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ROY BAR SADEH (Yale University)

Worldmaking in the Hijaz: Muslims between Indian and Soviet Visions of Managing Difference, 1919-1926


23 May 2023 | 3pm BST

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Between the end of World War I and the Mecca World Muslim Congress of 1926, Soviet officials and Indian Muslim thinkers imagined the possibilities of a post-imperial world through the Hijaz. The All-India Khilafat Committee (AIKC), an organization of Indian Muslim intellectuals, and the Soviet Union defended competing projects to safeguard the Hijaz, home to some Islam’s holiest shrines, from European imperialism. Yet, far from limiting themselves to the question of who should rule Hijaz, the AIKC and the Soviet state engaged in broader debates about religious and social difference, sovereignty and minority rights. Whereas the AIKC imagined the Hijaz as an international Muslim republic and a place of refuge for Muslims worldwide, Soviet officials contended that the political future of Muslims should only be settled within the framework of ethno-territorial nation-states. Ironically, both the programs of the AIKC and the Soviet state denied the right of self-determination to Hijazis themselves, leaving the region’s inhabitants to choose between two forms of external oversight: a Soviet-supported Saudi ethno-territorialism or limited domestic autonomy under the management and inspection of an international Muslim Council. Past scholarship on the Hijaz has analyzed the region’s political fortunes through Saudi statecraft or European colonial influence. However, Soviet and Indian Muslim experimental engagement with the Hijaz ultimately proved just as crucial to the consolidation of Saudi governance over the region. The article achieves these novel insights by bringing together rare Soviet archival sources with the AIKC's Urdu records and coverage from the Saudi and Egyptian press.

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Roy Bar Sadeh is a global historian of South Asia and the Middle East. Roy received his PhD in history from Columbia University and he is currently working on his first monograph, Recasting Minority: Islamic Modernists between South Asia, the Middle East, and the World, 1858-1947. Roy’s previous peer-reviewed research has been published in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization at Yale University Law School

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