South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Mapping Modernity: Sir Syed and the Sources of Tradition

Saturday, July 7
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Silveroak I, Ground Floor

The ideas and works of the prominent nineteenth-century Muslim intellectual and socio-religious reformer, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, testify to the complexities of defining modernity in South Asia. This paper focuses on the essays by Sir Syed on issues that form the crux of modern thought, such as freedom, faith and choice. The aim is to explore the resources that enable exemplary modern arguments made by Sir Syed while addressing an audience that shared the same religious worldview. The paper will further situate his attempts at grounding modern principles within an Islamic discourse, by juxtaposing varying views on modernity itself. Charles Taylor, talking about modernity in the west, uses the phrase ‘social imaginaries’ to underline its formation. According to him, a social imaginary, at any given time, is carried in images, stories, legends, projections, aspirations etc., and is borne by a common understanding which makes possible common practices—political and social, and a shared sense of legitimacy. Faisal Devji charges that such attempts render the Muslim appropriation of modernity, fundamentally an ‘apologetic’ character. He adds that the Muslim apologetics in fact, in the rejection of ‘purity’ and ‘autonomy’ give apologetic modernity a ‘distinctive conceptual form.’ The paper will attempt an insightful critique of these different approaches to modernity in the light of select writings by Sir Syed. It will be guided by the question of what enables this quest for modernity and how does it get expressed in a language that exists at the intersections of collective faith and individual choice.

Danish Iqbal

Aligarh Muslim University, India

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2 - Mapping Modernity: Sir Syed and the Sources of Tradition



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