Ed. note: The post refers to Manan Ahmed Asif. A Book of Conquest: The Chachnama and Muslim Origins in South Asia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016. Find a review on this title by Andre Wink at https://networks.h-net.org/node/22055/reviews/180166/wink-asif-book-conquest-chachnama-and... (ML)
My remarks pertain to Manan Ahmed Asif’s use of V. S. Naipaul’s Among the Believers. Asif claims that Naipaul’s interpretation of the Chachnama exemplifies the way in which the history of “Muslim origins in South Asia” has been ideologically framed in the modern period. However, his argument relies on a misreading of Naipaul’s Among the Believers. Here are two key moments:
#1 “Naipaul read Chachnama as ‘an account of the Islamic beginning of the state [of Pakistan]’” (Asif, A Book of Conquest 6).
#2 “[Naipaul] narrated the atrocities committed by the Arab army—their destruction of temples or their killing of civilians—and linked them to the atrocities of Pakistan’s teeming Muslims since 1971 War for Bangladesh” (Asif, A Book of Conquest 6-7).
With reference to Statement #1, the original passage in Among the Believers makes clear that Asif misrepresents what Naipaul actually wrote: “The Arab conquest of Sind [in 712 C. E.] is distinct from the Muslim invasions of India proper, which began about three centuries later. But the Sind conquered by Bin Qasim was a big country, roughly the area of present-day southern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan; and the Chachnama might be said to be an account of the Islamic beginnings of the state” (Naipaul, Among the Believers 140-1).
The “state” referred to in this passage is Sind, which for Naipaul denotes the eighth-century territory invaded by the Arabs in 712 C.E. There is no ambiguity here. “State” does not refer to the “state of Pakistan,” as Asif claims in Statement #1. Asif’s decision to alter the meaning of Naipaul’s sentence is troubling. It’s worth pointing out that when Andre Wink cites Asif’s statement #1 in his review (May 15, 2017, H-Asia), he correctly replaces Asif’s “of Pakistan” with “in the subcontinent.”
I now turn to Statement #2: Contrary to Asif’s assertions, at no point in Among the Believers does Naipaul suggest that the “myth of the Arab conqueror” was a development linked to the 1971 war. Naipaul does not argue for a connection between Sind in 712 C. E. and post-1971 Pakistan in Among the Believers. Asif’s claim that Naipaul declares a link between the “atrocities” of 712 C.E. and the “atrocities” of “Pakistan’s teeming Muslims since 1971 War of Bangladesh” is false. Asif seeks to pin on Naipaul an investment in an “origins” narrative for which he provides no evidence. Asif’s book is neither about Naipaul nor is it an attack on his work. But as statements #1 and #2 make clear, a distorted reading of Naipaul’s Among the Believers serves as a foil for Asif’s central claim that the Pakistani state co-opted the Chachnama to serve its nationalist agenda.