Uncolonizable: Freedom in the Muslim mind in colonial British India

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4 Scopus citations


Does Islam offer a vision of freedom? What did freedoms imagination look like to the colonized Muslims of the Indian subcontinent? In this article, I engage the imagination of freedom of two revolutionary middle actors - Fazal Illahi, a mullah, and Iqbal Shedai, a self-styled middle-class rebel. Drawing upon the Islamic concept of the free human, these men developed a concept of azadi (freedom) making the colonized subjects of British India aware of the issues of dignity and natural human rights, which was more expansive in scope than political freedom that was demanded by the national leaders of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. Further, by collaborating with anti-imperial internationalists in Europe, these men elevated Indias freedom struggle into an international agenda. By engaging the Islamic concept of freedom and making it an inclusive project for decolonization, the middle actors raised a critical question of the relationship between Islam and the state. I read their freedom imagination by engaging Malik Bennabis theory of (un)colonializability and the twelfth-century Islamic philosopher Ibn Arabis concept of hayrah (perplexity). I argue that Illahi and Shedais interpretation of azadi expands our understanding of freedom as an unenclosed horizon of possibilities, yet to be realized in the subcontinent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-134
Number of pages18
JournalSouth Asian History and Culture
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2 2016


  • Fazal Illahi
  • Iqbal Shedai
  • Islam
  • Malik Bennabi
  • azadi (freedom)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • General Arts and Humanities
  • Sociology and Political Science


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