Irfan Ahmad makes the far-reaching argument that potent systems and modes for self-critique as well as critique of others are inherent in Islam–indeed, critique is integral to its fundamental tenets and practices. Challenging common views of Islam as hostile to critical thinking, Ahmad delineates thriving traditions of critique in Islamic culture, focusing in large part on South Asian traditions. Ahmad contemplates and interrogates Greek and Enlightenment notions of reason and critique, and he notes how they are invoked in relation to “others,” including Muslims. Drafting an alternative genealogy of critique in Islam, Ahmad reads religious teachings and texts, drawing on sources in Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, and English, and demonstrates how they serve as expressions of critique. Throughout, he depicts Islam as an agent, not an object, of critique.
On a broader level, Ahmad expands the idea of critique itself. Drawing on his fieldwork among marketplace hawkers in Delhi and Aligarh, he construes critique anthropologically as a sociocultural activity in the everyday lives of ordinary Muslims, beyond the world of intellectuals. Religion as Critique allows space for new theoretical considerations of modernity and change, taking on such salient issues as nationhood, women’s equality, the state, culture, democracy, and secularism.
“This important and passionate book is filled with original ideas. Two of the most striking ones are that Enlightenment thought is deeply indebted to Christian thought, and that Islam has its own tradition of critique that precedes the Western idea of critique but continues to be marginalized in contemporary scholarly and public debate. A significant book for scholars of Islam, Europe, and the Enlightenment that goes well beyond existing debates about the Enlightenment.”
Arjun Appadurai, author of The Future as a Cultural Fact
“Religion as Critique provocatively examines the relationship of the Islamic tradition to critique. It is a timely reflection on the ways in which reason, criticism, and reflexivity are not exclusive to the Enlightenment, and pointedly addresses how the practice of Westernized notions of critique are deeply constituted by and through political and anthropological contexts.”
Ruth Mas, BGSMCS–Free University Berlin
“In this enlightening and impressive examination of Islamic thought, Irfan Ahmad investigates a part of the Muslim world too often regarded as marginal but which ought to be recognized as central. Ahmad argues that Islam has its own form of religious criticism carried out by believing Muslims with reference to their own traditions. This book will be of interest not only to those who study modern Islamic thought but also to scholars of religion and postcolonial studies and to anthropologists beyond area specialists.”
Talal Asad, Is Critique Secular?