In recent years, historians and postcolonial critics have illuminated several trends of universalist thought among a group of Indian intellectuals and activists who articulated forms of humanist anti-imperialism within the circuits of publication and translation in the transregional Indian Ocean public sphere. While this recent work has done much to open up a discursive space for forms of non-Western universalism, it has, whether intentionally or not, reiterated the claims of a transcendent liberal secular humanism in a new guise. But what would this Indian Ocean cosmopolitanism look like when grounded in the politics of place rather than in the domain of the transcendent? Willis’s article considers the heated debate over the future of Mecca after the Sa‘udi occupation in 1924, both from its discursive position as a quintessential cosmopolitan “open city” and as the site of a material struggle over urban space. In particular, it considers the writings of the South Asian scholar and activist Abul Kalam Azad, a major figure in the Indian Khilafat movement and the Indian National Congress, who was simultaneously a critic of the nation form and communalism (on the basis of universal humanism) and a vocal supporter of Ibn Sa‘ud’s conquest and government of the holy cities. While Azad has been lauded in South Asian historiography as a paragon of secular humanism, how do we reconcile his cosmopolitanism with his support of the exclusionary religious policies of the Sa‘udi state?

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