Sarah Fatima Waheed

Oct 7, 2022

Hidden Histories of Pakistan

Censorship, Literature, and Secular Nationalism in Late Colonial India

Cambridge University Press 2022

Censorship, Urdu literature, Islam, and progressive secular nationalisms in colonial India and Pakistan have a complex, intertwined history. Sarah Waheed, Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina, offers a timely examination of the role of progressive Muslim intellectuals in the Pakistan movement in her new book, Hidden Histories of Pakistan: Censorship, Literature, and Secular Nationalism in Late Colonial India (Cambridge University Press, 2022). She delves into how these left-leaning intellectuals drew from long-standing literary traditions of Islam in a period of great duress and upheaval, complicating our understanding of the relationship between religion and secularism. 

Rather than seeing 'religion' and 'the secular' as distinct and oppositional phenomena, this book demonstrates how these concepts themselves were historically produced in South Asia and were deeply interconnected in the cultural politics of the left. Through a detailed analysis of trials for blasphemy, obscenity, and sedition, and feminist writers, Waheed argues that Muslim intellectuals engaged with socialism and communism through their distinctive ethical and cultural past. In so doing, she provides a fresh perspective on the creation of Pakistan and South Asian modernity. In our conversation we discuss leftist Muslim ideals, Urdu literary network, deconstructing the religious/secular binary, the banning of the controversial “Burning Embers” collection, the renowned writer Saadat Hasan Manto, the politics of sexuality, South Asia’s colonial legacies, poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Islamic traditions of aesthetics and ethics, legal trials on obscenity and blasphemy, feminist poet Fahmida Riaz, the gender politics of progressive intellectual spaces, and notions of South Asian Muslim nationalism and communal identity.

Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at kpeterse@odu.edu.

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Kristian Petersen

Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at kpeterse@odu.edu.

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