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Arena Politics India’s quiet Muslim spring When Hasan Suroor set out to write a book about Muslim fundamentalism in India he realised that the real story was actually about the way that the continent’s Muslims have been modernising Hasan Suroor Jama Masjid is the principal mosque in Old Delhi, and the largest and best-known mosque in India Recently, I saw a film at the London Asian Film Festival called Good Morning Karachi about a young middle-class Pakistani woman who dreams of becoming a glamorous fashion model and in the end succeeds in breaking out of her stifling conservative milieu to achieve her ambition. Determined and defiant, she is nothing like our popular image of a ‘typical’ oppressed and submissive Muslim woman. Watching it, I thought it could well be a film about the spirited young Indian Muslim men and women engaged in a similar struggle against the fundamentalist influences and mindset of their community. Like the film’s protagonist, Rafina, they are determined to drag themselves out of isolation and join what she calls the ‘other’ world of personal freedoms and individual choices. These are profound changes for a community historically identified with regressive cultural attitudes and insularity. And one would have thought that they would be noticed and highlighted. Yet, there is such indifference about Muslim affairs in the wider Indian society beyond the headlines about backwardness and extremism that few are aware of these developments. My new book documents this new awakening and particularly highlights the fact that, despite a marked rise in religiosity and visible symbols of Islamic identity, such as beards and hijabs, today’s Muslim youth is more secular, forward-looking and aspirational than the older generation. Having been away from India for many years, I must confess that even I was not aware of the changed Muslim mood and, in fact, the book I set out to write was about the ‘unchanging face of Muslim fundamentalism’. But barely a few weeks into the research, I discovered the big story staring me in the face was quite different. It was not the story, as I had assumed, of a community still trapped in four 38 l www.global -br ief ing.org th quar ter 2014 global


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