This past weekend, my wife and I participated in a conference on Islamic feminism - a theoretical and political interest of ours, reinvigorated during our year in Lucknow (see here for part of why). Midway through the first discussion, she leaned over and whispered: this (she meant incredibly stupid statements about the essence of man- and womanhood, about the "weaker sex" etc) is precisely what Sigmund Freud wrote, too (she truly is a psychotherapist in the making). Not much later, somebody complained that Muslim societies consider the family the most important social unit - and I had to think of conservative parties across Europe and the German principle of subsidiarity.

Our associations hint at a widespread problem in the discourse on women and Islam: what makes a deplorable patriarchic practice an Islamic one? The fact alone that it is justified with recourse to Quran, Sunna and Hadith? Or the mere fact that it occurs (more frequently, perhaps) in societies with many Muslim citizens? Would this not leave the definition of Islam to patriarchs, precisely something which we (and other Islamic feminists) should challenge? After all, patriarchs will take whatever source to justify themselves, if need be the local fast food menu card ("Chow mein causes rape")...

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

Islamism and democracy in India: the transformation of Jamaat-e-Islami, by Irfan Ahmad, Princeton, Princeton Univ. Press, 2009, xx + 306 pp., ISBN 978-0-691-13920-3

How did the secular and democratic polity in India change the politics and policies of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a party founded to oppose both principles? This question inspired Irfan Ahmad to close the gap between Nasr's 'The vanguard of the Islamic revolution' (on Pakistan; London: IB Tauris, 1994) and Kabir's 'The politics and development of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh' (New Delhi: South Asian Publishers, 2006) with a comprehensive monograph on 'Islamism and democracy in India'. He detects a 'remarkable transformation of Islamism' and highlights 'the conflicts that accompanied that transformation' (p. xi): while the Jamaat itself turned towards secular democracy, the turmoil of mandir, mandal and market (Hindu nationalism, reservation policies and liberalization) later radicalized its split-off, the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Since he further argues that the former transformation 'is deeply ideological' (p. 2) rather than a tactical guise, his research suggests nothing less than a solid appropriation of secular democracy by India's Islamists (pp. 8-9).