Tuesday, December 4

Muslim Publishing Houses in India

Now people keep on talking about madrassah education but i never thought about it from this perspective, what about the Muslim Publishers? Well, they are important as well, because in a country like India, their output will be heavily influencing the reading, schooling and education behaviour of their compatriots as well as others who might be purchasing their output. So this report from that doughty Yoginder Sikand is really eye-opening and tells you huge amounts on the challenges facing Indian Muslims.

I wonder if it is possible for the Minorities Commission to push for grants for publication of books? Or award scholarships and book writing grants? Or perhaps tie up with some public sector banks to provide special help to small and medium publishing houses? That can definitely help. The authors also talk about other solutions.

Read and hope!

Muslim Publishing Houses in Delhi

Naseem ur-Rahman & Yoginder Sikand

[This is the final report of a study conducted by the
authors, commissioned by SARAI, Delhi]

Delhi, for various historical reasons, is the hub of
the Muslim publishing industry in India. Most of the
prominent Muslim publishing houses in the country are
located in Muslim-dominated parts of the city, notably
in Old Delhi, Okhla and Basti Nizamuddin. Literature
produced by these houses are found in Muslim-owned
bookshops across the country and even abroad.

Our study looked at various aspects of these
Delhi-based Muslim publishing houses, based on a
survey of some fifteen publishing firms. We noted
significant similarities common to almost all the
publishing houses we studied and would like to
describe them here.

Firstly, most of these firms are family-run
businesses, some having been in existence for two,
three or even four generations. Even the few that are
registered as limited companies are actually family
run businesses. Decision-making is thus concentrated
in the hands of a single proprietor or family of

Secondly, almost all these firms specialize in Islamic
literature and other such issues that would be of
concern particularly to Muslim readers alone. This is
of course true for the Urdu publishing houses, the
language now being almost a wholly Muslim preserve,
but also in the case of those firms that have now also
started publishing in Hindi and English. They assume,
therefore, basically a Muslim readership with a
primary interest in Islam. Some of these houses have
started producing literature on Islam aimed at a
non-Muslim readership, seeing them as potential
converts and/or seeking to disabuse them of what are
seen as misunderstandings about Islam or to offer
alternate understandings of key Islamic themes and
issues which are hotly debated in the media, such as
women’s rights, terrorism and so on.

The vast majority of the titles of the books published
by the firms we surveyed related to various aspects of
Islam, including the Quran, the Hadith or Prophetic
Traditions, Islamic Jurisprudence, Islamic Rituals,
Islamic History and so on. In short, the discourse
that they articulate is a normative one, seeking to
define what ‘true’ Islam means and what this demands
of those who are presented as ‘true’ Muslims, although
these are variously defined.

In addition to religious themes, a smaller number of
these firms also specialize in publications dealing
with Urdu literature and Indian Muslim history. This
again reflects the fact that they aim essentially at a
Muslim readership.

Conversely, we noted just one publishing house that
also produces literature on issues related to the
actual, existing or empirical social conditions of the
Indian Muslims. In this case, the quality of the
publications, in terms of their content, left much to
be desired. This paucity of literature on the
empirical conditions of the Indian Muslims, in
contrast to the abundant literature on Islam and
Muslim history, reflects several important features of
the Indian Muslim publishing industry, as our
interviews with several publishers and others

Most of the authors whose works are published are
madrasa-trained ulema, who have no exposure to modern
social sciences. They have been trained in the
traditional way, having received an education that
focuses mainly on the Islamic scriptural and
jurisprudential tradition, which provides the prism
through which they are taught to see the world. The
solutions to the various ills facing the community,
they believe, is by encouraging Muslims to abide
closely by the dictates of the faith, as they
interpret them to be. Only then, it is argued, might
God change their conditions. Success in the eternal
life after death, they stress, is more important than
success in this temporary world. Hence, they argue,
learning about and faithfully abiding about what Islam
says is of principal concern. This explains the
overwhelming focus on religious themes, often narrowly
defined, in the content of most of the firms we

A related point is that of market demand. Since
religious books are what sells, many publishers
admitted, this is what they publish. Scholars who have
done empirical research on Muslims generally write in
English and prefer to get their work published by
non-Muslim-owned publishers, who are seen as more
‘reputable’ in academic circles. Unlike before 1947,
when considerable Muslim-related social science
literature was produced in Urdu, today Urdu has become
the preserve largely of the ulema of the madrasas,
owing particularly to the Government’s discriminatory
policies related to the language. This is reflected in
the fact that a considerable majority of Urdu titles
are penned by the ulema and are about issues related
to Islam, which is what the ulema claim to specialize

Numerous publishers we interviewed lamented the fact
that there is almost no Muslim institution in the
country that commissions research on Muslim social
issues, the findings of which could be published for a
wider audience. This they attributed to various
factors, such as the paucity of Muslim social
scientists, and non-Muslim social scientists
interested in Muslim-related issues, the fact that
those who do such research prefer to have their works
published by other, what they see as more
‘respectable’ publishing houses, and the perceived
insensitivity of Muslim social, economic and political
elites towards the problems facing the Muslim masses.

Interestingly, most of the firms we surveyed produced
not Islamic literature plain and simple, but, rather,
literature that reflected one or the other sectarian
version of Islam, reflecting the fact that the lived
Islamic tradition is not a monolith, but, rather, is
defined variously. Almost all the publishing houses we
examined are associated, formally or informally, with
one or the other Muslim sects or maslaks, such as the
Jamaat-e Islami, Ahl-e Hadith, Barelvi and Deobandi,
among the Sunnis, and the Ithna Asharis among the
Shias. The literature that they produce is geared to
proving the claim that their own particular sect is
the only ‘true’ Islamic one, the implication being
that the other sects are not really ‘Islamic’ enough
or, in fact, are ‘un-Islamic’ and even ‘anti-Islamic’.
Consequently, scores of books published by several of
these firms seek to denounce, in no uncertain terms,
rival Muslim sects as firmly outside the pale of
Islam. Such literature plays a major role in
sustaining and promoting inter-sectarian rivalries.

Publications produced by these firms, particularly in
Urdu, are often much cheaper than English books,
reflecting the fact that the market for these
publications is characertised by a considerably lower
purchasing power. In turn, this reflects the fact of
general Muslim economic marginalization. Lower prices
often mean poor paper and printing quality, but a
number of firms are able to maintain good quality
standards yet keep their costs low by getting
subsidized by various Islamic charitable
organizations, or, for instance, in the case of
certain publishers associated with the Ahl-e Hadith
sect, the Indian counterpart of the Saudi ‘Wahhabis’,
by getting funds from the Gulf.

In terms of payments to authors, it was felt, so
several authors told us, that the firms paid very
little, sometimes nothing at all, and even sometimes
took money from authors to have their works published.
This was said to be yet another reason for what was
perceived as the relatively low quality of many of
their publications, because they are unable or
unwilling to attract better authors who would expect
more remuneration.

Some publishers and authors we met offered
constructive suggestions for improving the quality of
the publications of Muslim-owned publishing houses.
These include:

1. Broadening their focus from their present concern
almost wholly with religion to include the actual
social conditions of the Muslims, thereby being able
to play a more constructive role in promoting social
2. Publishing literature of interest not just to
Muslims alone but to non-Muslims as well.
3. Encouraging Muslim organizations to consider the
setting up research centres to focus on Muslim social
issues, this research then being made available in the
form of publications.
4. Commissioning and publishing Urdu translations of
works in English on Islam and Muslims by scholars,
both Muslims and non-Muslims [Presently, most of the
translations that these houses publish are of works by
Arab ulema].
5. Encouraging Urdu newspapers to include a book
review page. Presently, few of them publish book
6. Promoting Islamic literature penned by non-ulema,
including ‘progressives’’, ‘modernists’ and women, and
also on themes of contemporary import and debate (such
as women’s rights, relations with non-Muslims, peace,
war and terrorism).

Findings that emerged from our study were presented in
the form of six postings to the SARAI mailing list.
These also appeared in various websites and some of
them were published in Muslim periodicals. In the
course of our study we collected considerably more
material, which we hope to write-up in the form of
articles in the near future.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

No comments: