Archive for February 3rd, 2015

Mutual friends: secularism and Islam

Brian Whitaker
14 April 2009

The Middle East will only be convinced by Islamic arguments for a secular state

On the first page of his book, Islam and the Secular State, Abdullahi an-Na’im writes: “In order to be a Muslim by conviction and free choice, which is the only way one can be a Muslim, I need a secular state.”

He explains that he is not advocating a secular society but a state which is neutral with regard to religion – a state whose institutions “neither favour nor disfavour any religious doctrine or principle”, a state that has no enforcing role in religious matters.

The object of state neutrality, an-Na’im says, is to facilitate “the possibility of religious piety out of honest conviction” and allow individuals in their communities the freedom “to accept, object to, or modify any view of religious doctrine or principle”. States that take sides in such matters become an obstacle to religious freedom.

To some readers, this may be little more than a statement of the obvious. But to many Muslims, especially in countries where the state poses as a “defender of Islam” and an enforcer of “Islamic values”, it is not only an unfamiliar argument but one that sounds dangerously mad, even heretical. Read the rest of this entry »