Cover of For God or Empire by Wilson Chacko Jacob
For God or Empire
Sayyid Fadl and the Indian Ocean World
Wilson Chacko Jacob

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July 2019
304 pages.
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Cloth ISBN: 9780804793186
Paper ISBN: 9781503609631

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Sayyid Fadl, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, led a unique life—one that spanned much of the nineteenth century and connected India, Arabia, and the Ottoman Empire. For God or Empire tells his story, part biography and part global history, as his life and legacy afford a singular view on historical shifts of power and sovereignty, religion and politics.

Wilson Chacko Jacob recasts the genealogy of modern sovereignty through the encounter between Islam and empire-states in the Indian Ocean world. Fadl's travels in worlds seen and unseen made for a life that was both unsettled and unsettling. And through his life, at least two forms of sovereignty—God and empire—become apparent in intersecting global contexts of religion and modern state formation. While these changes are typically explained in terms of secularization of the state and the birth of rational modern man, the life and afterlives of Sayyid Fadl—which takes us from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Indian Ocean worlds to twenty-first century cyberspace—offer a more open-ended global history of sovereignty and a more capacious conception of life.

About the author

Wilson Chacko Jacob is Associate Professor of History at Concordia University. He is the author of Working Out Egypt: Effendi Masculinity and Subject Formation in Colonial Modernity, 1870-1940 (2011).