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‘Religion as Critique’ by Prof. Irfan Ahmad challenges the ‘Eurocentric’ claims that Islam is devoid of Critique

Afshan Khan, BeyondHeadlines

Any discussion on Philosophy consists the discussion on Enlightenment. European Enlightenment has always been projected as having a monopoly over the culture of ‘Critique’. But this much accepted notion is being challenged by a sincere academic work of Prof. Irfan Ahmad, An Anthropologist who has carefully examined scholarly evidences to critique the frameworks of ‘Critique’ in his book, ‘Religion as Critique: Islamic Critical Thinking from Mecca to the Marketplace.’

The author argues that the culture of critique did not start with the movement of Renaissance and Enlightenment or with the works of Immanuel Kant but it is as old as civilisation. The messages of Buddha, Guru Nanak, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad were also critique of their society. The book broadly discusses about the religion in general but it focuses on matters related to Islam and Muslim literature. 

Prof. Ahmad argues that critique is inherent in Islam but the prevalent framework is unable to recognise and study the principles and practices of critique already at work in Islam.

His deconstruction of the universalistic claims made on behalf of the Enlightenment is what makes this book unique from the other works in mainstream academic discourses. He provides an alternative account and modalities of critique by expanding the term with the help of his ethnographic data based on his field research of the ‘marketplace’.

‘Islamic critical thinking in Mecca’ started with the mission of Prophet Muhammad which is described by Qur’an as “Islah”. Islah in Islam means ‘reform’, the author thus argues that it is not possible without critique.  Therefore, he proves that the perception of Islam as an adversary of reason is wrong.

There are many other interesting arguments he builds in the book which no other book on philosophy and religion has dealt with. He takes into account the works of Indian intellectuals such as Amartya Sen and Ramchandra Guha and gives a wholly different perspective about their contribution in nationalist project which further led to the externalisation of Islam. His questions on the title given to Abdul Ghaffar Khan as ‘Frontier Gandhi’ is really interesting. For reading these arguments in an expanded way, all those who are interested in religion, philosophy and anthropology must read the book to understand an alternative account  of India and Islam.

The launching programme of the book, ‘Religion as Critique: Islamic Critical Thinking from Mecca to the Marketplace.’ is going to be held on 31st August, 2018 at 6:30 pm in Lecture Room 1, India International Centre, New Delhi.

The book will be released by Former Vice President of India, Hamid Ansari. Hilal Ahmad, Ziya Us Salam, Manisha Sethi, Irfan Ahmad will be the panelists. The session will be moderated by Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of The Wire.

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