Posts Tagged ‘an-naim’

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim: Islam and the Secular State

May 14, 2008

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a lecture a couple of weeks ago given by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim. The event was sponsored by the Loyola University Islamic World Studies Program (directed by Dr. Marcia Hermansen, translator of Shah Wali Allah’s Hujjat Allah al-Baligha) and co-sponsored by the Chicago Muslim Bar Association. I am extremely grateful that the sponsors allowed me to attend a dinner with Dr. An-Naim after the event where I was able to discuss his ideas in a little more detail and I hope they didn’t regret it based on the fact that I heatedly disagreed with Dr. An-Naim on some issues. May Allaah (swt) forgive me, I am generally extremely calm and mild-mannered but when that Irish temper gets going, it’s all over!

Dr. An-Naim discussed his new book Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’ah. There is a lecture about the book available on Dr. An-Naim’s website as well. I have not read the book yet, so I am just tentatively addressing some of the issues that came out in discussion, and I pray I do not misstate or misrepresent Dr. An-Naim’s postion in any way.

As background, Dr. An-Naim is an extremely prolific scholar based at Emory University in Atlanta. He writes on a wide variety of Islamic and African issues. He comes from the background of a political activist and has a strong ‘progressive’ outlook. I use the term here in the sense of politically progressive and not to necessarily associate him with the “Progressive Islam” movement or mode of thinking. Although as I state, Dr. An-Naim is very prolific as a scholar he is best known to me as being a former student of Ustadh (Teacher) Mahmoud Taha. Dr. An-Naim also translated one of Taha’s works into english. I have not read Taha’s work either, but he was an opponent of and was executed by a Sudanese dictator who used religion as a justification for persecuting Taha. Again, I have not read it so I don’t claim to understand the ideas in their entirety or in depth, but they do seem to be unorthodox. One point usually emphasized in discussing these ideas is that the Makkan suras of the Qur’an (revealed pre-hijrah or before the Prophet(saw) had any political power) are a universal message valid for all times and peoples while the Madinan suras (revealed while the Prophet (saw) was a political leader) were in their specifics directed towards that particular time and place and those specifics are not necessarily binding for other times and places. Something that probably doesn’t sound too controversial to the non-Muslim modern western ear but which is, as I said, very ‘unorthodox’ to Muslims.

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