Reverberations of the Nahda across Asia: Reading Zaidan in Urdu

By Maryam Fatima
Submitted to Session P4999 (Nahda, Translation, and the Transnational, 2017 Annual Meeting
Recent revisionist histories of the Nahda have compelled scholars to re-asses the movement through transnational and pan-Islamic intellectual exchanges across several languages, including Turkish, Urdu, and Persian, among others. This paper responds to this this scholarly turn by looking at the intellectual legacy of Jurji Zaidan’s work in mid-century India and Pakistan, focusing specifically on the ways in which his work on Islamic history was refashioned to appeal to the changing contours of Muslim presence in the subcontinent in the first half of the twentieth century. While the exact extent of Zaidan’s influence on Indian Muslim political and literary thought remains understudied, some archival research has revealed a considerable readership among North Indian elites and a paradoxical position as both a champion and an enemy of Islam.

In this paper, I explore Raees Ahmed Jafri’s Urdu translation of Zaidan’s The Conquest of Andalusia (Lahore 1954), framing it within the deep history of intellectual exchange between South Asia and North Africa, specifically the reform movements launched by Indian Muslim intelligentsia at the end of the nineteenth century that sought solidarities with Arab and Turkish intellectuals in a putative pan-Islamic vision of the world. In the preface to the translation, Jafri notes that he excised such parts of the novel as he deemed incorrect and insulting. This filtered version of Zaidan’s work resonates with other responses to him throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this paper, I focus on the texture of this translation that admittedly presents the novel in a “new form,” transforming the faced-paced didacticism of the original into a dastan-inflected fable.