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Disiplinlerarası Çalışmalar Dergisi Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies

Conditions of Modernity, Shari’a of Liberalism

The question of what the proper relationship between Islam, politics, and the state should be is a critical one that modern Islamic political thought has been grappling with over the last two centuries and that still stirs intense debates. Abdullahi An-Na’im develops an answer to this question in his book titled, Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’a, which offers Rawlsian political liberalism and secular state as a framework that separates Shari’a from the state but incorporates it into public and political life. This paper develops a critical reading of An-Na’im’s proposal. It argues that An-Na’im’s notion of civic reason restricts the sphere of the political, that his conception of the neutral secular state authorizes the state to determine the forms and limits of ‘proper’ religion in ways that further consolidates the state’s sovereign practices over religion and society, and that his conception of political liberalism as a mechanism necessarily relies on philosophical liberalism in producing an interpretation of Shari’a in accordance with liberalism as well as subjects who adopt it. Besides, the paper argues that An-Na’im falls short of substantiating his claim about why particular institutions such as constitutionalism and citizenship necessitate a secular state. It also argues that the hierarchical relationship An-Na’im establishes between the liberal interpretation of human rights and Shari’a rests on an internally contradictory logic. After discussing such paradoxes the paper goes on to provide a critical reading of An-Na’im’s politics of cultural translation particularly in terms of its relationship with the structures of power within liberal global governance. The paper observes that An-Na’im opts for adapting Islamic tradition and Shari’a to liberalism in a way that embraces global power relationships as its positive ground. An-Na’im negotiates the future of Shari’a by taking liberal democracy as the reference point, but by so doing, the paper claims, he fails to consider the potentials of taking the resources of Islamic tradition to negotiate liberalism. The rest of the article provides a comparative analysis of An-Na’im’s model with Talal Asad’s critical reading of his father Muhammad Asad’s book titled The Principles of State and Government in Islam as an example of an alternative construal of the relationship between Islam, politics, and the state. It suggests that while Asad parallels An-Na’im in criticizing the concept of the Islamic state and in differentiating politics from the state and locating Islam in the former; Asad, unlike An-Na’im, does not take liberalism’s constructs of public reason, human rights, and secular state as the reference point for Islamic tradition. Instead, he provides the sketches of an understanding that seeks to introduce Islam into public life through a critique of the extant relations of power. By so doing, the paper suggests, he goes beyond the political liberal idea of a secular state and the Islamist idea of an Islamic state. The article maintains that by envisioning a Shari’a within the limits of liberalism An-Na’im comes to affirm the shari’a of liberalism. It concludes that An-Na’im’s account is preferable when compared to the injustices created by the ‘Islamic states’, yet by subsuming Islam under liberalism An-Na’im constricts the potentials of Islamic tradition to develop a political thinking and architecture based on freedom and justice that goes beyond liberalism through negotiating the European Enlightenment and other traditions. İsmail YAYLACI
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