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2023 Book Prize Awards

Congratulations to both Dr. Isabel Huacuja Alonso (Assistant Professor, Columbia University) and Dr. Waleed Ziad (Assistant Professor, UNC-Chapel Hill) for receiving the 2023 AIPS Book Prize! This year, the AIPS Book Prize Committee selected two books for the annual award.

The committee found Huacuja Alonso’s book, Radio for the Millions: Hindi-Urdu Broadcasting Across Borders, to be “a fascinating history of the role of radio at crucial points in South Asian history. Radio, whom Alonso calls the ‘forgotten middle child, has a rather short time in the South Asian limelight; its days of popularity started in in the 1940s and ended in the 1980s with the rise of television. Starting off with the WWII-era shift whereby radio, as the chosen vehicle for disseminating news of the war effort, became part of the public political discourse, Alonso picks three ‘events’ or ‘moments’ in colonial and postcolonial history to trace its cultural history. The first was Subhash Chandra Bose’s mobilization of the Indian National Army through Azad Hind Radio until his demise in 1945, the second was entanglement of the politics of Hindi-Urdu language with high/popular culture on All India radio during the 1950s and 1960s, and the third was the strategic deployment of radio in (West) Pakistan during the 1965 war with India. In each case, the state, people, and radio were caught in a highly non-intuitive relationship. Far from being passive and/or manipulated, the South Asian ‘millions’ emerge as negotiating their own terms, thus offering the picture of a public sphere that is vibrant, noisy, and responsive. The structure of the book is well-thought: Alonso begins with a Hindi moment, segues onto a hybrid Hindi-Urdu period before moving into the Urdu linguistic-political sphere. What makes Alonso’s choice of the moments is not just their immense historical significance but the trans-national, trans-regional, and trans-medial nature of radio’s travels. Political intrigue, anticolonial resistance, quarrels about cinematic and musical taste, and wartime national pride were manifested through the airwaves and the policies guiding them. Alonso’s impeccable research and accessible style of writing bring the background drama and the front-end effects of each turn of events to the scholar and lay reader alike.”

As noted by the committee, Ziad’s book, Hidden Caliphate: Sufi Saints Beyond the Oxus and Indus, “is an ambitious study of a network of Sufi religious discourses and practices that spread through large stretches of Asia: ‘across the Indus and Amu Darya well into the Inner Asian Steppes and western China.’ Ziad calls this an ‘interconnected Persianate cosmopolis,’ the intellectual force behind which were Mujaddidi mystic-scholars educated in a variety of arts and sciences at institutions of higher learning in Bukhara, Kabul, Peshawar, and Delhi. Between early seventeenth and early twentieth centuries, the Mujaddidi sphere of influence resembled less any traditional version of Islamic sovereignty and more a parallel popular composite form of multi-ethnic composite culture. Fusing Arabic, Persian, and vernacular literary traditions with myriads of local practices, the Mujaddidis created a ‘unified, yet flexible’ articulation of Islam that could be trans-regional and lasting. Ziad traces the many layers of that articulation through rise and fall of political dynasties and other sea-changes across the region. In Ziad’s meticulously detailed account, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi’s concept of a millennial revival of Islam lives through three centuries of tumultuous history that connects the Mughal, British, and Sikh entanglements in South Asia with the world that lay west of the ‘Oxus and the Indus.’ Apart from contributing to the religious history of the Mujaddidis, Ziad has accomplished a truly connected and multi-disciplinary history of Sufism.”