Questions for Humeira Iqtidar

[EDIT: For my current views on Humeira Iqtidar's work, see my article 'Are Islamists secularising society?' The views expressed in the post below were, I believe, based on some misconceptions and have undergone significant change.]

This post is in response to this article by Humeira Iqtidar on Guardian. Quotes are excerpts.

Is it possible that groups such as the Islamists who oppose secularism may be, inadvertently perhaps, facilitating secularisation?

Let us assume that Islamists may inadvertently be facilitating secularisation to a degree. So? What does it suggest? That those who desire secularisation of society should now be encouraging Islamisation? That secularists should make peace with Islamists, and let them carry on with their work of radicalization, content with the comfortable knowledge that this radicalization is ultimately going to secularize the society anyway?

The general understanding about the relationship between secularism and secularisation is based on a reified reading of European history.... There are many problems with this narrative, including questions of historical accuracy, as well as immense variations and reversals in the European experience. However, it is important here to note that in this version secularism and secularisation seem to have developed together.

Let's grant that historically secularism and secularisation didn't happen together, but does it also mean that they cannot happen together? Furthermore, does it mean that individuals who wish to promote both secularism and secularization are somehow misguided? That the project to wed secularism and secularisation is intrinsically doomed?

But secularism as a separation of church (religion) and state does not make ready sense in societies where there was no hierarchical, structured church that had inherited an empire's state apparatus as the Roman Catholic church had in Europe. In the various versions of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc there has been no one clerical figure vested with the kind of power and authority that the pope excersised over domains now assumed within the modern state.

Perhaps you are taking 'church' too literally. "Muslim world has no Catholic Church, so how can there be separation of State and Church?" Separation of state and church implies separation of religious laws and state laws. Separation of state and church in the Muslim world means that Sharia will not be the law of the land. What's so difficult about that to grasp?

So we cannot assume that the lack of secularisation within these societies is due to some "lateness" on their part. They did not secularise in the way that Europe did because they did not need to.

Or maybe it was because the rational philosophical discourse wasn't strong enough in these societies to lead to Enlightenment and secularisation?

The Islamists are vehement in their public insistence on dislodging the idea of secularism as universal, claiming it to be a parochial, European experience – with some justification. Yet, the process of raising these and other questions about the definitions of public and private in the political arena, the fierce competition amongst Islamists to provide a definitive answer and the very structure of Islamist thought that emphasises an individual relationship with religious texts has led to a deep, conscious and critical questioning of the role of religion – a secularisation – in predominantly Muslim polities.

Perhaps it is simply an insistance of polarization? We had a largerly amorphous 'moderate' population of Muslims which was confronted with the Islamist literalist interpretation of religion, to which Muslims either responded by accepting it or rejecting it, vanishing the middle ground of remaining undecided. And even if secularisation is a reaction to Islamism, you ignore to see that Islamists are still in vast majority and outnumber the secularists by a thousand-fold, or even more.

The Protestant reformers were not arguing for less religion, they were asking for more – for a continuously religious life against the Catholic cycles of sin and repentance. Yet, as Max Weber's influential work suggests, they ended up rationalising and secularising. To say all this is not to suggest that Pakistani Islamists will have exactly the same impact as the German Protestants. There can be little doubt that they will produce a very different subject and citizen because of the disparity in context.

Not the same impact as the German Protestants... doesn't this imply the possibility that Pakistani Islamists may actually end up radicalizing and Islamising the society, a glaring possibility that you never seem to bring up?


Awais Aftab said…
From interaction on twitter:

hafsaq: the fist line e.g. Sec reaction to Islamists is a manifestation of 'to every action there an equal & opposite reaction'. You analyzed it as impying 'that those who desire secularization of society should now be encouraging Islamisation'

awaisaftab: you are right, I have projected impressions of what it is meant to imply, mostly that I have picked from twitter, and which probably might not be the intentions of Ms Iqtidar. Yet, I am still at a loss as to what exactly does this imply. In the article, Ms Iqtidar begins and ends by making a case that secularism is not the same as secularization, and that secularism can be based on religious motivations, as happened with German Protestants. This much is clear, but in this context, what does it mean to say that Islamists are inadvertently secularizing society? How does it fit in? Is it meant to say that secularization wouldn't have happened had there been no Islamists? Is it meant to say that secularists shouldn't see Islamists as a threat? Or is it meant to say that the validity of secularization is merely that of a reaction to Islamism? What is it? Ms Iqtidar writes as if it is a very crucial point, yet I fail to see how or why is this important in the first place.

hafsaq: well i'm secularised as a result of Islimisation of Pakistan. I think it simply means that when one section of society becomes very forceful about a certain dogma or whatever, there will be an equal & opposite reaction to it.

awaisaftab: what you say is purely descriptive. I have no issue if its just this. But it doesn't say much whether secularisation is just a reaction or has more validity to it; and also more importantly, how does it link with the rest of the article?

DontFearRaza: if i were her, i'd have no problem dismissing your criticism as directed at 'implications'. it is sufficient for her to inform the sizable number of ppl who do confuse the two processes, who do see these as necessarily linked wrt the Muslim world, and who are not cognizant of the distinctly modern structure of many Islamist bodies. what you imply from it is upto you.

awaisaftab: criticism was indeed directed at implications as I had perceived them, n she can dismiss it if that is not what she had intended
peezoo said…
Nice one.. i had not read the article, but i don't think i need to read it either :P .. i think the whole idea of a progressivist teleology of secularization is all skewed. its like everything was in the dark ages before enlightenment and europe was the first to emerge out of ignorance.. and that is a load of crap. the move to whatever secular doctrine europe thinks it found is simply a shift in language towards a more scientific and less theological way of speaking about the same things..

moreover just because europe 'securlarized' 'modernized' and 'civilized' in a certain way doesn't mean that the rest of the world has to follow the same path.. in fact it precicely will follow a different path because of a simple fact known as colonization.
Salman Latif said…
The discourse the Islamization leads to secularization is indeed utterly absurd!! Numerous researches(to cite a recent, Ayesha Siddiqua's Red Hot Chilli Peppers Islam) assert that the lack of an alternate view leads to radicalisation of the society. And that's precisely where Islamization leads us to by necessarily trying to curb dissidence and freedom of speech.
Anonymous said…
Waht do you think of the work of Oliver Roy ? He argues that modernity is leading to secularization and individualization of Islam