Islamic Politics and Secular Politics: Can They Co-Exist?

18 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2009 Last revised: 24 Aug 2009

See all articles by Mohammad Fadel

Mohammad Fadel

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Date Written: August 18, 2009


Professor Abdullahi An-Na'im's new book, "Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari'a," attempts to set out a theoretical framework for the incorporation of the Shari'a (Islamic law) into the public life of secular democratic states. He also provides detailed case studies of the relationship of contemporary secular states to Islam (India, Turkey and Indonesia) as examples of how Muslim commitments to following the Shari'a can be potentially recognized in secular legal systems without subverting basic commitments of the secular state. Professor Na'im also makes explicit Islamic normative arguments in favor of the secular state and against what he calls a religious state in which religious and political authority are fused. In this review essay, I provide an overview of Na'im's theoretical account of the state and the role of Islam within that state, and his understanding of the Shari'a and why it is compatible with the demands of a secular state (or potentially so). I conclude with a critique of the Islamic reasons he offers in defense of the project of a secular state as being grounded in controversial theological claims that have the potential to undermine the possibility of enlisting the support of orthodox Muslims for the project of a secular state. Instead, I suggest a more sensitive reading of the Islamic theological and legal tradition for precedents that would support the project of a secular state. I argue that using the resources of Islamic theological and legal tradition in support of the idea of a secular state is more likely to win traditionalist Muslim support for a secular state than Islamic arguments that rely on controversial theological propositions that are not necessarily required for at least certain kinds of secular states, e.g. a politically liberal state of the sort An-Naim calls for.

Suggested Citation

Fadel, Mohammad, Islamic Politics and Secular Politics: Can They Co-Exist? (August 18, 2009). Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 25, No. 1, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Mohammad Fadel (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5

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