The Language of Secular Islam: Urdu Nationalism and Colonial Hyderabad
248pp. January 2013
The Language of Secular Islam: Urdu Nationalism and Colonial India
Author: Datla, Kavita;
During the turbulent period prior to colonial India’s partition and independence, Muslim intellectuals in Hyderabad sought to secularize and reformulate their linguistic, historical, religious, and literary traditions for the sake of a newly conceived national public. Responding to the model of secular education introduced to South Asia by the British, Indian academics launched a spirited debate about the reform of Islamic education, the importance of education in the spoken languages of the country, the shape of Urdu and its past, and the significance of the histories of Islam and India for their present.

The Language of Secular Islam pursues an alternative account of the political disagreements between Hindus and Muslims in South Asia, conflicts too often described as the product of primordial and unchanging attachments to religion. The author suggests that the political struggles of India in the 1930s, the very decade in which the demand for Pakistan began to be articulated, should not be understood as the product of an inadequate or incomplete secularism, but as the clashing of competing secular agendas. Her work explores negotiations over language, education, and religion at Osmania University, the first university in India to use a modern Indian language (Urdu) as its medium of instruction, and sheds light on questions of colonial displacement and national belonging.

Grounded in close attention to historical evidence, The Language of Secular Islam has broad ramifications for some of the most difficult issues currently debated in the humanities and social sciences: the significance and legacies of European colonialism, the inclusions and exclusions enacted by nationalist projects, the place of minorities in the forging of nationalism, and the relationship between religion and modern politics. It will be of interest to historians of colonial India, scholars of Islam, and anyone who follows the politics of Urdu.

4 illus.
“This is a brilliantly innovative book that offers provocative insights into South Asian history, the workings of colonialism, and the interface of linguistic and religious identities in India’s premier princely state of Hyderabad. The author marshals an impressive range of sources to make a significant intervention in the field of Islamicate learning, moving beyond the much-discussed madrasa mode of education to document the birth and growth of India’s first vernacular public university.” —Syed Akbar Hyder, University of Texas at Austin

“The history that unfolds in this book is one of Muslim engagement with nationalism and secularism rather than a history of Muslim separatism. It provides the grounds for a novel reevaluation of conventional understandings of Muslim politics in late colonial India. Kavita Datla’s carefully researched work is an important contribution to the field of Islam and Muslims in South Asia.” —Farina Mir, University of Michigan
Author: Datla, Kavita;
Kavita Datla is assistant professor of history at Mount Holyoke College.
Read the Introduction (PDF).
Note on Transliteration 

1 Muslims and Secular Education: The Beginnings of Osmania 20 
2 Reforming a Language: Creating Textbooks and Cultivating Urdu 
3 Muslim Pasts: Writing The History of India and The History of Islam 
4 Locating Urdu: Deccani, Hindustani, and Urdu 
5 Secular Projects and Student Politics: “Vande Mataram” in Hyderabad 
Conclusion: From National to Minority Subjects