Who is a Muslim? The seemingly simple question has been the source of more contention and controversy throughout history than is generally realized. Considered to be a matter of personal faith, being Muslim has come to rest increasingly on how the faithful are viewed by others based on the religious categories of the modern bureaucratic state. This lecture will consider the implications of the 1857 rebellion against British rule in India for religion, variously understood and lived amidst the difference levelling assumptions of the colonial state backed by decennial censuses and an officious bureaucracy. It will do so by foregrounding the life and work of the preeminent Urdu and Persian poet Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, a leading figure in the Muslim intelligentsia of the period known for his enlightened and unconventional thinking, to ascertain how he negotiated the new political landscape of Delhi in which his co-religionists were stigmatized as disloyal and rebellious on account of their religious beliefs.
Ayesha Jalal is the Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University. After majoring in history and political science at Wellesley College, she obtained her doctorate in history from the University of Cambridge. Jalal has been Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge (1980-1984); Leverhulme Fellow at the Centre of South Asian Studies, Cambridge (1984-1987); Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, D.C. (1985-1986); and Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies (1988-1990). From 1998-2003 she was a MacArthur Fellow.