- Hardcover: 300 pages
- Publisher: OUP India (8 March 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780199487592
- ISBN-13: 978-0199487592
- ASIN: 0199487596
- Package Dimensions: 23.5 x 15.9 x 2.4 cm
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,75,171 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Religion as Critique: Islamic Critical Thinking from Mecca to the Marketplace Hardcover – 8 Mar 2018
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About the Author
Irfan Ahmad, an anthropologist and senior research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Studies in Gottingen, Germany, is the author of Islamism and Democracy in India: The Transformation of Jamaat-e-Islami (2009).
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His questions on the very premise of the European enlightenment, seen as heralding the global culture of ‘critique’, stressing that it was an ‘ethnic project’ that led to the ‘reconfiguration’ of the ‘West/Christianity/Europe’, thus giving it immunity from the kind of critique that Islam or other cultures are subjected to. His argument that the art of criticism or tanqeed/naqd is as old as civilisation, as Gautama Buddha, Guru Nanak, Abraham, Moses and Prophet Muhammad were all critics, and consequently their messages were critiques of their societies appear so convincing. He is right that Sharia-based Islamicate traditions, tanqeed (critique) is a ‘middle line’ between tanqees (finding demerits) and tareef (praise), aimed at islah (reform).
Ahmad employs scholarship and incisive argumentation to unsettle established notions about knowledge production in India, besides the West, before proceeding to build an alternative genealogy of critique.
What Ahmad does not answer, though, is why despite these vibrant, intellectual discursive practices, the social norms of Muslims in South Asia largely remain entrenched in the past. Also I found it intriguing that while he does mentions several scholars from the Muslim World, except Shah Valiullah, he does not deliberate in detail on the production of knowledge in the Islamic world.
The second part of the book is an extension of Ahmad's previous work and is an ethnographic work on Jamaat e Islami Hind.
Overall the book is an important academic intervention and is highly recommended to anyone interested in Islam, especially South Asian Islam.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
An excellent book with very compelling, and at times intellectually playful, arguments that challenge yet another conventional wisdom about religion in general and Islam in particular.
“Can Islam ever accept higher criticism?” “If Islamic world is to go forward… it needs to face these uncomfortable questions and embrace the pain of doubt,” “rationality is gone,” “Islamic culture prohibits any criticism of Islamic traditions.” These statements, only to list a few, according to Ahmad, encapsulate some of the Western Orientalist tropes that represent Islamic traditions not only as devoid of critique, but also that Islam cannot reconcile itself with any form of critique. Such a conventional wisdom “has a longer genealogy in Western thought, which runs almost concurrently with Europe’s colonial expansion” (p.8).
Central to the making of Islam as antithetical to the European Enlightenment is an ethnic project, avers Ahmad. Ahmad is very cautious, here, as he spells out his argument. That is because enlightenment/critique/reason, as upheld by followers of the Kantian tradition, is a synonym of universality rather than a specific ethnicity. What follows is a thought-provoking discussion about how Kant’s philosophy of reason is a security project. Drawing on Kant’s discussion on the Arab nomads, Ahamd contends that Kant’s aim was to protect and secure the boundary, which demarcates the Christian, enlightened rational European civilization from what he perceived as the danger of enthusiasm/zeal, fanaticism/sensuality the Prophet Mohammad (PUH) and Islam represented. It is against this discursively produced Islam as anti-critique that Ahmad situates his thesis. Focusing on Islam, Religion as Critique's overarching argument is; this: “departing from standard Enlightenment understanding, according to which religions, especially non-Protestant ones, could only be objects of critique, this book…theorizes religion as an important agent of critique, viewing Moses, the Buddha, Christ, Muhammad…and many others as critic par excellence” (p.xii). Drawing on ethnographic as well as literary sources, Ahmad takes his proposition further to argue that indeed Islam as a mode of religious criticism is practiced by ordinary Muslims, women, and men in everyday life.
This is a very well written and an intellectually stimulating book, which offers thought-provoking arguments that will keep its reader engaged from beginning to the end. It is an important contribution to the fields of Islamic studies, anthropology, and philosophy. Certainly, it is an essential reading for scholars and students concerned about the future of Islamic traditions in an increasingly secularized world, where Islam continues to be represented as an antithesis to all that which is modern, rational and democratic to justify its relegation to the private if not banishing it all together.