The Language of Secular Islam
Urdu Nationalism and Colonial India
University of Hawaii Press 2013
In her brilliant new book, The Language of Secular Islam: Urdu Nationalism and Colonial India (University of Hawaii Press, 2013),Kavita Datla, Associate Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College, explores the interaction of language, nationalism, and secularism by focusing on the religious and social imaginaries of important twentieth century Muslim scholars from the state of Hyderabad, especially those associated with the institution of Osmania University. How were Urdu and Arabic mobilized for projects of nationalism by the pioneers of Osmania University, and in what ways can a history of such intellectual and social projects complicate the religion/secular binary? This is among the central questions that anchor the conceptual stakes of this important book. By effortlessly weaving together a close reading of previously unexplored primary texts with nuanced historiographical analysis of the colonial context, Datla presents an intellectually rich and exciting examination of modern Indian Muslim understandings of and engagements with the question of nationalism. In our conversation, we talked about the problem of the religion/secular binary, Hyderabad and Osmania University, the role of language in the construction of religious and national identity, translation and nationalism, and Urdu’s relationship in colonial India with other languages. This book will be of great interest and benefit to scholars and students of modern Islam, nationalism, South Asia, and Muslim education.