The towering Indian Muslim poet and intellectual Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938) is among the most contested figures in the intellectual and political history of...

The towering Indian Muslim poet and intellectual Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938) is among the most contested figures in the intellectual and political history of modern Islam. Heralded by some as the father of Pakistan and by others as a champion of pan-Islam, Iqbal’s legacy is as keenly debated as it is celebrated and appropriated. In his fascinating new book The Political Philosophy of Muhammad Iqbal: Islam and Nationalism in Late Colonial India (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Iqbal Sevea, Assistant Professor of history at UNC-Chapel Hill, explores Iqbal’s political and religious thought in a remarkably nuanced and dazzling fashion. Bringing into question the tendency to approach Iqbal through the prism of constraining categories like nationalist, modernist, and pan-Islamic, Sevea convincingly shows that the dynamism of Iqbal’s thought lay precisely in how he traversed multiple intellectual and ideological registers. Iqbal’s view of the nation did not correspond to the modern notion of nationalism, Sevea argues. Through a carefully historicized and conceptually invigorating analysis of a range of Iqbal’s writings, Sevea brings into view the palimpsest of discursive reservoirs that animated Iqbal’s thought as an intellectual and as a poet. Sevea brilliantly examines and displays the complexity of Iqbal’s project of comprehensively reimagining Islam in the conditions of colonial modernity, one that contrapuntally engaged Western philosophical traditions and the canon of Muslim intellectual traditions. Carefully researched and wonderfully written, this book will be of much interest to scholars and students of Islam, South Asia, politics, and colonialism. In our conversation we talked about the problem of nationalist historiographies in the study of Iqbal and South Asian Islam, intra-Muslim debates on the interaction of religion and nationalism in colonial India, Iqbal’s agonistic relationship with modernism, his understanding of Islam and nationalism, and the political stakes of this book.

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