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Religion/State Relations in Contemporary Islam

Session Chair: Syed Furrukh Zad Ali Shah | Tuesday, August 25, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

Tehseen Thaver

Secularism, Mysticism, and Religious Authority in Contemporary Turkey: The Case of CemalNur Sargut’s Sufi Movement

In 1925, Sufism or mystical Islam was officially outlawed in Turkey by the newly formed republic. Yet, far from retreating from the public sphere, Turkish Sufi scholars and groups have in fact negotiated and mobilized the conditions and possibilities of modernity in remarkably creative and dynamic ways. This paper presents an example of this negotiation by examining the case of the contemporary spiritual teacher or shaikha of the Rifa‘i Sufi group based in Turkey, CemalNur Sargut. CemalNur Sargut’s Sufi movement represents a particularly fertile case-study for examining the broader conceptual puzzle of Sufism’s interaction with modernity since it represents the most prominent Sufi order in the contemporary Muslim world led by a living female Sufi teacher. The central conceptual theme pursued in this paper thus is that of how Sufi groups today adapt to and are transformed by the conditions and challenges of secular modernity.

Syed Furrukh Zad Ali Shah

Changing Dynamics and Globalizing patterns of Public Religion in Muslim Societies: A Case Study of Pakistan

Human societies as systems of functionally integrated institutions pass through different evolutionary phases from simple to complex. The integrity and functionality of the system depends on mutual interaction with one another. Religion, being one of these institutions, offers its kind of value-system, providing legitimacy and constructing a unique identity among others, for the entire social system. Globalization, economic and cultural, has certainly transformed the role and place of religion with a strong emphasis on modernization and secularization. Although, religion seems to have become less effective in these terms, in highly differentiated societies during the last centuries, yet in the face of rapid global social transformations and political crisis, religion has resurfaced again in the secular market to offer spiritual direction, identity-construction and life-meaning for some collectivities and individuals in different parts of the globe. The re-emergence of ‘right-wing’ politics in the political landscape has led to new discourse on the validity of ‘secularization’ thesis. In Muslim societies like Pakistan, religion i.e. Islam has been an integral component of the state-sponsored ideology, and cultural assertion among the masses. Furthermore, transnationalism of Muslim diaspora in the West, maintaing a strong linkage with their home-culture and affiliation with their religious-value system has furthered complicated this complex web of religious utility in modern public sphere. This paper seeks to elaborate these changing dynamics and globalizing patterns of public religion in Muslim societies with a focus on Pakistan.

S M Masum Billah

The Constitutional Fabric of Secularism: A South Asian Perspective

The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, as it appears after the 15th Amendment of 2011, provides ‘secularism’ and ‘state religion’ concurrently. The provisions appear non-complementary to each other.

The purpose of my paper will be to examine whether secularism and state religion can coexist in the body of the constitution. The desirability of using religion in state affairs requires serious debate. It is argued that ‘dhormo jar jar, rastro shobar’ (translation: religion is an individual affair, while the state belongs to all); hence the state cannot promote a particular religion to discriminate against others. The advent for secularism appears inevitable to nurture pluralism. However, the role of religion in fashioning social institutions and beliefs cannot be ignored totally. In many cases due to long observance, many religious practices may even permeate into popular culture. As such, a rigid claim of separation between religion and state is theoretically and experientially problematic. Moreover, the secular or theocratic orientation of a constitution has its own implications for human rights and constitutionalism.

Bangladesh may be a good illustration to discuss this conundrum. Bangladesh’s constitutional nature raises controversy due to the new character it attains after the 15th Amendment. In my paper, I propose to attribute secularism a contextual meaning. I advance the argument that Bangladeshi brand of secularism should have its sui generic nature unlike the western meaning of the term in order to establish a politically and constitutionally desirable result. I argue that the remodeled provision of ‘state religion’ and retention of some other religious expressions by themselves do not take away the secular fabric of the constitution. I will look at contemporary views on the issue from other South Asian jurisdictions in critiquing the Bangladesh position.

Syed Adnan Hussain

Muhammad Asad and the Post-Colonial Islamic State

Islamic state movements currently unfolding in the Middle East frame themselves in opposition to the failures of the nation state. They argue that the post-colonial nation failed to secure either Islamic legitimacy or the loyalty of their citizens. By contrast, in the early period of South Asian post-colony, there were attempts to use the nation state as a means of disciplining better Muslims. One important and unusual ideologue of this early phase is Muhammad Asad. From his roots as a Jewish anti-imperialist journalist in Palestine to his conversion and activism in India for the creation of Pakistan, his legacy gives us a unique insight as to how the Islamic state was reimagined in “Islamist” thought as a tool to undo the humiliation of colonialism. My paper is a discussion of how these adaptations and transformations in the early post-colony were shaped by his legacy.


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