[Last update: 17 September 2001]

Non-specialist readings on Islam
especially in the South Asian context

by Elen Hudson Christianson
Be aware that most of these books are available in public and university libraries, as well as through the standard booksellers. If you want to purchase any of these, I suggest using Barnes and Noble online, as you can get used copies of these textbooks at a significant savings.

I'll put up some readings on trade and empire in the Indian Ocean that seem relevant. Remember, the East India Company's Raj, as well as the British Raj, set up a lot of preconditions for the problems in South Asia. Afghanistan is sometimes considered part of South Asia, sometimes Central Asia. The Mughal Empire tried to hang on to their Afghani homelands and failed early on. Then the British tried to expand their control twice into Afghanistan, fighting bloody, brutal, totally foolish wars in the late 19th century. They didn't just get their butts kicked. The Afghans massacred the English. A great novel that illustrates this, and the Great Game, is M. M. Kaye's The Far Pavilions. Another one that describes the Great Game is Rudyard Kipling's Kim (yes, his writings are too often racist, but this one is actually tolerable, and shows how far back the collision between Russian and British interests went).

Source Texts

Dawood, N. J., trans.  The Koran.  London:  Penguin Books, 1997.
        This can be found in almost any bookstore.  It=92s a reasonable translation.  The later Surahs, or chapters, were those written by Muhammed first.  It=92s in more of a reverse order.  I highly recommend reading the introduction for background first.
Embree, Ainslie T., ed.  Sources of Indian Tradition.  Vol. 1. =20
        The chapters on Islam in South Asia are very interesting.  This is a standard compilation of textual extracts from religious and philosophical treatises.  Terrific for beginners and easy to find.


Ahmad, Aziz.  Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment.
        A very good collection of older essays, still classic.  Read this after Hodgson, Alam and Subrahmanyam, and Schimmel.
Alam, Muzaffar and Sanjay Subrahmanyam.  The Mughal State 1526-1750.
        Excellent work, covers this period very well.  You need to understand what fell apart and what this meant for the first Western emporial power that dominated an Asian society and culture:  the English East India Company (dirty rotten scoundrels, the lot of them).
Cole, Juan Ricardo.  Roots of North Indian Shi'ism in Iran and Iraq : religion and state in Awadh, 1722-1859.
        This one I haven=92t gotten to yet.  I=92ll let you know what I think of it.  It comes highly recommended.=20
Embree, Ainslee.  Al-Beruni=92s India.
        Wonderful account of culture shock.
Hodgson, Marshall G. S.  The Venture of Islam.  Vol. 1-3.
        This is tough wading, but it is a classic, seminal work.  It is the standard textbook for courses on Islamic history.  Get it and read it!
Schimmel, Annemarie.  Mystical Dimensions of Islam.
        Islamic mysticism?  Yes!  It=92s called Sufism, and has inspired poets, mystics and saints, and fascinated historians.  It is very important for understanding Islam in South Asia, which has been heavily influenced by bhakti, or devotionalist Hinduism.  Side note:  the influence was/is mutual.
Spear, Percival.  Twilight of the Mughals.
Wink, Andre.  Al-Hind:  the making of the Indo-Islamic world.  Vol. 1-2.
        This traces the first influence of Islam back to the earliest centuries of Islam, as newly converted Arab traders tended to talk a lot about their new faith to anyone who would listen.  Take it with a big grain of salt, though  the critique of Wink=92s work is that he overstates his case.

Women and Society

Findly, Ellison Banks.  Nur Jahan.
        Wonderful book about the world of the Mughal Mahal, or women=92s palace.
Friedl, Erika.  Women of Deh Koh:  lives in an Iranian village.
        This is a terrific book by an anthropologist who spent nearly twenty years in this one particular village.  This period spanned the Iranian Revolution of the late 1970s.  Marvelously funny, sad, zany, intensely human.  Gives a very good picture of the difficulties faced in ordinary, daily life in modern Iran.  Get it, read it, treasure it.  Friedl also wrote a book called Children of Deh Koh, which I haven=92t read, but heard is just as good.
Jeffery, P.  Frogs in a Well:  Indian women in purdah.
        This comes highly recommended, but I haven=92t read it yet.
Kandiyoti, Deniz.  =93Islam and Patriarchy:  a comparative perspective.=94  In Women in Middle Eastern History.  Ed. N. Keddie and B. Baron.
        Great article, and I highly recommend anything written by Kandiyoti.  Great stuff.  She focuses mostly on West Asia (Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Arabian peninsula) and North Africa.
Minault, Gail.  Secluded Scholars.
        This is phenomenal work, which explains the movement towards reforming women=92s education in South Asia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a fight against bad custom in order to return to the true spirit of Islam within each well-bred Muslim household.
Suleri, Sara.  Meatless Days.
        Suleri grew up in an intellectual family in Pakistan, and her story about those years  and her bizarre family  is a wonderful read as well as a bird=92s eye view into the difficulties of Pakistani political life.


Ahmad, Aziz.  Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan.
        Again, one I haven=92t read yet.  Highly recommended, though.
Bose, Sugata and Ayesha Jalal.  Modern South Asia:  history, culture, political economy.
        This is a recent basic college textbook, and is considered very good.  I recommend it for those who know nothing, or next to nothing, about South Asia.  It is very good, and their bibliography is excellent.
Hasan, Mushirul.  India=92s Partition:  Process, Strategy and Mobilization.
        Again, one I haven=92t read.  However, I met the man, as he came here about two years ago for a talk on the legacy of Partition.  He=92s serious, thoughtful, balanced.  Read anything you can by this guy.
Jalal, Ayesha.  The Sole Spokesman:  Jinnah, the Muslim League, and the Demand for Pakistan.
        This is a relatively new biography on Jinnah, the first president of Pakistan.  It is highly recommended.
Minault, Gail.  The Khilafat Movement.
        Classic, must read.
Talbot, I.  Provincial Politics and the Pakistan Movement.
        Again, one I haven=92t read, and is one my list for exams.
Wolpert, Stanley.  Jinnah of Pakistan.
        This is the classic biography of Jinnah. 

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