Politicizing Islam is a comparative ethnographic study of Islamic revival movements in France and India, home to the largest Muslim minority populations in Europe and Asia respectively. Both diverse secular democracies, France and India pursue divergent policies toward their religious and other minorities. Yet they face similar struggles over Islam that challenge the substance of national identity and the core of each country’s secular doctrine. After 9/11, debates about the role of Islamic madrasas and practices like the headscarf became prominent. How is it that Islam, as an object of debate, is politicized across disparate contexts at the very moment when many Muslim communities have withdrawn from the state? Why exactly is a movement deemed “communitarian” or a threatening form of “political Islam”? Why is the issue of gender central to politicization, even while women are increasingly active agents in Islamic revivals? This book seeks to answer these questions by examining the relationship between religion and politics and showing how it is created and lived by Muslim communities in both countries.
Z. Fareen Parvez conducted her fieldwork over the course of two years in the French city of Lyon, and its outer banlieues, and the Indian city of Hyderabad. She immersed herself in mosque communities, women’s welfare centers, Islamic study circles, and philanthropic associations, to provide an in-depth view of middle-class and elite Muslims, as well poor and subaltern Muslims in stigmatized neighborhoods. She illuminates how Muslims across class divisions make claims on the secular state and struggle to improve their lives as denigrated minorities. In Hyderabad, Muslim elites fight for redistribution to the poor, who then use their patronage to practice autonomy from the state and build vibrant political communities. In Lyon, middle-class Muslims face widespread discrimination and negotiate with the state for religious recognition. But they remain estranged from Muslims in the working-class banlieues who have embraced a sectarian form of Islam and retreated into the private sphere. Parvez shows how these diverse movements originated in either a flexible or militant secularism, and how Muslim class relations are ultimately tied to other debates within the Islamic tradition-Muslim women’s struggle for equal rights, and the potential for minority democratic participation.
The book shows how Islam is politicized top-down by the state and then re-politicized by revival movements on the ground. But this re-politicization is highly dependent on Muslim class relations-and it masks an array of practices, social relations, potentialities, and ultimately, different conceptions of politics as rooted in either community or the state.