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Year: 2011 Type: Article Language: English

Women have always been central to the process of national identity formation in South Asia, and in the contests and contradictions with which such monolithic identity making is, of necessity, faced. It is hoped that the new scholarship will open up new ways of negotiating contested terrains, and will shed new light on the historical and cultural positioning of women in this process. In this article, Azim reviews two books that look at Islam and the politics of being Muslim in Bangladesh. The books concentrate on the construction of Islam or a Muslim polity as well as on the position of women within emerging structures. Mahua Sarkar’s Invisible Histories, Disappearing Women: Producing Muslim Womanhood in Late Colonial Bengal looks at the silence or absence of Muslim women even in feminist writings on Bengal. Mahua Sarkar’s book forms a rich mosaic of the experiences of Partition, of the debates on Muslim nationhood and the place of women within it, throwing fresh and new light on the construction of a new nation. Despite the fact that the book restricts itself to Bangladesh and not the wider Indian framework, the book opens up ways in which comparative studies could take place, and further research conducted on women, Islam and modernity. Elora Shehabuddin’s Reshaping the Holy: Democracy, Development and Muslim Women in Bangladesh looks at the status of women in contemporary Bangladesh. Shehabuddin traces how women are seen, in the political process, as a separate constituency that needs to be addressed. Shehabuddin’s research shows how Islamicist politics has dealt with the new spheres that are opening up for women, and how women in turn negotiate these new spaces. The book concludes that in negotiating between difficult terrains and choosing between economic and social alternatives, the Muslim woman in Bangladesh has indeed come a long way.

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