ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Critique as a Way of Life

Religion as Critique: Islamic Critical Thinking from Mecca to the Marketplace by Irfan Ahmad, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018; pp xxv + 270, 1,195.


Irfan Ahmads erudite volume seeks to challenge a common OrientalistIslamophobic stereotype: Islam is inimical to criticism (p 10). This lackwhich produces a bigoted, freedom-despising Islam (p 8)is pitted against the abundance of reason in a freedom-loving, enlightened West. The authors primary response to these negative discourses is succinct and precise: critique has been integral to Islamic traditions (p 13). We should consider Islam as critique; indeed, Islam as permanent critique (p 14, emphasis in the original, throughout). What prevents the recognition of the presence of critique in Islam is the inability of our prevalent frameworks, an important example of which is the Enlightenment legacy which understands critique as being that of religion other than Christianity, rather than it occurring from within non-Christian religion (p 12).

Ahmad systematically unpacks his thesis in four deft intellectual moves. First, he shows how the Western Enlightenment, thought to be the fountainhead of critique and reason, was the product of a particular historical juncture and had detectable ethnic and religious roots. Second, reason is impotent (p 16) in and by itself; it is always situatedin a cultural, political and religious tradition. Third, Islam does not abide by dichotomies of intellect versus affect. Instead, aql (reason) has coexisted and is complimentary with qalb (heart) (p 17). Finally, critique is not the preserve of an elite group of intellectuals, non- intellectuals too enact and participate in the works of critique (p 18).

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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