SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Religious Reform in India: Personalities in the Ahl-i-Hadis and Ahl-i-Quran Movements

Professor Barbara Metcalf / Assistant Professor Ali Usman Qasmi

Date: 13 June 2014Time: 6:00 PM

Finishes: 13 June 2014Time: 8:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Room 116

Type of Event: Lecture

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Professor Barbara Metcalf and Assistant Professor Ali Usman Qasmi - Religious Reform in India: Personalities in the Ahl-i-Hadis and Ahl-i-Quran Movements

Barbara Metcalf

Learn more about Professor Barbara Metcalf


Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan: An Ahl-i-Hadith Imam on a Transnational Stage
Sayyid Siddiq Hasan (1832 – 1890) was an important figure in colonial-era Islamic reform in India who flourished during the 1870s and early 1880s.  Unlike the well-known Muslim intellectuals in India of the era, he was never employed in government service, nor, unlike them, did he know any English.  At the same time, his work was enabled by the infrastructure created by colonial rule. Thanks to print and advances in transportation and communication that mapped onto British imperial connections, he participated in networks marked by what might be called “colonial cosmopolitanism.” Dependent, moreover, on patronage from the Bhopal ruler, his influence was facilitated by the socio-political structure that enriched and  protected princes shored up to be a conservative bulwark to the Raj.  His interactions were not only India-wide, but also extended to Yemeni scholars, whose thought was central to the reformulations of intellectuals like the Egyptian Rashid Rida (1865 -1935), as well as to major figures in the Arabic nahda (the “awakening” or “renaissance”), notably the writer and publisher, Ahmad Faris Shidyaq (1804-87), based in Istanbul.  From the perspective of key colonial officials,  the only aspect of interest in relation to Siddiq Hasan’s activities was whether or not he was in any sense subversive or potentially seditious. Rather than focus on that concern, this talk focuses on Islamic reform as an arena of  intellectual achievement and moral action whose appeal in part derived from its being – at least for a time --  outside what was often  the supercilious colonial gaze.

Ali Usman Qasmi

Ali Usman Qasmi is Assistant Professor (History) at the School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law since January 2012. He received his PhD from the South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University in March 2009. Before joining LUMS, he was a Newton Fellow for Post Doctoral research at Royal Holloway College, University of London. He has published extensively in reputed academic journals such as Modern Asian Studies, The Muslim World and The Oxford Journal of Islamic Studies. He has recently published a monograph titled Questioning the Authority of the Past: The Ahl al-Qur’an Movements in the Punjab (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2011). Besides these, he has co-edited a volume on Muhammad Iqbal titled Revisioning Iqbal as a Poet and Muslim Political Thinker (Heidelberg: Draupadi, 2010; Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2011). Dr. Qasmi is also a visiting research fellow in History at the Royal Holloway College, University of London.


Changing Patterns of Religious Authority in South Asian Islam: A Case Study of the Ahl al-Qur’an Movements
Ahl al-Qur’an (People of the Quran) refers to a disparate set of movements —dating from late nineteenth century onwards in South Asia — which upheld the Quran as the only sacred text required by Muslims in matters of their beliefs and practices. These movements initiated a critical reassessment and questioning of texts— especially Hadith (pl. Ahadith) — previously regarded as sacred insofar as they were believed to have served as sources of guidance and authority for Muslim beliefs and practices. In a period where advent of print technology had enabled mass distribution of authoritative collections of Ahadith and brought it to the centre of scholarly debates on the idea of reform, authority and authenticity in South Asian Islam, Ahl al-Qur’an movements carved out a distinct discursive space where new ideas about Prophetology and reverence held for classical exegetes and juridical compendiums could be discussed and their relevance vis-à-vis Quran as a binding source of religious guidance could be estimated. In particular, I will focus on the writings of Maulwi Abdullah Chakralawi and his polemical exchange with the famous Ahl-i-Hadith scholar, Muhammad Husain Batalawi.

My discussion on the Ahl al-Qur’an and their critical approach towards the corpus of Hadith literature will serve as a counter narrative to the ideas about Hadith which prevailed during the same period and will be highlighted in Barbara Metcalf’s talk on Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan.  

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