Crises of the Public in Muslim India: Critiquing Custom at Aligarh and Deoband

Brannon Ingram*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This article argues that Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98) and Ashraf Ali Thanvi (1863-1943) were, respectively, exemplars of what I will call the liberal critique of custom on the one hand, and the Islamic legal critique of custom on the other. I argue that a range of overlapping semantic fields in their Urdu works-custom (rasm), reform (islah), decline (zawal, tanazzul) and nation or moral community (qawm), among others-opens up new lines of inquiry in comparing Aligarh and Deoband, typically treated as incommensurable in their views, as institutions and movements. I suggest, additionally, that the public (amm) was a shared frame through which they envisioned implementing their respective projects. At the imagined centre of these publics, they located a new sort of Muslim: literate, self-regulating, self-fashioning, guided by rationality (aql) and free, above all, of the moral and social entanglements of custom.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)403-418
Number of pages16
JournalSouth Asia: Journal of South Asia Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Aligarh
  • custom
  • customary practice
  • Deoband
  • India
  • Islam
  • Islamic law

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

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