Ayesha Jalal: This tendency to say that Islam is somehow incompatible with modernity or liberalism is really very much a construct of the West and its antagonistic views of Islam. What I am trying to do is turn the gaze inward, to see how people were writing during the colonial period. Muslims from across the board – from all spectrums, religious and Western – responded to the colonial experience. It was by no means a closed experience; it was a much more creative interaction. There were Muslims who accepted the purely Western standards but there were many other variants – such as anti-colonialists who were moved by socialist-communist ideas or by Islamic ideas.
When it comes to the legal domain, Sharia was a moral precept but the question of precedence in colonial case law codified those precepts. What we call Sharia is Anglo-Muhammadan Law. I am not saying its solely colonial judges who created this – it was also the Muslim elite. Let me give you one example. We assume that there has been a struggle between modernity and tradition but, in fact, what we call tradition is at the heart of modernity.
When the colonial state began intervening in the legal domain, it was not as if modern colonial laws were all against tradition. In fact, tradition defined those laws because the colonial state had to navigate the tradition with the elite’s help. This way, many traditional things became entrenched in the name of modernity, including patriarchy. More here.