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Appropriations and Contestations of the Islamic Nomenclature in Muslim North India

Elitism, Lexicography, and the Meaning of The Political

Jan-Peter Hartung

This article comprises a twofold attempt: the first is to establish a semantic field that revolves around the concept of siyāsat—roughly equivalent to the political—in Muslim South Asia; the second is to trace semantic shifts in this field and to identify circumstances that may have prompted those shifts. It is argued here that the terms that constitute the semantic field of the political oscillate between two sociolinguistic traditions: a strongly Islamicate Arabic one, and a more imperially oriented Persian one. Another linguistic shift is indicated with the replacement of Persian by Urdu as the dominant literary idiom in and beyond North India since the eighteenth century. The aim is to serve only as a starting point for a more intensive discussion that brings in other materials and perspectives, thus helping to elucidate the tension between normative aspirations by ruling elites and actual political praxes by variant socioeconomic groups.