sadia Saeed addresses these questions through examining shifts in Pakistan's official state policies toward the rights of religious minorities, in particular the controversial Ahmadiyya community. Looking closely at the 'Ahmadi question', Saeed develops a framework for conceptualizing and explaining modern desecularization processes that emphasizes the critical role of nation-state formation, political majoritarianism, and struggles between 'secularist' and 'religious' ideologues in evolving political and legal fields. The book demonstrates that desecularization entails instituting new understandings of religion through processes and justifications that are quintessentially modern.