Irfan Ahmad

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Liberal reading often posits Islamism as obverse of modernity and reason. Phil Briscoe's statement that Hitler's Mein Kampf might be kept in libraries but not the books by authors like Jamaat-e-Islami's founder's (Maududi) amply illustrates it. This article calls such an understanding into question. On the basis of my historical-ethnographic fieldwork on India's Jamaat-e-Islami and its offshoot, Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), I examine the interrelationships between Islamism and democracy showing Jamaat-e-Islami's moderation and SIMI's radicalization. It is my contention that Islamism and democracy are not antithetical to each other; they cohere in complex ways. When democracy is responsive to the traditions and aspirations of its Muslim citizens, Muslims relate to pluralism and democracy. But when democracy becomes majoritarian and a theater of entertainment and violence against Muslims, Islamists turn radical. I also suggest that radicalization such as SIMI's symbolizes a complex dynamic of democratization and demonopolization of religious authority. By foregrounding the salient transformation of Indian Islamism, this article aims to advance a nuanced, fresh understanding of both Islamism and democracy.


Institute for Religion, Politics, and Society

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Journal Article

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