AAR 2020: Colonialism and Caliphate

During the 2020 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, I presented a paper entitled “Colonialism and Caliphate” in the Religion, Colonialism, and Postcolonialism Unit.

The panel was held virtually on December 10, 2020 from 1:45-3:15pm ET.

This paper focuses on the political philosophy of the British Indian poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938). Iqbal’s vision for the future of his community spoke beyond colonialism and was grounded in an ongoing narrative of Islamic history, through which political realities might be made meaningful for South Asian Muslims. Iqbal approached politics as a question of good governance that makes a rightly ordered society possible; thus political philosophy for Iqbal is imbued with moral reasoning. For this reason, it is important for scholars of religion to consider Iqbal’s political thought as part of his contribution to scholarly discussions on liberation and thinking beyond colonialism from a specifically Muslim and South Asian perspective.

I argue that Iqbal’s structural ideas on colonialism and caliphate give a big-picture account of the aims and limits of good government, emphasizing the subaltern position within them. I see this paper as an important and timely topic because it offers an opportunity to consider a response to colonialism that is not rooted solely in opposition (and therefore not defined by the limits of anticolonial thought). Rather, this research suggests a South Asian Muslim view of political liberation and shared community life that, despite being forged in conditions of domination, imagines itself both before and beyond those conditions. We might apply this approach to communities and circumstances beyond that specific historical moment.