This is a preprint of a review whose final and definite form has been published in Contemporary South Asia © Taylor & Francis; see publisher's version and entry in my publication list. The book itself is here

Islamic reform in South Asia, edited by Filippo Osella and Caroline Osella, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013, xxviii + 509 pp., ISBN 978-11-0703-175-3

Eid Mubarak! May there be justice and peace (in Assam as much as in Bangalore, in India as much as in Germany), a day full of celebration (among loved ones and among the wretched of the earth), and may God answer your prayers.

Which He sure will. Or won't He? This question figured prominently in a number of deeply engaging conversations I had during the last weeks, and was implicit in most others to the extent they concerned Ramazan. It came up in many different ways: how can I live a good life, and why don't I? How will God look upon me - now and on judgement day? And most frequently: will He answer my prayers? That I am confident that He will is a scandal for many of my Muslim friends. Often it seemd, in fact, as if our shared quest for solace leads straight into the key theological, ethical and spiritual difference between Islam and Christianity - which in turn prompted me to finally write this post (which had been lingering in my mind for quite a while anyway).

Let me clarify at the outset, however, that I do so from my own Christian standpoint without any missionary or self-righteous intentions - doing so is just plain inevitable, since the quest for solace - and the hope that God may answer our prayers - is necessarily an existential one. I am, however, not interested to start a petty sectarian turf war, and I am sure God is great enough to stand above narrowmindedness. (I am also sure that this is a very Islamic statement to make, by the way - as will become clear soon.) What I rather hope to accomplish today is to reflect upon some of my conversations and observations during Ramazan in Lucknow - by posing some hard and pressing questions.

Luckily, the server farms in Oxford remained unaffected by the huge electricity blackout rocking North India for the last 48 hours. Ever since my post on Muslim names, they stoically crawled through Lucknow's current electoral rolls to guess the religious community each voter belongs to. They identified 98% of all voters at the pace of roughly half a million names a day (for comments on the accuracy of this matching exercise, see below). And they thus enabled me to generate a draft map of Muslim life in Lucknow by caculating population shares (voter population shares, to be precise) on polling booth level and linking them to polling station locality (drawn from the National Informatics Centre).

Apart from the river (in blue), my own home (red dot), and the MODIS built-up area polygon already featured in earlier maps, the following visualization shows "Muslim name" density (background shade), Haj pilgrims (green circles; drawn from the 2012 Qurrah), and major Islamic institutions in Lucknow. The map is interactive: do zoom in for increasing detail, and click on the mosques to get to the respective institution's website (there is also a larger version):

Recently, a friend in Delhi asked me a seemingly simple question: why are you in India? I found it a surprisingly hard question to answer - for once because it goes both deep and shallow, strangely enough. Today, I will try to answer it. Why do I want to devote my professional (and by extension a large bit of my private) life to India? This story has to start, I think, in Pakistan.

It has to start in Pakistan for two quite simple reasons. First of all, anthropologically, South Asia is one. This is beautifully displayed in a famous map by Himal South Asia, which turns the globe upside down (pictured to the right) and gives a compelling visual impression of this unity - rather than singling India out, as usual projections tend to do. This map therefore features in most of my teaching on South Asia to say that the subcontinent rests on solid shared foundations. Obviously the statement that "anthropologically, South Asia is one" can only also mean that "anthropologically, South Asia are many" - but what separates the many from each other is not necessarily a national boundary (though different political systems make a difference, I am not denying this). The diversity within India, within Pakistan, within Bangladesh, and even within the tiny Nepal is arguably wider than the differences between them. Thus reflecting on India from Pakistan is perfectly appropriate...

This is a preprint of a review whose final and definite form has been published in Contemporary South Asia © Taylor & Francis; see publisher's version and entry in my publication list. The book itself is here.

Islam and the Ahmadiyya Jama'at: history, belief, practice, by Simon Ross Valentine, London, Hurst, 2008, xvi + 263 pp., ISBN 978-1-85065-916-7

'To provide an account of the history, beliefs and purpose of the Ahmadiyya Jama'at' (xvi), a disowned splinter group of Sunni Islam, the Methodist preacher and scholar of religion Simon Ross Valentine settled in Bradford/UK and later traveled to Rabwah/Pakistan and Qadian/India. This setup is not without irony, given that Mirza Gulam Ahmad initiated his movement in the 19th century to counter Christian theology; as a self-proclaimed prophet, he challenged many a British missionary in public debating contests about the relative merits of Islam. Against this backdrop, but devoid of missionary zeal, 'Islam and the Ahmadiyya Jama'at' wants to be an exercise in 'objective' description of about every aspect of Ahmad's movement. The Methodist Valentine is driven by 'the need to present "real Islam", the need to move away from media stereotypes and, the need to let the world know of the persecution faced by the Ahmadi at the hands of their co-religionists' (63).