Democratic Criticism

Poetics of Incitement and the Muslim Sacred

Subjects: Literary Criticism, Religion, Religion, General
Imprint: Lever Press
Paperback : 9781643150451, 225 pages, 6 x 9, February 2023
Open Access : 9781643150468, 225 pages, 6 x 9, February 2023
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Outlines new reading practices and promotes cross-cultural knowledge to help read from the perspective of the Other


After the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (1988), the poetics of incitement— found in texts originating in the West containing themes and representations of Islam hurtful to Muslims—became an accepted method of textual production in the West. Production of such texts intensified after the attacks of 9/11. Democratic Criticism: Poetics of Incitement and the Muslim Sacred by Masood Ashraf Raja urges a new mode of reading, one that permits Western readers to transcend local reading practices in order to, as best as one can, read from the point of view of the Other.

Raja argues that the lack of understanding of Muslim responses to the poetics of incitement in the West is the result of a lack of cross-cultural knowledge. He claims metropolitan universities often do not teach the proper social, historical, and religious context required for effectively reading these texts with any form of cultural knowledge. To remedy this, Raja offers and theorizes “democratic reading practices” and new ways for students to engage with texts. A genealogy of the Muslim Sacred is included, thereby giving readers the history and specific knowledge that constitutes an average Muslim reader of these texts, a subject who should be imagined and empathized with when those in the West read works of the poetics of incitement. 

Democratic Criticism encourages Western readers to develop a deeper understanding of the meaning-making processes of the Islamic world while at the same time encouraging the Muslim readers to read representations of the Islamic world with a more expansive understanding. It will be a helpful tool in creating reading practices that allow both teachers and students of literature to transcend their mode of reading as universal and to read from the perspective of the Other, and allow readers to engage meaningfully with these texts. Students and scholars of world literature, history, and religious studies will find this book insightful and valuable.

Masood Ashraf Raja is a former associate professor of Postcolonial literature and author of several books, most recently ISIS: Ideology, Symbolics and Counter Narratives.

"Fanonian-Saidian-Ngugian in essence, Raja's book is a must read for all cross disciplinary scholars. It uprightly calls for review of the fundamentalist Western-Non-Western, Secular-Non-Secular, and Muslim-Non-Muslim critical approaches towards transgressive texts. It expands the horizons of reception and resistance to offer liminal spaces, making readership transactions more nuanced, cosmopolitan, inclusive, and trans-cultural."

- Waseem Anwar, International Centre for Pakistani Writing in English

"A bold intervention in the cultural conflict between Western secularists and Islamic religionists, Democratic Criticism advocates an approach to literary study that is sure to evoke serious thought and debate."

- Mark Bracher, Kent State University

“A timely, much-needed, and original intervention! Masood Raja gives us a new theory of intercultural reading in the post-colony. Readers can no longer be passive receptacles but must also be avid explorers of traditions not their own, taking into account how distant readers in different sociocultural contexts would respond to texts through their own traditions and frameworks. Raja’s treatment of the Rushdie Affair provides an intimate, insider’s view of how Muslim people might understand Rushdie’s assault on the meaning of the sacred. Accessible! A page-turner! A tour-de-force!”

- Robin Goodman, Florida State University

"A remarkably illuminating guide for contrapuntal reading of texts, exploring the sacred and the secular in the modern era, and very timely non-western response to debates surrounding Islam and the Muslim world."

- Aroosa Kanwal, International Islamic University, Pakistan