Monsoon Islam: Trade and Faith on the Medieval Malabar Coast
(Cambridge University Press, 2019) by Sebastian Prange
provides a fascinating window into the Muslim world of the medieval (12-16th century) Malabar Coast and the development of Islam that was defined by significant trade networks. Prange conceptualizes this particular development of Muslim communities on the Malabar Coast as Monsoon Islam. Subverting any notions that Islam developed systematically or through organized political efforts, the book uses the history of the pepper trade across the Indian Ocean to map spatial developments, such as of mosques and ports, and the early Muslim trading communities who inhabited these realms. We have before us a global history of Monsoon Islam that utilizes trade networks to capture far more complex cross-cultural exchanges that included kinship, religious, textual, Sufi, and political networks. The latter dynamics led to instances of negotiated establishment of legal and religious codes, as well as familial and economic ties. For instance, the book highlights how legal norms or religious practices became localized and translated to a new context by minority Muslims within a predominately Hindu society, such as in mosque architecture or marriage practices. Prange’s detailed study asks us to think of both global and local processes that led to the formation of a cosmopolitan and transoceanic Monsoon Islam and thus complicates how we study the spread of Islam across diverse regions in South Asia, and the vital role of traders, scholars, and saints. The study’s deep engagement with diverse historical sources, and its beautifully written analysis, makes it an accessible and critical read for scholars interested in the world of Islam in the Indian Ocean and South Asia, as well as Islamic economics, politics, and history broadly.