FAITH COMPLEX: What’s Good for Islam? A Secular State

FAITH COMPLEX By Jacques Berlinerblau If I seem a bit amped up during my interview with Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, … Continued


By Jacques Berlinerblau

If I seem a bit amped up during my interview with Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, then please chalk this up not only to the man’s infectious intellectual energy, but to the excitement generated by his breathtakingly bold and erudite book Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shar’ia.

President Obama addressed the Muslim world yesterday and I sincerely hope that his advisers on Islamic affairs will place Professor An-Na’im’s study on his required reading list. For here they will find a scholar arguing not only that the state and religion should be separated in countries where Muslims comprise the majority, but that this separation has actually been the norm throughout the history of Islamic civilizations.

It is in light of these considerations that Professor An-Na’im suggests that “the modern territorial state should neither seek to enforce Shari’a [law] as positive law and public policy nor claim to interpret its doctrine and general principles for Muslim citizens.” One must be a Muslim by “conviction and free choice” argues An-Na’im. Any attempt to coerce people into living as Muslims–which is what state-imposed Shari’a invariably does–will do tremendous violence to the core principles of Islam.

In our discussion Professor An-Na’im and I discussed everything from his intellectual resemblance to Martin Luther, to the (low) likelihood that he might be brunching with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad any time soon.

Our guest also reiterated a theme struck by Ms. Asra Nomani last month. Namely, that heresy can be a creative, progressive force in religious development. I urge serious students of Islam and of secularism to read Islam and The Secular State and if they need any convincing I urge them to watch this video.


Jacques Berlinerblau is associate Professor and Director of the Program for Jewish Civilization at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is the author of several books including, “Thumpin’ It: The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today’s Presidential Politics” (Westminster John Knox)

By Jacques Berlinerblau | 
June 3, 2009; 9:16 PM ET

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