This article was released as part of the Singapore Middle East Papers series, published by the Middle East Institute at NUS
The term ‘critical Islam’ can mean a host of things and therefore needs to be qualified. Here it will be used to describe a strand of contemporary Muslim thinking arising and developing both in parallel with–and in contrast to–what scholars of Islam from different academic disciplines refer to as the ‘Islamic Resurgence’ beginning in 1970s.The exponents of this other current are called turāthiyyūn, or ‘heritage thinkers’, because they do not take Islam as a narrowly defined and fixed set of doctrines and tenets, nor do they regard it as offering a set and concrete political model that works as a panacea against all the ills affecting Muslims and Muslim societies. Instead, they regard Islam as a civilizational concept with a rich legacy of religious, philosophical, and cultural expressions. This is not to imply that the advocates of political Islam, or Islamists, can’t be critical too. In fact, a case could be made that their views of the role of religion in human life refers to another meaning of ‘critical’; in the sense of considering it crucial or critically important to human felicity. However, rather than projecting Islam as an ideal, the heritage thinkers–depending on their disciplinary backgrounds–take religion as an idea or a social fact.