Anthropology expert Dr Ammara Maqsood’s study, The New Pakistani Middle Class, has just won the 2019 American Institute of Pakistan Studies Book Prize.
“The book, based on ethnographic field work in Lahore, weaves together ideas of religious identity, piety, consumption, and modernity into an enjoyable and accessible narrative,” said an AIPS statement on April 12. “Maqsood’s work addresses key issues (e.g., religion and class) without overlooking the everyday details that entertain the reader. In this way, the author tells a story about life in contemporary, middle-class Lahore that is at once local and global.”
Maqsood holds a DPhil and MPhil in Social Anthropology from the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Oxford. Her book aims to “contextualize the rise of a more pious though still aspirational middle class that, in [her] evaluation, departs from the historically rooted middle class that has existed in the city before and after partition”.
Lahore’s ‘newer’ middle class goes to dars gatherings as a way to improve the self. Maqsood argues that this entails a “specifically Islamic consumption that challenges stereotypes of the backwardness of piety”. The ‘older’ middle class supports more secular values and often leads with a nostalgia for a lost urbanity that purportedly thrived in the pre-Zia era, the AIPS says.
Maqsood’s book talks about two types of middle class and different ways in which “modern” Pakistan is conceived. One conception draws from Ayub’s modernizing project, while the other derives its impetus from newer interests in studying the Quran in local languages as part of efforts to nurture a sense of individual ethics.
An LSE review says the book adds to our understanding of Pakistan’s rising middle class. She gives examples from several other parts of the Muslim world such as West Asia, Iran and India where we also see a “growth in Islamic consumerism—especially during Ramzan and the increasing popularity of religious study circles”.