Muslim Becoming

Aspiration and Skepticism in Pakistan

Muslim Becoming

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: 2 illustrations Published: May 2012

Author: Naveeda Khan

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > South Asia, Religious Studies

In Muslim Becoming, Naveeda Khan challenges the claim that Pakistan's relation to Islam is fragmented and problematic. Offering a radically different interpretation, Khan contends that Pakistan inherited an aspirational, always-becoming Islam, one with an open future and a tendency toward experimentation. For the individual, this aspirational tendency manifests in a continual striving to be a better Muslim. It is grounded in the thought of Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938), the poet, philosopher, and politician considered the spiritual founder of Pakistan. Khan finds that Iqbal provided the philosophical basis for recasting Islam as an open religion with possible futures as yet unrealized, which he did in part through his engagement with the French philosopher Henri Bergson. Drawing on ethnographic research in the neighborhoods and mosques of Lahore and on readings of theological polemics, legal history, and Urdu literature, Khan points to striving throughout Pakistani society: in prayers and theological debates and in the building of mosques, readings of the Qur'an, and the undertaking of religious pilgrimages. At the same time, she emphasizes the streak of skepticism toward the practices of others that accompanies aspiration. She asks us to consider what is involved in affirming aspiration while acknowledging its capacity for violence.


“The book reveals the ways in which everyday life becomes fertile ground for profound insight on some of the major philosophical questions of our times…. Muslim Becoming explores the nature of religious observance in Pakistan and casts a positive light on the nation’s struggles with plurality.” — Christine Stutz, Johns Hopkins University Arts & Sciences Magazine

Muslim Becoming succeeds largely because it goes against prevailing wisdom, obliging the reader to adopt a different perspective regarding present-day Pakistan by insisting that Pakistan is not a finished product. . . .Readers interested in a radical departure from the typical fare served up
by Washington think-tanks and talking heads will find much of interest in Naveeda Khan’s excellent book.” — David Waterman, Pakistaniaat

“Readers of Khan's book will hopefully never see Islam, or Pakistan, the same way again, and I am sure that the same analysis could, should, and will be applied to every other religion, tradition, and culture that binds our future to our past.” — Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

“Read it for its nuances, subtleties and engaging tales of qabza, jinns and mullahs.” — Najia Mukhtar, Asian Affairs

“Thoroughly original and consistently provocative, Muslim Becoming is a tour de force. Through a multilayered ethnography – coupled with textured readings of myriad texts – Naveeda Khan reveals the complexities and contradictions of life in contemporary Pakistan.”   — Robert Rozehnal, Anthropos

“[A]n original and substantive contribution to scholarship on contemporary Islam, and, more generally, to cultural anthropology.” — Tahir Naqvi, International Journal of Middle East Studies

Muslim Becoming is an original and important book that argues that the state and citizens in Pakistan have inherited an aspirational understanding of Islam that tends towards experimentation and striving.” — Sadia Saeed, Economic and Political Weekly

"Muslim Becoming is a powerful contribution to the literature on Islam in Pakistan, not to mention Islam more generally. Its argument—that one has to understand religious practices and institutions in Pakistan in terms of striving or aspiration—is original and quite provocative. Naveeda Khan's subtle insights, novel ethnographic data, and fascinating analysis of Iqbal's poetry and philosophical writings are remarkable too." — Steven C. Caton, author of Yemen Chronicle: An Anthropology of War and Mediation

"Naveeda Khan’s book is a clear, original, and arresting argument about Pakistan as a state of becoming. Interested in nothing less than the formation of a new way of being Muslim in Pakistan, Khan argues that Muslim attempts at perfection in Pakistan are neither communal nor turned toward the past, but rather located in modern citizenship and aspirations toward an entirely novel future. This makes Islam more, rather than less, flexible there. Given the stereotypical and repetitive nature of so much writing about Pakistan today, Muslim Becoming is a breath of fresh air. It deserves to be widely read by academics, journalists, and policy makers." — Faisal Devji, author of The Terrorist in Search of Humanity: Militant Islam and Global Politics

"Tracing the ways that aspiration and skepticism are braided together in lives lived in dialogue with texts in contemporary Pakistan, Naveeda Khan gently shifts our angle of vision on the making and unmaking of Pakistan in everyday life. She thinks of aspiration as a striving for perfectibility, not perfection. This small shift of emphasis makes familiar phenomena, such as sectarian conflict, appear in a new light. Philosophically rich, written in a style that invites conversation, and ethnographically grounded in literary texts, as well as in the ordinary flows of neighborhood relations, Muslim Becoming surely deserves the designation of a modern classic." — Veena Das, author of Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Naveeda Khan is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. She is the editor of Beyond Crisis: Re-evaluating Pakistan.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Scenes of Muslim Aspiration: Neighborhood Mosques and Their Qabza 21

2. A Possible Genealogy of Aspiration: Muhammad Iqbal in His Time 55

3. Inheriting Iqbal: The Law and the Ahmadi Question 91

4. The Singularity of Aspiration: A Father, a Child, and a Jinn 121

5. Skepticism in Public Culture: From the Jahil Maulwi to Mullaism 145

6. Skepticism and Spiritual Diagnostics: Iqbal, the Ulama, and the Literati 171

Epilogue: Becoming Present 201

Notes 209

Bibliography 225

Index 251
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2013 American Institute of Pakistan Studies Book Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5231-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5217-4
Publicity material