Naipaul’s celebrated book Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981) is first of the series of travelogue in 4 Islamic countries

within a time span of 14 years, Beyond Belief (1995) being the second. Nobel Prize winner Vidyadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, a Trinidadian of Hindu origin and resident of Britain, is a literary institution in himself. Spanning over a timeframe of 50 years, his writing has shifted considerably towards non-fiction where he becomes more of a journalist than a novelist. Naipaul’s major works range between both fiction and non-fiction, yet he continues to be sensitive but disinterested to the society in different countries having various cultures. His fictions usually depict protagonists struggling against the world for self-knowledge and rarely succeed. His novels, such as Middle Passage, Half a Life and Magic Seed grew dark, but have rarely touched the crescendo of Ben Okri’s Famished Road as Naipaul brings out a philosophy and vision of a world as a relentless pressure that has to be resisted with grit and intelligence. Post 1980, his works were more dominated by journalism with few exceptions such as The Enigma of Arrival, Half a Life or Magic Seeds. His style of journalism is often termed as “prophetic”, whereas he commented on his early works “My theme is belief, not political or economic life; and yet at the bottom of the continent the political realities are so overwhelming that they have to be taken into account” – which is the essence of his writing regardless of fiction or non-fiction. The reason for selecting this book as subject of my research is the whole gamut it covers from history, religion, society, economics, culture and socio-economic circumstances and political roles of Islamic movements in the 4 countries – Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia. Naipaul has tried to portray Islamic fundamentalism as ideological protest against many of evils of industrialization and modernization. None of his other books evolved around such a theme as religion as the central character, which is fascinating as subject for the scope of this study. When V. S. Naipaul’s Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey was first published in 1981, the world barely took any notice of it. People were least interested in one man’s travel across relatively unknown and inconsequential corners of Asia and his ramblings about the alleged precariousness of the Islamic revolution. But the world has changed since 1981; especially after the rise of religious fundamentalism. Naipaul journeys the four countries between summer of

which is the fear of the return of political Islam. perceived as not only intolerant of what Islamism sees as today’s post-modern permissiveness. Global phenomena of Re-Islamization. tolerance and anti-essentialism. nation feeling their drive to create a fresh world of virtue and prosperity.” Though Komeini’s Islamic revolution . Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in the world affairs but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations”. Pakistan and Indonesia were under military rule.1979 and the winter of 1981 when each of the four countries was experiencing turbulent times: Iran had just overthrown the regime of Shah Pahlavi and instated an Islamic state. but of wishing to overturn it all in favor of a stern theocracy. We learn about their histories. It is in conflict with modern day concept of Islamophobia . generations that bred them and most importantly the nuances of faith and belief that sustains them. plans and policies will be counted as a jihad. commonly referred to as “Islamism”. a slow racist storm was brewing against the immigrant Chinese. and anybody who is killed on that path is a martyr. their journeys. This theory comes much later in history as compared to the context of Naipaul’s travelogue Among the Believer. religion. and in Malaysia (to some extent in Indonesia also). Islamism is feared because it is imaginatively linked with Europe’s own pre-modern Christianity and its history of violent sectarianism. But what was common to all these nations was that the ideology of Islam was extending itself from its original realm of religion and culture into the realm of politics and governance. their motivations and their dreams and being the reader we see ourselves in their struggles with family. a new form of cultural racism – has emerged as proof of the concept coined by Bernard Lewis and popularized by political scientist Samuel P. the Crusade and the Inquisition. The journey of time between the 2 books is significant – the period between rise and fall of the chief Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini who called for a holy war against the West: “The struggle against American aggression. The sequel Beyond Belief is the second excursion into the same countries after 14 years as an explanation of his earlier theories – both compilation of stories about people. The two books can’t be studied separately since the later concludes the ideas he started painting in the former. Hunington of “Clash of Civilizations”: “The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. greed.

only the sands of Arabia are sacred. Islamic fundamentalism of which it was a projection continues to hold the same importance into ideology and political influence. This in turn invites opposition resulting in fundamentalists’ aspiration to capture state power to enforce Islamic law. These are nations where Islam came as revolution and newly converts give up their old identity in everything associated with the past – belief. Naipaul finds Islamic fundamentalism at work wherever he goes: Iran. The reasons for the instinctive move towards the glory of the past.” Khomeini’s call for revolution had greater appeal than the idea of being Iranian was to have a special faith – a holier and purer version of Arabian faith. custom. It gave a special edge to the faith in Iran. name. In Pakistan too. believe that Islamic rule will be the panacea for wide spread corruption in the system. Indonesia and Malaysia. Parvez – the newspaper editor in Iran and many more. To them “land is of no religious or historical importance. converts are trying to erase their past and though they were oppressed now converted to aggressor with turn of the time. It shows evidence as an emblem of rejection of paganism that holds their pre-islamic past and ancestors in contempt. dress. as Naipaul elicits. the military rule promised the Islamic rule to the deprived people. he comments “people’s consciousness began with coming of Islam. Naipaul’s visit to Pakistan showed him the same force lurking below the surface of conflict between many sects of the newly formed state – which still retains strong fragrance of its recent past in dress. But it means no relief for the people from the central driving force of proving the holy idea of Islam.” . In Iran. Ahmed. As one advances in piety. its relics are of no account. Khairul in Malaysia. They all form part of the central theme of inclination towards Islam and adopting it. Razak in Pakistan. The idea is quite well conceived in the context of the book with many characters portrayed across all 4 countries such as Ali in Iran. During his visit to Iran. other obligations start flowing in inevitably – such as Muslim penal law and enforcement of fasts and prayers. are multilayered and confounding.failed. Pakistan. custom. One recurrent theme prevailing in both the books is. the people desperate and desolate under the oppressive regime of the Shah. began with its defeat. and a special passion to the people. Taufiq in Indonesia. ceremonies. festivals and social organization.

Arabs opposed Islam but overwhelmed later on and found it economically and politically attractive. Despite rich heritage and economic presence of Chinese Taoists.Naipaul meets the same phenomena in Indonesia. Under its sway they not only lost their belief but their history and ancestors – in their place were burdened with artificial history and ancestry. Consequently. “Self-alienation” – estrangement from one’s own people. Buddhists and Hindus. This country is one of the richest in terms of natural resources but the aboriginals felt oppressed by the new-comers like Chinese and Indians – found their refute and solace in Islam. a country with very recent cultural and religious past of greater India and western colonialism. Another interesting religious polarization is formulated in Malaysia – where being Malaysian meant to be Muslim. “Arab Nationalism” – as Anwar Shaikh explains “Islam is accompanied by Arabiazation. The native peasants who struggle to find their place in the world seek solace in Islam. and in the end. It is almost like people wanted a one-time quick fix solution to all the ills of the society. With strong evidence of its rich cultural and religious tradition of Paganism and Hinduism – nothing outside Islam is acknowledged to the present generation. the call for the rejection of materialism (and in turn the rejection of anything that is ideologically west) and the embracing of universal justice and equity takes deep roots in their minds in the form of Islamic allegiance. But this rejection is not entirely possible. as these civilizations increasingly find themselves dependent upon western technology to sustain them. the oppressed people were the destitute natives overwhelmed by the immigrant and prosperous Chinese. which seems to give them a sense of identity and a purpose in their life. something that can solve people’s problems for eternity so that they can live happily ever after. The concept of history has completely altered and that alteration has inevitably diminished the intellect of the country. but now Arab influence marches with Islam.” Previously Islam marched with the Arab armies. . Malaysia has protected its religious aggression by adopting new Islam and spreading it across. how it did in all the countries. caught in a state of incertitude that will split them between their allegiance and the inevitable betrayal and cause even more anguish. a type of psychological phenomenon emerges as central idea for all of the converted nations under current discussion. In Malaysia and Indonesia.

To Naipaul. less secular eye might see the same circumstances with greater appreciation of Muslim ideals in proportion to lapses from them. The binary opposition between Muslim pacifist and Islamic terrorist emerged over last 2 decades has been ignored since this started at the turn of the Iranian Revolution – where the timeframe of the novel ends. He also ignores the evidence that Iran was under tremendous internal pressure that the Teheran’s free thinker. The most recent concept of “Islamophobia” is aggregated anxiety about the weakening if integrative civil and national identities in an age of globalization. Perhaps a more sympathetic. but a sub-theme has been that there is not a clash between civilizations but within Muslim civilizations. woman activist and civil libertarians –who all challenged the system.” Hanif Kureshi being one of the most eminent post-modern writers speaks of liberation of body (Islam denies the natural body and free mind) but shares same view as Naipaul and feel enervated by Muslim person and symbols. Islam mimics Western technology and achievements without understanding the conditions that have brought them about. not only has a distinction made that is internal to the nation-state. who announced crusade against fundamentalism and spoke for “creative self-liberation from religious fundamentalism”. To him the new Islam raises political issues without providing political solutions and as a result encouraging anarchy. During his journey he repeatedly finds a reason for backwardness in very devotion to Islam which brings buoyancy or serenity to so many he meets. Among the Believers exemplifies the Naipaul conviction that it is in favor to a country to withhold a negative views of it. Referring back to the “Clash of civilizations” of Lewis after 9/11. most of whom don’t adhere to totalitarian vision of Islam. wanting to reassure myself that I was still in England. It is the presumption of culture and now political fanaticism that makes a racialized monolith of a set of very culturally diverse Muslim communities. We may recall Rushdie here. .Naipaul fails to admire Islam as “liberator” and not “invader” from religious superstition and social injustice – as Islam is portrayed in country like India. The conflict of new generation of Muslims in post 9/11 era portrayed in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist is not considered in writings of Hanif Kureshi where he experiences similar feelings as Naipaul when visiting homes of “young fundamentalist”: “I found these session so intellectually stultifying and claustrophobic that at the end I’d rushed to the nearest pub and drink rapidly.

a warning the world sadly missed. like Christianity. yet the problems of fundamentalism are relatively new. But Among the Believers is Naipaul’s intimate affair with the east. Even though he is cynical towards their ideologies. Naipaul may have greatly overstated the role that history has played in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.” Far ahead of its time. the book was more than just a prophecy. It is a collection of voices that make sense only in relation to one another.” Naipaul. we move from one voice to the next . with their own language and their own stories. individuals. His is neither a romantic's nor an anthropologist's tale. The religion of village was a composite religion. almost like an unconfessed guilt nagging the inside of our minds. When this mode of storytelling works. Naipaul knows how to let a story build itself quietly through accretion. Naipaul is constantly striving to reach out to the humans that ultimately everyone is. he creates the exquisite landscapes with his lucid prose. “What makes Naipaul one of the world’s most civilized writers is his refusal to be engaged by the People. an affair that is as compassionate as it is enlightening Writer and critic Ian Buruma has pointed out. Buruma notes.Taslima Nasrin has also faced similar reaction from her own country as a result of writing unequivocally against Islam. he views them with compassion. the idea of the good life was a composite idea. complemented the older religions.. But what the book fails to acknowledge (though implicitly it does at places) is the root cause of the ideological rejection of the west: the rampant exploitation and oppression in the era of colonization which created the need for alternative ideologies. since Islam has existed in Asia for a long time. These are more recent concept which “prophetic” Naipaul fails to foresee or extract out of various people he meets and reports in both the books. As Ian Buruma observed in 1991 (the year after Naipaul was knighted by the Queen of England). It was a portentous warning of what religious fundamentalism was capable of. With a novel like characterization. through accumulated observations of those he meets. is “impatient with all abstractions”. This leaves a disturbing void. He effortlessly transforms the reader to places with his sense for detail and acumen for historical accounts. and his insistence on listening to people. and indeed what all of Naipaul’s travel books have in common is a fierce particularity. But people are the most important part of his travel. Naipaul explains “Islam.

S. Naipaul's Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples • • • Hanif Kureishi : The Word and the Bomb. London.without really noticing that the speaker has changed.Review of V. There's not a lot of unnecessary scenesetting: what's important is what's being said. The Body Salman Rushdie : The Satanic Verses Thomas F.S. Naipaul • Nallasivan V: The Viewpaper on Naipaul’s Among the Believers . Reference: • Ram Swarup . Bertonneau : Post-Imperium: The Rhetoric of Liberation and the Return of Sacrifice in the Work of V.