Making new Muslim Arains: reform and social mobility in colonial Punjab, 1890s-1910s

Ashish Koul*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This paper contends that Salim al-tavarikh, a didactic genealogical history of the Arains published in 1919, was a sophisticated discursive means of claiming high social status for the community in the historical context of colonial Punjab. The interpretive techniques adopted in this text for making these claims go against the grain of existing scholarly literature on social mobility and reformist Islamic thought in modern South Asia. First, it constructed a genealogical history which traced the colonial Arains’ origin to early Islamic Arabia by claiming that they were descendants of Arab soldiers who had participated in the Umayyad general Muhammad bin Qasim’s early eighth century conquest of Sindh. As the progeny of these valorous Arab-Muslim conquerors, the colonial Arains were a distinctive Muslim community with innately Islamic attributes. Second, drawing upon this inherent Muslimness, it developed a reformist perspective tailored to the Arains’ political classification as one of Punjab’s elite ‘agriculturalists.’ It recast the Arains’ adherence to an inheritance system based on custom and Arain peasant women’s mobility as practices supported by the Quran. In this way, this text upheld the Arains’ ‘true’ Muslim identity while consolidating their agriculturalist status. This narrative also contested contemporary representations of the community as ‘bad’ Muslims of ‘lowly’ indigenous origin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalSouth Asian History and Culture
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2017


  • Arains
  • Colonial Punjab
  • Muslims
  • genealogy
  • social mobility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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