In the last few decades, questions relating to Islam’s compatibility with liberal secular democracy, or the question of why Islam remains incompatible with Western liberal norms of thought and politics have generated considerable commentary in both scholarly and journalistic communities. Among the central assumptions driving such compatibility talk relates to Islam’s allegedly inherent incapacity for critique, a virtue often heralded as a signature achievement and characteristic of liberal secularism. Irfan Ahmad
’s Religion as Critique: Islamic Critical Thinking from Mecca to the Marketplace
(University of North Carolina Press, 2017) represents a devastating indictment of this dominant liberal assumption that Islam is inimical to critique. Turning this assumption on its head, Ahmad combines historical, textual, and ethnographic methods to argue that critique is and has always been central to Muslim intellectual thought and lived practice. The distinctive feature of this book is the way it fluctuates the camera of analysis between a genealogy of Western liberal discourses of critique as a way to puncture their universality and inevitability, while bringing into view alternate logics and imaginaries of critique in Muslim thought and practice, past and present. Eminently readable, this book will be widely discussed and debated in multiple fields, including Religious Studies and Islamic Studies.
SherAli Tareen is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin and Marshall College. His research focuses on Muslim intellectual traditions and debates in early modern and modern South Asia. His academic publications are available here. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listener feedback is most welcome.