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  • Politicizing Islam: The Islamic Revival in France and India by Z. Fareen Parvez
  • Emily Laxer
Politicizing Islam: The Islamic Revival in France and India
By Z. Fareen Parvez
Oxford University Press, 2017. 288 pages.

In Politicizing Islam, Z. Fareen Parvez offers a timely new approach to studying Islamic revival movements in cross-national perspective. Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork and thirty-nine interviews with Muslim activists, community leaders, politicians, teachers, and middle-and working-class residents in Lyon, France and Hyderabad, India, the study departs from previous work by attending to the social and economic—rather than simply the religious—conditions that give rise to revivalist politics. The result is a book that takes seriously the everyday practices of Muslim communities, rather than reading those practices through the discourses imposed "from above" by states.

The core argument of Politicizing Islam is that states' differing regimes of secularism have bearing on the relationships among middle-and working-class Muslims, with significant consequences for the aims, tactics, and orientations to state power adopted by Islamic revival movements. In France, Parvez argues, the predominance of an assimilationist and restrictive secularism has led middle-class Muslim organizations to direct their mobilizing efforts toward the elusive goal of obtaining state recognition of Islamic religious beliefs and practices. This narrow emphasis on recognition has in turn inhibited the pursuit of a radical redistributive agenda, ultimately sullying inter-class relations. Isolated from their middle-class counterparts, subaltern Salafist Muslims inhabiting impoverished city suburbs have responded by adopting what Parvez calls an "antipolitics": a political practice that focuses on faith and self-protection, and seeks to expand the boundaries of the private sphere against an intrusive state. In India, by contrast, where the government has pursued a pluralist and flexible secularism, middle-and working-class Muslims have joined together in a project to achieve greater economic redistribution. Through cross-class coalitions, subaltern Muslims in that setting have succeeded in forging political communities—sustained to a large extent by women—that alleviate poverty without demanding resources from the state.

By disentangling—in order to reveal the linkages between—the political structural and class-based determinants of Islamic revivalism, Parvez makes several important interventions, three of which I will highlight here. First, the book provides a useful analytic distinction between Islamic movements that do and do not take the state as their objects. Scholarship on the Islamic revival too often collapses its pious and political dimensions, presuming that revivalism necessarily leads to demands on the state. Parvez challenges that assumption by showing that, particularly in Hyderabad, working-class Muslims have pursued a "noninstrumental" political project, in which a robust community life—and not state intervention—is an end in itself. The distinction she ultimately offers between "instrumental" and "non-instrumental" politics will be of interest to sociologists seeking a more expansive way to think about political action.

Second, Politicizing Islam brings much-needed attention to the role of class in directing the claims of Islamic movements toward, versus away from, their respective states. Despite the clear material disadvantages that Muslim communities face in France, India, and elsewhere, class often appears as a second-order variable in research on Islamic movements. Parvez distinguishes herself by addressing class head on and, in the process, revealing how struggles for economic welfare punctuate articulations of religious piety in different Muslim communities.

Third, Parvez draws unique attention to the differing modalities of feminism that emerge subaltern spaces associated with the Islamic revival movement. Much has been made of feminists' role in contestations over laws banning Islamic veiling in France and other European settings. Yet, we know comparatively little about the ways that, in their everyday practice of Islam, women in spaces that are dissociated from the state are reckoning with these measures. Through her comparative framework, Parvez attends not only to the intersections of gender and class in producing diverse articulations of feminism; she also demonstrates how state secular regimes impact how women negotiate the (in)visibility of gender at the community level.

One limitation of Politicizing Islam stems from its relatively uncomplicated treatment of the secular regimes...


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