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FEMINISM BETWEEN SECULARISM AND ISLAMISM: THE CASE OF PALESTINE

Dr, Islah Jad

Legislative elections held in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 2006 brought to power the Islamist movement Hamas, which went on to form the majority of the Palestinian Legislative Council and also the first majority Hamas government. These elections resulted in the appointment of the first female Hamas minister, who became the Minister of Women’s Affairs. Between March 2006 and June 2007, two different female Hamas ministers assumed this post, but both found it difficult to manage the Ministry since most of its employees were not Hamas members but belonged to other political parties, and most were members of Fatah, the dominant movement controlling most Palestinian Authority institutions. A tense period of struggle between the women of Hamas in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the female members of Fatah came to an end following Hamas’ takeover of power in the Gaza Strip and the resultant fall of its government in the West Bank – a struggle which sometimes took a violent turn. One reason later cited to explain this struggle was the difference between secular feminist discourse and Islamist discourse on women’s issues. In the Palestinian context this disagreement took on a dangerous nature as it was used to justify perpetuating the bloody political struggle, the removal of Hamas women from their positions or posts, and the political and geographical divides prevailing at the time in both the West Bank and the occupied Gaza Strip.
This struggle raises a number of important questions: should we punish the Islamist movement which has come to power, or should we consider the reasons which led to Fateh’s failure in the political arena? Can feminism offer a comprehensive framework for women, regardless of their social and ideological affiliations? Can a discourse of a shared common ground for women help them to realize and agree upon their common goals? Is paternalism only present in Islamist ideology, and not in nationalism and patriotism? What do we mean by feminism? Is there only one feminism, or several feminisms? What do we mean by Islam – is it the movement known by this name or the religion, the philosophy, or the legal system? We need to go to the bottom of these issues and consider them carefully, and we must agree upon them so that we can later decide, as feminists, if our criticism of paternalism should be directed at religion (faith), which should be confined to the heart of the believer and not be allowed to take control of the world at large, or the jurisprudence, which relates to different schools of faith which explain the legal system contained in the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet – the Sunnah.

ISLAM, DEMOCRACY & THE USA:

Cordoba Foundation

Abdullah Faliq

Intro ,


In spite of it being both a perennial and a complex debate, Arches Quarterly reexamines from theological and practical grounds, the important debate about the relationship and compatibility between Islam and Democracy, as echoed in Barack Obama’s agenda of hope and change. Whilst many celebrate Obama’s ascendancy to the Oval Office as a national catharsis for the US, others remain less optimistic of a shift in ideology and approach in the international arena. While much of the tension and distrust between the Muslim world and the USA can be attributed to the approach of promoting democracy, typically favoring dictatorships and puppet regimes that pay lip-service to democratic values and human rights, the aftershock of 9/11 has truly cemented the misgivings further through America’s position on political Islam. It has created a wall of negativity as found by worldpublicopinion.org, according to which 67% of Egyptians believe that globally America is playing a “mainly negative” role.
America’s response has thus been apt. By electing Obama, many around the world are pinning their hopes for developing a less belligerent, but fairer foreign policy towards the Muslim world. Th e test for Obama, as we discuss, is how America and her allies promote democracy. Will it be facilitating or imposing?
Moreover, can it importantly be an honest broker in prolonged zones of confl icts? Enlisting the expertise and insight of prolifi
c scholars, academics, seasoned journalists and politicians, Arches Quarterly brings to light the relationship between Islam and Democracy and the role of America – as well as the changes brought about by Obama, in seeking the common ground. Anas Altikriti, the CEO of Th e Cordoba Foundation provides the opening gambit to this discussion, where he refl ects on the hopes and challenges that rests on Obama’s path. Following Altikriti, the former advisor to President Nixon, Dr Robert Crane off ers a thorough analysis of the Islamic principle of the right to freedom. Anwar Ibrahim, former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, enriches the discussion with the practical realities of implementing democracy in Muslim dominant societies, namely, in Indonesia and Malaysia.
We also have Dr Shireen Hunter, of Georgetown University, USA, who explores Muslim countries lagging in democratisation and modernisation. Th is is complemented by terrorism writer, Dr Nafeez Ahmed’s explanation of the crisis of post-modernity and the
demise of democracy. Dr Daud Abdullah (Director of Middle East Media Monitor), Alan Hart (former ITN and BBC Panorama correspondent; author of Zionism: Th e Real Enemy of the Jews) and Asem Sondos (Editor of Egypt’s Sawt Al Omma weekly) concentrate on Obama and his role vis-à-vis democracy-promotion in the Muslim world, as well as US relations with Israel and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Minister of Foreign Aff airs, Maldives, Ahmed Shaheed speculates on the future of Islam and Democracy; Cllr. Gerry Maclochlainn
– a Sinn Féin member who endured four years in prison for Irish Republican activities and a campaigner for the Guildford 4 and Birmingham 6, refl ects on his recent trip to Gaza where he witnessed the impact of the brutality and injustice meted out against Palestinians; Dr Marie Breen-Smyth, Director of the Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Contemporary Political Violence discusses the challenges of critically researching political terror; Dr Khalid al-Mubarak, writer and playwright, discusses prospects of peace in Darfur; and fi nally journalist and human rights activist Ashur Shamis looks critically at the democratisation and politicisation of Muslims today.
We hope all this makes for a comprehensive reading and a source for refl ection on issues that aff ect us all in a new dawn of hope.
Thank you

Secularism, Hermeneutics, and Empire: The Politics of Islamic Reformation

Saba Mahmood

Since the events of September 11, 2001, against the

backdrop of two decades of the ascendance of global religious politics, urgent
calls for the reinstatement of secularism have reached a crescendo that cannot
be ignored. The most obvious target of these strident calls is Islam, particularly
those practices and discourses within Islam that are suspected of fostering fundamentalism
and militancy. It has become de rigueur for leftists and liberals alike
to link the fate of democracy in the Muslim world with the institutionalization

of secularism — both as a political doctrine and as a political ethic. This coupling
is now broadly echoed within the discourse emanating from the U.S. State
Department, particularly in its programmatic efforts to reshape and transform
“Islam from within.” In this essay, I will examine both the particular conception
of secularism that underlies the current consensus that Islam needs to be
reformed — that its secularization is a necessary step in bringing “democracy” to
the Muslim world — and the strategic means by which this programmatic vision is
being instituted today. Insomuch as secularism is a historically shifting category
with a variegated genealogy, my aim is not to secure an authoritative definition of
secularism or to trace its historical transformation within the United States or the
Muslim world. My goal here is more limited: I want to sketch out the particular
understanding of secularism underlying contemporary American discourses on
Islam, an understanding that is deeply shaped by U.S. security and foreign policy
concerns in the Muslim world.

Egypt: Secularism, Sharia, and the Prospects for an Inclusive Democracy

Manar Shorbagy

The relationship between religion and politics is at the top of the politicalagenda in Egypt, and, as I shall argue, it has important implications for thepolitical rights of Egyptian women and minorities. However, the issue is not asimple secular/religious divide. It is, rather, the problem of how to define thenature and characteristics of a civil, democratic state that is neither a theocracynor an Islamically “naked” public space. !e Islamist/secularist dichotomy is afalse one; it has little or no relevance to actual political processes and possibilitiesin Egypt, where a middle ground is both theoretically and practically conceivable.Such a middle ground, however, must be deliberately sought and found byEgyptians, so that a national consensus on the relationship between religion andpolitics can emerge.For a brief time, such a consensus seemed possible. Hopes were highbetween 2005 and early 2007. But those possibilities collapsed in 2007. !ispaper examines the reasons for this collapse. Reasons, I will argue, that lie incorrectable political failures of actors across the board, rather than any inherentimpossibility of creating an inclusive democracy in a Muslim society.Understanding Egypt’s Current Predicament2005 was an unusual political year in Egypt. Many taboos were broken in streetprotests and by the independent press. Domestic political pressure to begindemocratic reform was mounting to unprecedented levels. Moreover, in theirconfrontation with the regime, many political forces shrewdly took advantage ofthe U.S.’s democracy rhetoric without buying into the Bush agenda or allowing92 SECULARISM, WOMEN & THE STATE: THE MEDITERRANEAN WORLD IN THE 21ST CENTURYthemselves to be exploited by the Bush administration.One of 2005’s most promising developments was the publicacknowledgement, for the first time, that a generation of young activists andintellectuals had succeeded, over more than a decade, in acting across ideologicallines. !e Egyptian Movement for Change, also known as Kefaya,1 was onemanifestation of these efforts and an important illustration of the possibilitiesof this new politics.