In this post I explore the case of Bangladesh: the state of secularism there and the tensions and polemics that accompany the pursuit of an ideal secular state and society. I do this by reflecting on reactions surrounding women’s turn to greater religious engagement fostered through their participation in Quranic discussion circles in Dhaka. In outlining some of the tensions underlying the reactions, I wish to draw attention to the stakes of remaining confined to a binary view of religion and secularism, especially as new religious forces and faces come into the public space with the intent of developing and transforming it.
Posts Tagged ‘Quran’
Reports that NATO personnel had burned copies of the Qur’an first appeared in the New York Times on Tuesday, February 21.
A Florida church’s plans to burn copies of the Qur’an on September 11 have drawn widespread condemnation, including from the local fire department.
Nasr Abu Zayd, a liberal Egyptian Qur’anic scholar, died yesterday in a Cairo hospital. He had been living in exile in the Netherlands since 1995 after being declared an apostate and having his marriage annulled by an Egyptian court. In his work, Abu Zayd distinguished between the ‘Meccan verses’ and the ‘Medinan verses’ of the Qur’an. The ‘Medinan verses,’ he believed, should be read within their context and should not be used to establish an Islamic polity in the modern era; he argued against the atomistic approach to reading the Qur’an. Brian Whittaker draws on a 2008 interview he conducted with Abu Zayd to discuss modern interpretations of the Qur’an—as they relate to the Islamic polity—the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the drama of Abu Zayd’s exile.
Abdullahi An-Na‘im’s Islam and the Secular State has rightfully received a great deal of attention and commentary. A prominent Muslim scholar and human rights activist, he brings to bear an impressive scholarship and candor in addressing a pivotal and hotly contested issue in contemporary Islam. Although An-Na‘im wishes to present his views from within the Islamic tradition, he also states early on that his arguments are not exegetical in nature and therefore do not aim to interpret traditional Islamic sources such as Qur’an, hadith, tafsir, or legal theory (usul al-fiqh). Rather, An-Na‘im desires to provide an “interpretative framework” upon which more substantive arguments and analysis can be built in the future. This reliance on theory rather than on textual sources or theology is flawed if one expects to foster broad-based reform rather than be read and celebrated by a small elite Muslim and non-Muslim readership. [...]
I am grateful for the kind and thoughtful comments posted at The Immanent Frame about Islam and the Secular State. It is fascinating and instructive to see a text grow to have a life of its own, with some readers adding clarification and more effective communication of what one is attempting to say. Even misunderstanding is helpful in alerting an author to the risks of miscommunication, instead of assuming that people do understand what we say as we mean it. Indeed, it is the combination of the author’s purpose and the reader’s comprehension that determines what is actually communicated. It is that complex outcome unfolding over time, and not an author’s unilateral theorizing, that can make “a good theory,” for according to Kurt Lewin’s helpful insight, “there is nothing so practical as a good theory.” In this light, I offer the following reflections in the spirit of contributing to a process of collaborative theory-making. [...]
What is interesting about An-Na`im’s arguments is that they ground the case for the secular state not in the Quran, not in claims about the presence of the imago Dei in the person or in some other source of the person’s intrinsic dignity, not in natural law, some closely similar type of practical reason, or universal moral precepts, but rather in what might be called “second order” observations about the phenomenology of belief, the character of government, the lessons of history, and the like. To be sure, good reasons for the secular state lie therein. But are these arguments sufficient to ground an Islamic case for constitutionalism, human rights, and the secular state? I doubt it.
In his new book, Abdullahi an-Na`im argues that Muslims need a secular state to live their religious lives. Alongside his immensely informative account of modern developments, he makes a sustained argument against state enforcement of Islam along two major lines. First, it makes no religious sense for a state to force Muslims to follow God’s will, because Muslims should act from conviction and choice. An-Na`im makes a second argument that is parallel to the first: not only is it futile and religiously counter-productive to enforce Islamic piety, but doing so also distorts and impoverishes religion.