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Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari`a Hardcover – March 31, 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Two debates pervade almost all discussions about Islam, Muslim societies and the role of both in the 21st century. The first revolves around the shari'a, a kind of comprehensive Muslim guide to good conduct, and its applicability within Muslim majority states. The other frames capitalism, socialism and secularism as antipodes to what Islam cannot or should not be. This book engages both, arguing that secularism is not as an unwelcome counter force to 'true' Islam but is the indispensable path to reclaiming Islam to advance pluralism, human rights, women's rights, civil society and citizenship. Abdullahi An-Na'im is a public intellectual known far beyond the academy and the American continent. In Africa, in Asia and throughout the Middle East his is a courageous voice for secular Islam. There is no book like this one: brilliant, compelling, and optimistic.
--Bruce B. Lawrence, Duke University

Muslim scholar and human rights activist An-Na'im has written extensively on law and human rights in the Islamic world. Here, he turns to the subject of the state's coercive enforcement of Sharia--Koran-based Islamic law--in predominantly Muslim societies, arguing that its promulgation of Sharia is contrary to the Koranic insistence on the voluntary acceptance of Islam and the freely chosen adherence to its commandments.
--William P. Collins (Library Journal 2008-04-01)

Mak[es] a powerful theological case for abandoning the very notion of an Islamic state. [An-Na'im] argues that the claims of these so-called states to enforce the Sharia repudiate the fundamental right of religious choice implicit in a Koranic verse that says there can be "no compulsion in religion."
--Malise Ruthven (New York Review of Books 2008-05-29)

An-Na'im lays out with candor and elegance the need for the state to be secular for all citizens, and explores Muslim polities in Indonesia, India and Turkey.
--Emran Qureshi (Globe and Mail 2008-06-21)

[A] controversial and topical book...Although not all Muslim scholars will fully agree with An-Na'im's proposals regarding the institutional separation of Islam and the state, his thoughts are a step forward towards a healthy negotiation for the future of Sharia.
--Helen Haste (Times Higher Education Supplement 2008-06-26)

Few books in Islamic studies have been as eagerly awaited or intensely debated prior to publication as Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na‘im’s Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari‘a...[This book] testifies to the richness of [Ahmed An-Na‘im’s] life work, and to the courage of an author who deserves to be recognized as one of the most important religious thinkers of our age.
--Robert Hefner (ssrc.org/blogs/immanent_frame)

An-Na'im is an independent-minded intellectual who has raised sensitive issues (such as his belief that interpretations of sharia have led to discrimination against non-Muslim minorities in the Arab world) that many Muslims and their advocates would prefer to keep out of public debate...The crux of An-Na'im's Islam and the Secular State is that Muslims should be allowed to practice their faith as they see fit and should comply with sharia, but voluntarily. The call from Islamists to impose sharia with the full power of the state will only lead to totalitarianism, he argues. To bolster his claim, he notes that the Koran never mentions the idea of a state and does not prescribe a particular form of government.
--Geneive Abdo (Washington Post Book World 2008-07-27)

About the Author

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 31, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674027760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674027763
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,288,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A new book by Emory Law Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im offers a formula for nations and peoples of the world - including the United States and its current presidential candidates -- struggling with the separation of religion and politics.

"The American Constitution got it right on the separation of church and state, but there isn't much clarity of the relationship between religion and politics," said An-Na`im, a senior fellow in the Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR) at Emory University. "You can't separate religion and politics even if you try. Believers will act politically as believers."

An-Na`im wrote Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari`a (Harvard University Press) to help countries navigate this tricky and treacherous plane, no matter the religion, no matter the geography. The book was first published in Indonesia last year and is available on the Internet in eight languages spoken by Muslims. It is a product of An-Na`im's role in the CSLR's Islamic Legal Studies research project and was funded in part by a grant from the Ford Foundation.

"I want to help clarify the role of religion in society so that it is seen as a positive, humanizing force, not as a bigoted, narrow-minded, destructive force," he said. "The state is the institutional continuity. Countries must be able to keep this alive while allowing elected officials to lead, but without allowing them to take over the state."

An-Na`im, who serves as Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory, pointed to the Bush Administration's dismissal of federal prosecutors as an abuse of political power. "President Bush used the Justice Department to further his own agenda - he tried to take over the department, he didn't just lead," he said.
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The author is very concise in his thoughts and sometimes the granularity is too much, but it is always better to have too much information than not enough. I think I have a better understanding of what Sharia' means from a Muslims perspective. As a non- Muslim my perspective was un-informed and the only thought was oppression of non-believers. Truth be told there may be in some areas of the Muslim world where that is true, but the author helped me understand that Muslims are well aware of the immutable laws of the Qur'an and Suras , and that they cannot be changed. How I interpret what I read is that Sharia' bring some of those old laws up to date and puts them in context with the 21st century. The author is making the case for basic human rights in societies and subsequent judgement strickly government enforced, aside from certian religious laws concerning marriages and interfaith laws.He continues to say (paraphrasing)True Islam correctly practiced should make Islam more ammenable within free societys so that the Muslim society will have a future with out abuse and corruption of the faith by even its own leaders. A good read and well suppoted in my opinion.
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By S. S. Thompson on September 24, 2013
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As a specialist in Islamic law, Dr. An-Na'im's position that Islam (or any religion) thrives where there is a separation of religion from state points our world in the direction of inalienable human rights for all. The Salafist/Wahabist mindsets that are very prevalent today continues the self-destructive, internal war-making among Muslims, one type killing another type, who wish to claim their view is superior to all other views. Dr. An-Na'im points the world in the right direction where all human beings must be respected for their humanness before any other ideology. A more peaceful world is possible when we change our minds from constant war to non-lethal dialogue.
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Bought this for a research project, have yet to read all the way through it but from what I've read.. it's well written and a very good source. The author is also highly knowledgeable and highly regarded.
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Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im has written a book that should be read by Muslims as well as Non-Muslims. It analises the basis of Shari'a and its acceptance through generations of consensus, and in various regions of the world. Based on the studies of the Qur'an by Ustadh Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, his revered teacher, he suggests that the Qur'an and the Sunna provide the irrevocable meaning of Islam, while the Shari'a was their interpretation to establish Islamic law.

He argues that the Qur'an and Sunna provide the original and divine documents derived from the revelations and actions by Muhammad. On the other hand, he believes that Shari'a, being law, can and should continually be reviewed to bring it up to accord with the international regard for human rights, including equality of the sexes, and the separation of state and religion. In fact he argues that such a separation is essential for Islam to be a true religion, where believers join it without pressure or even threat, and quotes the Qur'an in saying that coercive enforcement promotes hypocricy (nifaq).

An-Na'im puts a convincing argument that Shari'a should not be enforced by the state, but state law should allow Islam and other religions and worldviews to be free to act in accordance with their doctrine, albeit also in accordance with the state's acceptance of international law.

I highly recommend this book.
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