Parasites In The Lands Of The Infidels

Egypt’s Resilient and Evolving Social Activism

Why did Trump strike Syria?

In an interview, Amr Adly discusses his recent Carnegie paper on Egypt’s large private enterprises.

It’s Time to Take a Hard Look at the U.S. Relationship With Egypt

As we work to eradicate ISIS, Iraq's Christians, Yizidis need our help now more than ever

Should America’s Refugee Policy Put Persecuted Christians First?

Muslims Were Banned From the Americas as Early as the 16th Century

Review: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Will Make You Rethink Race

Inside Trump’s shadow national security council

Turkey in Transition (?): Before and After the Attempted July Coup

Trump Signs Executive Order Curbing Obamacare

Lion's Den :: Daniel Pipes Blog


Aid in reverse: how poor countries develop rich countries

35 Entrepreneurs Making a Difference in the Arab World

Trump could cause ‘the death of think tanks as we know them’

The Arabs had a country

The Islamic State is attaining its key goal, and U.S. media find the story of “limited interest

While the Muslim Brotherhood gets all the ink, the Salafists go on a rampage.

Egypt, I like your style

The warning bells are ringing

To the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces

A test for the Muslim Brotherhood

Egypt’s changing foreign policy

Egypt beyond Mubarak

The dissolution of the NDP

Remaking Cairo from below

Why Egypt should join the ICC

No citizenship without social justice

Mubarak's message

A new era for US-Egypt relations?

The old regime must be prosecuted

Revolution Interrupted? Liberating the media

The Brotherhood on the edge of reform


Buying the People’s Assembly

What do Salafis really want?

A state of counter-emergency

Minimum wage a cure for 'corruption'

Beyond the referendum

Reform security, secure reform

The Tunisian Revolution: Initial Reflections

The Egyptian Revolution: First Impressions from the Field

Lest the revolution turn into a wasted opportunity

The U.S. Should Not Get Involved in Libya

Five positions on the revolution

Urbanised Islam behind Pakistan's Sufi shrine bombings

Rethinking Internal Security in Egypt

Leo Strauss and the Grand Inquisitor

Push ahead now for a solution in Palestine

The Ongoing Attacks on Egypt’s Coptic Christians


Saudi Arabia and the Spectre of Protest

America Quiet on the Execution of Afghan Christian Said Musa

Egypt’s Copts in Al-Qaeda’s Sights

The Worldwide Danger of Religious Fundamentalism

Tread Softly



The global force behind Mumbai’s agony is in our midst

Some Discussions about Qur’an, Violence and Fitnah

Terror in the Name of God

The Adventure of an Islamic Reformer at Oxford, London, and Istanbul

Thank God for Justice

Using C hristian Principles to Enhance Economic Theory and Practice:

Worldwide Hate Speech Laws?

Freedom Agenda In Flames

Commentary: Candidates should seek votes of Muslim-Americans

Why Barack is Winning?

Indian Muslims and 'Terrorism': Some Searching Questions

Taqlid, Ijtihad, and Democracy

Election 08: Senator Obama, American Muslims and IslamophobiaStatement of Concerned Scholars about I

Struggling against sectarianism: Shia-Sunni ecumenism

“Happy Eid” from Turkey

Book Review: Islam in Post-Modern World

The Concept of Jihad in Islam

Downhill in Afghanistan:

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Manufacturing 'Terrorists' The Indian Way

Madrasas: Reforms a Must


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America wants Iraq’s last drop of oil

Terrorising Muslims in the Name of Countering Terrorism

A proposal for new Iraqi/US co-operation and a suggestion of how this can be achieved

How will the Georgian struggle affect Iraq?

Is Obama a man of action as well as words?

Can moderate Iraqis believe Obama’s promises?

Can Iraq be ruled successfully by a Shia/Kurdish coalition?

Name of the Book: Issues in Madrasa Education in India

Dangerous Portents in Jammu and Kashmir: A View From Doda

London School of Islamics

Rethinking Kashmir Politics

Norman G. Kurland, J.D

Sir Salman Rushdie's fatwa against freedom of expression

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Muslim Women: The Dangerous Triangle

Judeo-Christian "Rights of Liberty" (and Muslim "Rights of Justice," as well ???)

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Captive to a Discarded Cause

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The Origins and Legacy of the Movement to Fight Religious Persecution


A secular state must deliver

“Islamic Economics” – Islam less, economics more-1

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Me without my Hijab

The changing face of American Islam

An Islamic case for a secular state

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Muslim Ghettoisation

Hurting their cause

Allah's Miracles in the Qur'an

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Awaiting China ’s implosion

The view from Bali

Why Blame Muslims Alone for Terrorism?

Consequences of Religious Extremism and the Lack of Democratic Principles

Cultural Accumulation and Modern Reading

Liberation Without War

Gaza's New Residents: Terrorists from all over.

Turkey in radical revision of Islamic texts

From the Archive
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Is There a Minimum Level of Faith and Good Deeds to Enter Paradise in the Hereafter?
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Mohamed ElBaradei hits out at west's support for repressive regimesþ
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A secular state must deliver
Islam and the Secular State:
  by: : Mohammed Bamyeh
It is hard to disagree with the main arguments of Abdullahi an-Na’im’s impeccable book: a healthy religious life requires a secular state, even as political life may remain infused with the religious values of the population. And the historical examples provide added credence to the point. An Islamic state as such never existed historically, even though pre-modern states cannot be regarded as secular in the contemporary sense of the word. But there has never been a state in Islamic history that fused entirely religious and political authority after Muhammad, and it is far from obvious that Muhammad’s own Medina community constituted a state or was meant as a model for any state. All states in Islamic history had a more clearly defined political than religious character, even as they used religion for their purposes or were expected to fulfill some religious roles. In effect, they were political entities that survived to the extent that they accommodated themselves to the diversity (including legal diversity) of Islam and other local traditions. Colonial rule is to blame for rigidifying the sense of what Islam meant, namely by codifying diverse, flexible religious traditions into standard legal formats and ignoring the fluidity of communal boundaries between Muslims and non-Muslims. However, this rigid colonial perspective on the meaning of religiosity and identity was inherited by contemporary Islamic political movements and states claiming to be Islamic. Even though some of these arguments have been stated in one way or another by various Muslim intellectuals and scholars of Islam over the past century, here we find them organized into a coherent and forceful exposition that highlights, given the expertise of the author, the shari’a dimension of Islamic teachings. As such, this exposition constitutes an extremely valuable contribution to the Muslim public sphere. But I am left wondering whether it speaks to the reasons as to why religion remains (or has become) an important source for justifying or contesting the state in our time. I will try to say something about that shortly, but before doing so I would like to offer three rejoinders regarding the meaning of shari’a, and specifically to what extent we can understand it as Islamic “law.” First, shari’a had historically referred to the sum-total of practical ways of being a Muslim in the world—i.e., it was meant more as a guide to everyday pious life rather than as a set of rules to be deposited unto a uniform state law. Hence, the historical diversity of the shari’a (even within territories and among populations ruled by a single state). This historical rootedness of the shari’a in everyday life appears to be responsible for why Muslims came to see it as organically fitting into their varied ways of life, without a need for force or coercion. Only in modern times does shari’a come to be understood as “law” in a more strict sense of the word, and only in this way did it become a problem. Second, even when it is asserted as a guide for modern law, one could still maintain the old flexibility of the shari’a by highlighting not the formal rules of the shari’a itself but its “intentions,” maqasid al-shari’a. This kind of discussion is less attuned to what the rules should be, and more to how to make sense of the rules in terms of our values, interconnections, and sense of sociability or purpose in life. Thus whereas pure formalistic discussions of shari’a tend to posit it as external to human agency, discussions of the intentions of the shari’a are geared toward humanizing it and making it, again, into an organic outgrowth of a reflexive process or interactive reasoning. Third—and this point has to be argued forcefully—no religion can survive if approached strictly or primarily as a set of “laws” that are external to the human interpreter. Indeed, as an-Na’im clearly argues, this is how religious reason itself develops, and in the final analysis it is the believer who is making sense of what their religion is. The problem arises when religion begins to appear entirely external to the individual psyche—that is, as a set of rules that requires obedience for no reason other than that it is the “law,” enforced by an authority (which might be the state), and requiring no personal spiritual investment. A proper religious life, then, is less about obeying the law and more about social and spiritual orientations. As such, religious life that is voluntarily chosen informs ethical conduct in society and spiritual experience vis-à-vis the self. Many Muslims know that already, yet they highlight the need for shari’a-based life when asked, and often tie its application to state policies. The question then becomes why they do that. The basic problem seems to me to be that the virtues of the alternatives are not yet obvious enough. Secular states in much of the Muslim world were products of the colonial experience rather than of indigenous political development, and as an-Na’im knows well, a substantial part of the modern secular experience is tied to extreme authoritarian systems. Of course, all states, including those formed by arbitrary decisions of European powers, may over time appear natural and become accepted as such by their populations, but not at any price. Such states have to succeed in what modern states the world over are expected to succeed in: namely, they must demonstrate effective sovereignty; deliver public goods; establish universal meritocratic systems; be responsive to grievances; make “citizens” feel that they have an effective voice in their own national affairs (whether through formal democracy or other means); resolve remaining grave historical injustices of colonialism (the case of Palestinians being the most glaring example); and generally not appear to be arbitrary or beholden to foreign interests. The “return” to Islam as a “total way of life” (including politics and law) is therefore not accidental, and can indeed be timed very specifically to a convergence of failures in the diverse missions of the modern state mentioned above. The modern, secular state failed to become modern enough. Muslims waited quite patiently—from the end of the colonial era until roughly the late 1970s—before returning to Islam. There was nothing natural or eternal about the appeal of Islam as a total way of life, and Sayyid Qutb and Abu Ala Mawdudi alone could not have changed many minds if the conditions were not suitable for that. Indeed, during their own lifetimes, both had little effect on the political systems of their national societies. The fact that so much political energy is credited to their legacy now belies the fact that, given a different set of conditions (see above for a short list of tasks), history could have taken a different turn, and Islam, while remaining important as a reference point for most Muslims, would not have required being “tamed.” What an-Na’im advocates now would in all likelihood have been accepted without needing a book to be written about it. The arguments of the book are of course very sound. Yet, as tremendously learned, wide ranging and probing as they are, I am afraid they do not address the real problem. The problem, for me, has less to do with arguments about how we should understand Islam, and more with the nature of social and political developments befuddling Muslim societies. A liberal interpretation of Islam, or at least an interpretation that accommodates (or, as in this case, demands) a secular state, can indeed be based on the Islamic heritage itself. So can an authoritarian, dogmatic and intolerant interpretation mandating a state that applies the shari’a as law, and then really only one version of such shari’a. The question therefore is not which Islam is “true,” or even what kind of arguments are needed in order to prove one approach to Islam to be more valid than another. If we are speaking of a living, interactive human enterprise, then sociologically speaking, Islam is what Muslims make of it. And in making it fit various needs—political, social, cultural, economic, spiritual—Muslims assert the status of Islam as a living and rich repertoire of ideas. If they continue to see the political, even state-oriented, aspects of it to be virtuous, it is perhaps less so because anyone has persuaded them of the point. It is just that the comparative virtues of the alternative are less obvious than its corruption and subservience to unaccountable foreign patrons. I am speaking of course of the secular state, which ruled most of the Muslim world in the 20th century. Obviously that state was far from the ideal that an-Na’im has in mind. Still, that is what many Muslims have experienced as secular rule. As such, it remains for the secular state to prove its virtues before its “citizens,” whether committed Muslims or not, may finally recognize it as theirs.