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Delighting in Khurram Hussain’s consistently sparkling prose is reason enough to read his new book Islam as Critique: Sayyid Ahmad Khan and the Challenge of Modernity (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019). But there is much more to this splendid book, framed around the profoundly consequential conceptual and political question of can Muslims serve not as friends or foes but as critics of Western modernity. Hussain addresses this question through a close and energetic reading of key selections from the scholarly oeuvre of the hugely influential yet often misunderstood modern South Asian Muslim scholar Sayyid Ahmad Khan (d. 1898). By putting Khan in contrapuntal conversation with a range of Western philosophers including Reinhold Niebuhr (d.1971), Hannah Arendt (d.1975), and Alasdair MacIntyre (1929-), Hussain explores ways in which Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s thought on profound questions of moral obligations, knowledge, Jihad, and time disrupts a politics of “either/or” whereby Muslim actors are invariably pulverized by the sledgehammer of modern Western commensurability to emerge as either friends or enemies. This provocative and thoughtful book will animate the interest of a range of scholars in Islamic Studies, South Asian Studies, Politics, Philosophy, and Postcolonial thought; it will also work as a great text to teach in courses on these and other topics.

SherAli Tareen is Associate 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 Listener feedback is most welcome.

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