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Abdulkader Tayob

Monday, August 24, 11:30 a.m. | SG
The Biographical Trajectories of Political Islam

Abdulkader Tayob

The study of political Islam, Islamism or Islamic fundamentalism remains a daunting challenge for scholars of religion in general, and scholars of Islam in particular. As religious movements that have dominated public life in local and global contexts for the last few decades, scholars have provided useful insights on how Islam has become an ideology or a discourse of resistance and hegemony. There is also great awareness that political Islam takes many forms, and in fact continues to change. But there is relatively little on the life trajectories of ordinary individuals who participated and engaged in these movements over this long period, facing change and transformation within, reacting to changing politics and social transformation, and navigating personal choices and doubts. With a few notable exceptions, the literature presents a simplistic picture of conversion or indoctrination, delusion or manipulation. // In this presentation, I put forward the thesis that Political Islam may be illuminated from the perspective of the many Journeys of activists in these movements over a long period of time. With a focus on South Africa, I offer a perspective on the biographical trajectories of Islamists over two or three decades. I follow their conversions, engagements, conflicts, high and low points. How do they convert to these movements and leave behind their earlier life choices? How do they navigate the variety of choices and road-blocks place in their way? What do they find in the movements, deliverance or frustration? Where are they now, and how do they see the future? // With this biographical and personal perspective, I offer reflections on thinking about religion in post-colonial contexts, on religion as a changing and dynamic phenomenon in the lives of individuals, and on the long history of a religious tradition.