Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari'a

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Overview

What should be the place of Shari‘a—Islamic religious law—in predominantly Muslim societies of the world? In this ambitious and topical book, a Muslim scholar and human rights activist envisions a positive and sustainable role for Shari‘a, based on a profound rethinking of the relationship between religion and the secular state in all societies.

An-Na‘im argues that the coercive enforcement of Shari‘a by the state betrays the Qur’an’s insistence on voluntary acceptance of Islam. Just as the state should be secure from the misuse of religious authority, Shari‘a should be freed from the control of the state. State policies or legislation must be based on civic reasons accessible to citizens of all religions. Showing that throughout the history of Islam, Islam and the state have normally been separate, An-Na‘im maintains that ideas of human rights and citizenship are more consistent with Islamic principles than with claims of a supposedly Islamic state to enforce Shari‘a. In fact, he suggests, the very idea of an “Islamic state” is based on European ideas of state and law, and not Shari‘a or the Islamic tradition.

Bold, pragmatic, and deeply rooted in Islamic history and theology, Islam and the Secular State offers a workable future for the place of Shari‘a in Muslim societies.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books

Mak[es] a powerful theological case for abandoning the very notion of an Islamic state. [An-Na'im] argues that the claims of these so-called states to enforce the Sharia repudiate the fundamental right of religious choice implicit in a Koranic verse that says there can be "no compulsion in religion."
— Malise Ruthven

Globe and Mail

An-Na'im lays out with candor and elegance the need for the state to be secular for all citizens, and explores Muslim polities in Indonesia, India and Turkey.
— Emran Qureshi

Times Higher Education Supplement

[A] controversial and topical book...Although not all Muslim scholars will fully agree with An-Na'im's proposals regarding the institutional separation of Islam and the state, his thoughts are a step forward towards a healthy negotiation for the future of Sharia.
— Helen Haste

ssrc.org/blogs/immanent_frame

Few books in Islamic studies have been as eagerly awaited or intensely debated prior to publication as Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na‘im’s Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari‘a...[This book] testifies to the richness of [Ahmed An-Na‘im’s] life work, and to the courage of an author who deserves to be recognized as one of the most important religious thinkers of our age.
— Robert Hefner

Washington Post Book World

An-Na'im is an independent-minded intellectual who has raised sensitive issues (such as his belief that interpretations of sharia have led to discrimination against non-Muslim minorities in the Arab world) that many Muslims and their advocates would prefer to keep out of public debate...The crux of An-Na'im's Islam and the Secular State is that Muslims should be allowed to practice their faith as they see fit and should comply with sharia, but voluntarily. The call from Islamists to impose sharia with the full power of the state will only lead to totalitarianism, he argues. To bolster his claim, he notes that the Koran never mentions the idea of a state and does not prescribe a particular form of government.
— Geneive Abdo

Bruce B. Lawrence
Two debates pervade almost all discussions about Islam, Muslim societies and the role of both in the 21st century. The first revolves around the shari'a, a kind of comprehensive Muslim guide to good conduct, and its applicability within Muslim majority states. The other frames capitalism, socialism and secularism as antipodes to what Islam cannot or should not be. This book engages both, arguing that secularism is not as an unwelcome counter force to 'true' Islam but is the indispensable path to reclaiming Islam to advance pluralism, human rights, women's rights, civil society and citizenship. Abdullahi An-Na'im is a public intellectual known far beyond the academy and the American continent. In Africa, in Asia and throughout the Middle East his is a courageous voice for secular Islam. There is no book like this one: brilliant, compelling, and optimistic.
New York Review of Books - Malise Ruthven
Mak[es] a powerful theological case for abandoning the very notion of an Islamic state. [An-Na'im] argues that the claims of these so-called states to enforce the Sharia repudiate the fundamental right of religious choice implicit in a Koranic verse that says there can be "no compulsion in religion."
Globe and Mail - Emran Qureshi
An-Na'im lays out with candor and elegance the need for the state to be secular for all citizens, and explores Muslim polities in Indonesia, India and Turkey.
Times Higher Education Supplement - Helen Haste
[A] controversial and topical book...Although not all Muslim scholars will fully agree with An-Na'im's proposals regarding the institutional separation of Islam and the state, his thoughts are a step forward towards a healthy negotiation for the future of Sharia.
ssrc.org/blogs/immanent_frame - Robert Hefner
Few books in Islamic studies have been as eagerly awaited or intensely debated prior to publication as Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na‘im’s Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari‘a...[This book] testifies to the richness of [Ahmed An-Na‘im’s] life work, and to the courage of an author who deserves to be recognized as one of the most important religious thinkers of our age.
Washington Post Book World - Geneive Abdo
An-Na'im is an independent-minded intellectual who has raised sensitive issues (such as his belief that interpretations of sharia have led to discrimination against non-Muslim minorities in the Arab world) that many Muslims and their advocates would prefer to keep out of public debate...The crux of An-Na'im's Islam and the Secular State is that Muslims should be allowed to practice their faith as they see fit and should comply with sharia, but voluntarily. The call from Islamists to impose sharia with the full power of the state will only lead to totalitarianism, he argues. To bolster his claim, he notes that the Koran never mentions the idea of a state and does not prescribe a particular form of government.
Geneive Abdo
An-Na'im's experience in his native Sudan and in the United States has bred the practical assumption that an Islamic state will lead only to tyranny, and that Muslims need a secular state in which to live their faith by their own free choice; for him, this is "the only valid and legitimate way of being a Muslim."
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

Muslim scholar (Emory Univ.) and human rights activist An-Na'im has written extensively on law and human rights in the Islamic world (e.g., Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law). Here, he turns to the subject of the state's coercive enforcement of Sharia-Koran-based Islamic law-in predominantly Muslim societies, arguing that its promulgation of Sharia is contrary to the Koranic insistence on the voluntary acceptance of Islam and the freely chosen adherence to its commandments. He argues for religion to be separate from the state, positing that the secular (i.e., neutral) state is the best instrument to safeguard the rights of Muslims and others. And he demonstrates that it has always been impossible to have an "Islamic state" because the Sharia itself was created and codified subject to imperfect human interpretation. Nonetheless, he acknowledges that significant portions of the Muslim world currently have difficulty separating Sharia as a religious duty from Sharia as a state-imposed code. An-Nai'm's thoughtful argument seems directed toward a well-educated Muslim readership. Highly recommended for university and large public libraries and Islamic collections (including mosque libraries).
—William P. Collins

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674034563
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/30/2010
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,037,239
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na‘im is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University.
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Table of Contents

  • Preface

  1. Introduction: Why Muslims Need a Secular State
  2. Islam, the State, and Politics in Historical Perspective
  3. Constitutionalism, Human Rights, and Citizenship
  4. India: State Secularism and Communal Violence
  5. Turkey: Contradictions of Authoritarian Secularism
  6. Indonesia: Realities of Diversity and Prospects of Pluralism
  7. Conclusion: Negotiating the Future of Shari‘a

  • References
  • Index

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