Religion as Critique

Islamic Critical Thinking from Mecca to the Marketplace

By Irfan Ahmad

300 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 5 halftones, 1 table, notes, bibl., index

Not for Sale in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka & ASEAN Countries

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3509-5
    Published: December 2017
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3508-8
    Published: December 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3510-1
    Published: November 2017

Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks

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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 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.

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.
For more information about Irfan Ahmad, visit the Author Page.


"Scholars of religion and philosophy will find plenty of challenges to assumptions about what counts as critique and who can deploy it."--Publishers Weekly

“Offers an interesting opposition to the West-and-the-rest narratives of an European Enlightenment radiating outwards from Greece and Germany into the backward corners of a darker world.”--Al Jazeera

“Thoughtful, nuanced, questioning, exploratory, Religion as Critique: Islamic Critical Thinking from Mecca to the Marketplace is a brave book and a timely one.”--The Hindu

"Expands the idea of critique itself. [Ahmad] offers new theoretical considerations of modernity and change, taking on such salient issues as nationhood, women's equality, the state, culture, democracy and secularism."--Islamic Horizons

"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. 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?

"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." --Arjun Appadurai, author of The Future as a Cultural Fact