Tuesday, November 09, 2010

islam and the secular state (part two)

So I finally finished reading Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim's Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari'a. To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the book. That isn't to say that An-Naim's ideas weren't provocative or intriguing or worth further contemplation. But I was more impressed by him as a speaker and as a thinker (based on various clips of lectures and interviews available online) than as a writer per se. In the earlier chapters of the book he tended to sound a bit repetitive and I found him a little abstract for my taste.

But he does get particularly eloquent when he is laying out his central premise in the very last chapter:
As a Muslim, I need a secular state in order to live in accordance with Shari'a out of my own genuine conviction and free choice, personally and in community with other Muslims, which is the only valid and legitimate way of being a Muslim. Belief in Islam, or any other religion, logically requires the possibility of disbelief, because belief has no value if it is coerced. If I am unable to disbelieve, I will not be able to believe. Maintaining institutional separation between Islam and the state while regulating the permanent connection of Islam and politics is a necessary condition for achieving the positive role of Shari'a now and in the future.

In many ways, the above paragraph is the heart of the book and the rest of the text is an elaboration and an unpacking of his words here.

I almost want to say that I wish he were more opinionated. I was left wondering how he concretely imagines the "separation of Islam and the state" on the one hand, and the "permanent connection of Islam and politics" on the other. He was at his most engaging when describing the interplay between Islam, the state and politics in particular settings; the caliphate of Abu Bakr (ra) and then more recently in India, Turkey and Indonesia. But I would have liked to hear him share his views on Islam and secularism in other locations; for example, Saudi Arabia, Iran, France, the US and especially his own native Sudan. I also would have liked to see him engage a bit more with the religious arguments of those who advocate for some form of "Islamic government". Maybe that's for the next book?

islam and the secular state
the postcolonial condition of muslim states
conversations with history: abdullahi ahmed an-naim

4 comments:

ruwaydamustafah.com said...

It's one thing to argue a priori, it's another to argue with substansive evidence from the scripture.

His ideas seem, almost Christian-like to me.

ruwaydamustafah.com said...

It's one thing to argue a priori, it's another to argue with substantive evidence from the scripture.

His ideas seem, almost Christian-like to me.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

I wouldn't call his argument "Christian" but I do wish that his argument certainly could be stronger and more rooted in daleel

Anonymous said...

Simple and sweet. I’m thinking of starting another blog or five pretty soon, and I’ll definitely consider this theme. Keep ‘em coming!.