Teena U. PurohitApr 28, 2023
Sunni Chauvinism and the Roots of Muslim Modernism
Princeton University Press 2023
Teena Purohit’s new book Sunni Chauvinism and the Roots of Muslim Modernism (Princeton University Press, 2023) maps how various Muslim modernists from the 19th to the 20th centuries used their Sunni normativity to construct social and political boundaries around conceptions of tawhid or Islamic unity. The book distinctively focuses on how Muslim modernists such as canonical figures like Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad ‘Abduh, Rashid Rida and many others, focused on communities such as Shi‘as, Ismailis, Ahmadis, and Bahai’s in their activist and intellectual projects that aspired for a singular unified Islam against encroaching western modernity.
For Muslim modernists who were anxious to reclaim a “lost unity” of Islam that existed in the past and believed could be achieved again in the future (though lacking in their time), non-Sunni groups, like Ahmadis for Muhammad Iqbal or esoteric groups for Rashid Rida, became communities that received disparaging attention and intolerant attitudes that led to a particular Sunni chauvinism, Purohit argues. And as such, this obsession with unity (tawhid) and the privileging of Sunnism that went with it was found in all forms of Muslim modernism. This book then invites a rethinking of our conceptualization of Muslim modernism in light of these thinkers approaches to esoteric (i.e., Sufi) and Shi‘a groups who were viewed as problematic for the social and political goal of tawhid. This accessible book will be of interest to those who think and write on Muslim modernism and non-Sunni movements in Islam. It will also be a great teaching resource for undergraduate and graduate classes.
Shobhana Xavier is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Queen’s University. More details about her research and scholarship may be found here and here. She may be reached at email@example.com. You can follow her on Twitter via @shobhanaxavier.