Mainstream discourse today on civil society – the web of associations in the public space between the State and the Individual – makes claims about secular culture and ethics that have serious implications for emerging Muslim democracies. In particular, there is a perceived dichotomy between the “rational” demands of modern civic values and the “traditionalist” universe of din and ummah, which is thought to be resolvable either by an outright rupture between the two worlds, or by abandoning the quest for civil society. This paper argues that a key challenge for the intelligentsia – rowshanfekran – in transitional societies is to harness the rich ethos of al-Farabi, al-Ghazali, al-Kirmani and Tusi into the public domain on behalf of a modern culture of rights, pluralism and ethics, a challenge that intellectuals like Abdolkarim Soroush, Mohammed Shahrur, Nurcolish Madjid and Abdullahi an-Na‘im have taken up in diverse Muslim contexts.