South Asia – the geographical region made up of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – is home to the largest Muslim population in the world. Although almost a third of all Muslims reside in the region, existing research is underdeveloped and often misrepresents and obscures the richness and diversity of Muslim identities and experiences.
An upcoming set of 15 books from Cambridge University Press, led by Professor Yasmin Saikia of Arizona State University, will help address this issue.
As the new editor of the “Muslim South Asia” series, Saikia, Hardt-Nickachos Professor of Peace Studies at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and professor of history at The School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, is uniquely qualified to make a global impact in this role, shaping key issues and setting the tone for new intellectual discoveries in the field of South Asian Studies. A leading expert on South Asian history, Saikia advances understanding by crossing man-made boundaries of geography and politics to illuminate history by chronicling, curating and correlating lived experiences. of those upon whom history acts.
Saikia credits this to her work leading the Peace Studies Initiative at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict.
“The center really, really shaped how I started to focus on the commonalities in human beings and use that as the lens through which I write history,” Saikia said. “The lived experience became the focus, because once you talk about the lived experience of human experiences, human practices, human actions, you start to see the other as not being so different from you.”
Saikia’s approach of collaborating with scholars from diverse fields and integrating humanities disciplines into her research to explore these facets, still rare in the humanities, has helped broaden the scope of peace studies. This approach is reflected in her own work, including the award-winning books ‘Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh’, two edited volumes on peace studies, ‘Women and Peace in the Islamic World’ and ‘People’s Peace: Prospects for a Human Future,” and a forthcoming edited volume, “On Othering: Processes and Politics of Unpeace.”
She approaches the “Muslim South Asia” series in a similar way, bringing together an editorial team spanning generations, cultures and disciplinary backgrounds to tackle a wide range of themes. From religion, community and politics to postcolonial identities and belongings, the environment and climate change, and the ethics experienced by Muslims in daily life, the series will promote cross-disciplinary insights that will enrich the study of Muslim communities and will make visible what is currently invisible.
Instead of adopting a standard high-level view that emphasizes national or dynastic perspectives or focuses on big players, “Muslim South Asia” is concerned with how normal people live and live. participate in the story.
“They are the so-called multitude that we do not see. But the story works on them,” Saikia said. “If you only pay attention to the defining moments and you lose the story of the process, how you got there and the people who went through it, you don’t get the intimacy of the story. You lose that kind of passion and empathy that we need to feel for each other. It is only when we see the lived that the particular becomes a story of the universal.
Every story is a human story, and history is not just a collection of dead stories, but a context for the future, says Saikia. ‘
“You learn something about the past, because you want to shape the future, to make that story speak, for, people in an empathetic and humanistic way,” she says.
To this end, the timing of the launch of the series is particularly relevant. In 2022, India and Pakistan – the most populous Muslim countries in South Asia – will celebrate 75 years of independence from British colonial rule. Exploring the region’s history, peoples and cultures from a new perspective will help de-center Western stereotypes of ‘Muslim as a threat’ and demonstrate greater interconnectedness.
“It’s a global story,” says Saikia, emphasizing the importance of focusing not just on South Asian Muslims, but also on the contributions and place of South Asian Muslims in the world. “I live in America. There have been a lot of political problems with Muslims here, but Muslims have also been very well received here. This story of America also needs to be told.
All human beings have the same story to tell, she says. Although it may happen in different places and times, humans share the same essential desires and experiences: laughter, joy, losses, gains.
“Learning to understand yourself is crucial, now more than ever,” says Saikia.
“’Muslim South Asia’ is an idea of these commonalities, these connections, these bridges and how these bridges have been kept, created and maintained by Muslims. And not just Muslims. Each community is actually a curator of each other in that region. Through their different paths, they have mutually preserved and enriched each other. And that particular story will hopefully become the lens through which we see everyone. The Muslim becomes a prism through which you also embrace other communities; through which you make connections to the past, the present and hopefully it will show us the ways of the future,” she says.
In addition to her new role as editor of the “Muslim South Asia” series, Saikia has played a leading role in the development of the Center of Muslim Experience in the United States at ASU, which will launch in fall 2022.
“It is the role of a scholar,” says Saikia, “to be a thought leader and to think beyond a present moment of impasse. To create hope in communities, to produce knowledge that makes sense of your past in order to move forward into the future.
Although she recognizes that this may be an idealistic position, as a historian of peace studies, Saikia constantly strives to improve the community in which she lives – locally and globally – to have a positive impact and inspire others to think the same way.