Balancing Feminism, Human Rights, & Faith

Feminism and Islam

Zara Khan

Research Coordinator | Zara Khan studied Political Science and social justice at the City University of New York, specializing in comparative political theory. Her main hope is to contribute to the Islamicization of profane knowledge, particularly in education, politics, culture and economics insha’Allah. Areas of interest include Islamic teaching philosophy; materialist epistemology; secularization; critical race; capitalism, neoliberalism, and neocolonialism; human rights; ethical agriculture; cosmopolitan aesthetics; and the metaphysics of technology. She is an educator and researcher, currently leading Yaqeen’s Task Force on Liberalism and Philosophy.

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This paper is part of the Gender & Islam collection.

Abstract

Feminism, Human Rights, and Postsecular theorizing are three overlapping discourses that predominate our progressive social space. These approaches invite Muslims to interpret and participate in social life according to certain norms and values. This paper begins by defining feminism, human rights, and postsecularism in general terms, then attempts to expose their foundational assumptions about the human being, knowledge, and religion. At the heart of feminism, human rights, and postsecularism one finds the same project of modernity, the same secularizing impulses (what I call liberal epistemological trappings) that birthed Liberalism so many generations ago, albeit in forms consistent with contemporary conditions. The aim of this paper is to provide American Muslims with perspectives on feminism, human rights, and postsecularism that are intelligent (i.e., critical of the discourses’ secular premises), compassionate (i.e., inspired to forge creative and dignifying relations with those who espouse these ideas), and authentic to our faith (i.e., avoiding liberal epistemological trappings and wholesale compliance with ideas and norms that contradict Islamic belief and practice).

Introduction

American Muslims comprise a community diverse in ethnicity, race, economic class, subculture, school of thought, and otherwise. Across our diversity however, we inhabit and confront (albeit from varying social locations) a common cultural landscape of liberal, secular norms and values. To be sure, American culture is comprised of other political leanings, such as conservative and radical. The scope of this paper is limited to examining liberal discourses and treats their hegemony within respective spheres (recognizing that there are rival sensibilities vying for sociopolitical majority). Three overlapping liberal discourses that are highly valued in American culture today are feminism, human rights, and an emerging discourse of postsecularism.

Feminism, a woman-centered discourse that calls for social, economic, and political equality regardless of gender, has a long and rich history in the United States.[1] Born out of the lived reality of unfair gender-based treatment, feminism has resulted in a robust corpus of sophisticated theorizing and valiant legacy of tactical activism. Feminism has evolved over the last century and a half from inhabiting the fringes of society to the very center of sociopolitical norms. In liberal spaces, it is politically incorrect and socially unacceptable not to identify with feminist aims.

In its present forms, liberal feminist praxis requires assent to a number of premises, including but not limited to:

  • Social, economic, and political equality for all genders;
  • That there are more than two genders; genders are not necessarily linked to biological sex; gender is fluid; and individuals can identify their own gender;
  • Violence against women and sexually non-conformist people is wrong and must be stopped; and
  • Human beings enjoy complete sexual freedom (bound by consent) including the freedom to sexually couple without a marital contract and the freedom to sexually couple with same-sex partner(s), etc.

Feminist norms and universal human rights discourse mutually legitimate one another. Human rights is the globally valued idea that all human beings are entitled to certain dignities and protections on the basis only of being human. This discourse emerged from the European natural rights tradition that, although born of a faithful Christian theology in Augustine and Aquinas, vehemently rebelled against heaven in Hobbes, Locke, Grotius, and beyond.[2] Post-Christian natural rights established a disenchanted nature (and not God) as the justification and basis for the rights of men.

With the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, a global consensus was announced to have formed around a basis for universal human dignity that was not rooted in any religion or particular philosophy.[3] It became possible for all the nations on earth, it was believed, to speak a single tongue when it came to identifying and rectifying moral trespass in the civic, political, and later social and economic realms.

Universal human rights were celebrated as a pivotal moment in the global march toward modernization and secularization. Postsecular theorizing is an emergent field proposing ways of doing social science and interpreting social life that account for the failure of secularization theory.[4] Secularization theory and its twin, modernization theory, predominated Western philosophy and science during the 19th and 20th centuries. These proposed that: all societies will develop and modernize through time (in both their ideas and material conditions); as they do, they will become more rational; as they rationalize, they will grow less religious (i.e., will secularize). Secularization theory held that this trajectory was inevitable, although some nations were leading the forward march of time and progress (Europe and the United States) while others were trailing behind or recalcitrant (everyone else).

The predictions of secularization and modernization theories have not entirely come to pass. Religion has not disappeared; in fact, in many significant pockets of the world, it resurges energetically under the weight of secularization. Postsecularism is a theoretical readjustment that attempts to recalibrate the fruits of modern social theory with new concessions for religion and religionists. It offers the liberatory promises of secular liberalism while assuring that religious commitments need not be compromised.

There is much overlap among feminism, human rights, and postsecular theorizing (see Figure 1). Alongside other interrelated prevailing discourses that are foundationally secular,[5] feminism, human rights, and postsecularism together comprise the authoritative values and norms that facilitate American social life.

Feminism Islam Human Rights and Post Secularism

Figure 1: Overlap among feminism, human rights, and postsecular theorizing.

Edward Hall, in his 1976 anthropological analysis of organizational cultures, proposed a metaphor that subsequently became iconic which can be useful for our purposes here.[6] The iceberg theory of culture suggests that culture, much like an iceberg, can be distinguished in its visible external manifestations (the minor portion) and its hidden, deep foundations (which comprise the major portion; see Figure 2).

In what follows, I dig deeper into the values and assumptions that ground feminism, human rights, and the postsecular promise in order to understand their secular premises about religion, knowledge, and the human being.  

Iceberg theory of culture

Figure 2: An iceberg depiction of culture.

Theme I: (Secular) religion

One of postsecular theorizing’s basic affirmations is that the religion/secular binary is no longer plausible. The hope is that the ‘antiquated dichotomy’ of religion/secular will be transcended.  However, an unintended consequence of this affirmation is to further naturalize secularism as the mute backdrop upon which ‘religion’ can be rationally theorized. By ‘secularism’ I mean the sense afforded by Cornelis van Peursen, as the “deliverance of man first from religious then from metaphysical control over his reason and language.”[7] Naquib Al-Attas takes the definition further and provides a concise frame for identifying the main components of secularization as “the disenchantment of nature, the desacralization of politics, and the deconsecration of values.”[8]  By disenchantment of nature (a la Max Weber) he means the freeing of nature from religious overtones, separating it from God and separating man from it (allowing developmental action); desacralization of politics refers to the abolition of sacral legitimation of political authority, allowing for (only) historical process; and deconsecration of values is the rendering relative of all cultural creations, including worldviews and religions, allowing the future to be open to change.

Atop Al-Attas’ foundations of what secularization philosophically requires, Talal Asad posits ‘the secular’ as enabling and disabling various types of knowledge, action, and desire through new institutional and discursive spaces.[9] When postsecular theory claims that religion/the secular is a false dichotomy (itself a liberal response to religionist testimonies against secularism’s crushing weight), it only solidifies the secular organizing logic as the universal default (i.e., the neutral ground). Secularism specifically does so by way of the modern definition of religion.

According to William Cavanaugh, ‘religion’ as we understand it today did not exist prior to Western modernity.[10] In the modern period, it did not exist outside the Western political tradition and was developed in the non-West only through colonization. The concept we know as ‘religion’ today indicates a disembodied matter of personal conscience.[11] Religion is something distinct from politics and economics and its political action is undermined vis-à-vis the modern distinction between law and morality and the strict dichotomy between the public and private realms.

Jonathan Z. Smith has observed that the modern concept of religion “is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Religion has no independent existence apart from the academy.”[12]

The modern concept of religion has historically developed as “a conceptual framework initially developed in the European academy, which quickly became an effective means of differentiating, variegating, consolidating, and totalizing a large portion of the social, cultural, and political practices observable among the inhabitants of regions elsewhere in the world,” according to Tomoko Masuzawa.[13]

We can observe how the modern understanding of ‘religion’ radically departs from what came before it by noting the etymology of the ancient Latin word religio. Cavanaugh states that it “was only one of a constellation of terms surrounding social obligations in ancient Rome and, when used, it…referred to a powerful requirement to perform some action…This included not only cultic observances…but also civic oaths and family rituals, things that modern Westerners normally consider to be secular.”[14]

Premodern Christians also understood religio in this way. In St. Augustine’s writings, no set of beliefs or practices can be strictly separated from worldly obligations like family, the oaths, and cults. Cavanaugh states: “Politics, culture, family obligations, devotion to God or gods, civic duties—all are bound together in one complex web of social relations.”[15] God is true religio for Augustine but religio is found in every social relation; in other words, there’s no religio separable or abstract from the secular realm.

St. Thomas Aquinas similarly uses religio in the traditional sense, something akin to ‘rites’ and ‘piety.’[16] In his Summa Theologiaereligio is one of the nine virtues of justice. However, it is a moral, not a theological virtue, because religio’s objects are rites and practices. Faith, by contrast, is a theological virtue whose object is God.[17]

Premodern religio differs from the modern concept of religion in the following ways: religion is a system of propositions and beliefs, but religio posited that moral excellence is achieved by disciplining the soul and body; religion is a purely interior impulse, while religio took body and soul to form a single unity; religion has an institutional aspect separable from secular forces, but the world of religio was a “theopolitical whole.”[18] See Figure 3 below.

Pre Modern Religion vs Modern Religion

Figure 3: Different grammars of ‘religion’

In addition to providing religion’s epistemic context in our current day, secularism also enables and disables certain practical conditions. Secularism undermines the political action of religion through the myth of the public space’s neutrality.[19] Secularism also undermines the political action of religion through the modern state’s juridification of all social relations. Everything social requires the consent of the law.[20] Recall Cavanaugh’s claim that prior to Modernity, social relations fell under the realm of religio and were therefore not secular in nature. Because the modern state legislates everything, everything becomes political and religion can’t avoid encounters with the political in its social requirements, prescribed modes of behavior, economic ethics, etc.[21] The law/morality distinction prevents religion from having any influence over the political decision-making of the state or its monopolies over law and violence.

Secularism also dominates religion vis-a-vis the modern state’s supposed neutrality. However, the modern state inhabits its own metaphysic in a non-neutral way, one that diminishes the potential of religion. Wael Hallaq identifies the ‘metaphysics’ of the modern state as: “the end of all ends, know[ing] only itself, and therefore…metaphysically the ultimate foundation of sovereign will.”[22] That is to say:

If the nation‐state is conceived as an expression of sovereign will, then the Aristotelian final cause of its existence is nothing more than its perpetual existence. The nation-state exists for its own sake. It is a means to no other end.[23]

Nationalism is another secular metaphysic animating sociopolitical conditions, for it “not only overrides history; it makes and rewrites it at will.”[24] The state has the power to expect its citizens to kill for it, but also to die for it[25] (and this is part of what is meant by the state’s monopoly over violence).

Theme II: Knowledge and (un)certainty

The secular is a field of power that enables various types of knowledge, desire, and action through new institutional and discursive spaces.[26] The secular is constituted by a variety of concepts, practices, sensibilities, and normative responses; it generates new experiences and creates new subjects.[27] Secularism creates new categories (like the ‘social’) and provides new grammars for old categories (like ‘agency’; see Figure 4 below).[28] To claim that the religion-secular binary is false is akin to concluding from the fact that ‘race’ is an invented category that we live in a post-racial America: it simply is not true.[29] Feminist and postsecular arguments unintentionally reinscribe the invisible (i.e., normative) power of secularism by dismissing the religion/secular binary as false.

Pre Modern vs Modern Secular

Figure 4: Examples of reorientation of concepts from premodern to modern-secular worldviews

Secularism constitutes the epistemic range of possibilities for socially acceptable knowledge in several important ways. First, it creates a certain discourse on religion, positing it as on the side of the irrational, myth, the primitive of inferior races, atavism, childhood, and savagery[30] (see Figure 5 below). Secularism claims to be the universally rational epistemological domain in which history exists.[31] (By epistemology I refer to the theory of knowledge: its nature, grounds, limits, and validity). Those who are familiar with Hegel’s philosophy of History will recognize it: humankind mired in the backwaters of religious belief and authority, maturing through stages little by little. Finally, we arrived, through the vehicle of Europe’s Enlightenment, to mature adulthood. Theological discourse was a form of false consciousness that we generated, but then gradually emancipated ourselves from.[32] (Here also we find the secular grammar of agency as the self-conscious making of History). Only secular ways of knowing can be regarded as universally valid knowledge about nature and society, according to this account.[33]

Religion vs Secular

Figure 5: Binaries of the religion-as-myth trope.

Secondly, the state’s metaphysics also buttress secular epistemological categories. Time and space are two such categories, and the modern nation-state operationalizes specific renderings of these. National politics organize space through ideas of exclusive boundaries. Medieval Christendom and premodern Islam had posited different versions, what we can call complex space, such that bonds and identities were overlapping.[34] Secular time is homogenous, but heterogenous time and simultaneous temporalities are more relevant for religion, “because the temporalities of many tradition-rooted practices (that is, the time each embodied practice requires to complete and to perfect itself, the past into which it reaches, that it reencounters, reimagines, and extends) cannot be translated into the homogenous time of national politics.”[35] Without complex time and complex space, multiple ways of life cannot exist.[36] Only liberal accounts of pluralism (i.e. the multiple identities advocated for by cosmopolitan feminists or constructivist versions of dialogic democracy) can exist in the homogenous time and space of the modern state—and that is not the same thing as multiple ways of life (i.e. a substantive respect for difference).

We find this is especially true in feminism’s universal invitation. Particularly at the postsecular moment, women, male allies, and sexually non-conformist people of any faith are welcomed into the feminist project of liberation. Muslim women are assured that we do not have to change our religious beliefs or practices to get on board with feminist liberation. What we find in abundance are markers of religious identity (i.e., hijabs, Islamic language, etc.) upholding bridges of solidarity that are nonetheless built with secular concepts of the human being, i.e. the human as morally autonomous, subscribing to the relative truth model of individual experience, and ultimately as a history-maker.

Theme III: The human being and freedom

In secular renditions of both religion and knowledge, we find a deeply foundational impulse to democratize. Democracy has become, in fact, an epistemic organizing principle in our postmodern age. What this means for knowledge is that traditional authoritative processes of scholarship responsible for the transfer of true knowledge from generation to generation are no longer socially credible; in fact, they have become de facto suspicious (where ‘gatekeepers,’ ‘patriarchy’ and ‘orthodoxy’ are used pejoratively). Where these traditional elements diverge from liberalizing norms, they only provide further ‘evidence’ of their oppressiveness. What the widespread democratization impulse has meant for religion has been that each practitioner may lay claim to truth by way of her/his experiences. Subjectivity is the ultimate criterion. Feminism, human rights, and postsecularism all unequivocally affirm democracy as the most liberating of political forms. Across various methodological approaches, theorists and commentators hang their hopes on democratic politics as the corrective to institutionalized patriarchy and injustices of various kinds. Niamh Reilly states that feminist approaches as diverse as the communitarian, postmodernist, global South and critical Enlightenment:

[A]ll emphasize ‘democracy’ and the values that underpin it as the larger discursive frame in which ideas of secularism and secularity can be redefined with emancipatory intent. This common ground in democracy is, I argue, at the heart of non‐oppressive articulations of feminism that both retain a commitment to norms of gender equality and human rights and actively respect women’s differences, including in relation to religious identity.[37]

There are a number of problems with this consensus around democracy. First, democracy as a political form is a package. Its conceptual bundle includes the modern state with its monopoly over law and violence,[38] the strict separation of law and morality, and a specifically Western and postindustrial dichotomy of the public/private realms. Second, some postsecular, feminist, and human rights advocates place their faith in democracy because they believe the public sphere to be a neutral space amenable to equitable deliberation. However, Asad makes the point that the public sphere is necessarily, not just contingently, constituted by power.[39] Not everything can be said because not all values are negotiable.[40] The public space is inhabited by subjects who have learned to speak and listen according to the logic of privatizing religion in the first place. Organized religion, understood as based on authority and constraint, is perceived as a threat to the mutual freedom promised by the democratic public sphere. To address issues on its own terms, religion would have to be disruptive (of norms) to be heard.[41]

Sociologist Jurgen Habermas recognizes the undue burden experienced by religionists in the public sphere. He states:

Yes, religious cultures must adapt, with difficulty, to four inescapable conditions of modern secular life—the presence of other strong faiths, the authority of science, the universalist mode of positive law, and a pervasive profane popular morality. But they should not be subjected to unfair psychological or socio-cultural pressure in so doing. Postsecular culture must therefore openly recognize religion not just as a set of private beliefs but as an all‐embracing source of energy for the devout, and, actually, for society in general too. Except at the highest institutional levels, the case goes, the demand that people cease to speak politically in religious terms must be dropped.[42]

While Habermas’ acknowledgment of the weight of secular normativity is useful, his misplaced faith in reasonable deliberation remains strong. His constructivist democratic model entails that the criteria for gauging the reasonableness of citizens’ deliberations are universalizable norms[43] (secular liberal logic par excellence).  Foremost among the norms is autonomy. While Habermas admits that the actual content of autonomy must be understood and realized in context‐specific ways, the overarching secular liberal values of self‐invention and self‐sovereignty[44] are reconstituted in the ‘neutral’ public sphere, severely curtailing the norm-altering capacities of religion. Asad states that religion has two options with regard to the modern state’s law/morality dichotomy as enshrined in the strict separation of public and private realms: it can either accept its designated place of thoroughly privatized belief and worship, or it can engage in public talk that makes no demands on life.[45]

Another emergent theme in much postsecular, feminist, and human rights discourses is cosmopolitanism. While earlier families of feminist theorizing—radical, socialist, cultural, etc.—laid the groundwork for conceptualizing global sisterhood and international common cause, the present cosmopolitan feminism with its global orientation[46] may represent a political commitment to the convergence thesis. Advanced by some liberal thinkers,[47] the convergence thesis celebrates that public international law increasingly treats not only states but individuals. This undermines national sovereignty by converging it with human rights. Peter Danchin problematizes the convergence thesis, arguing that it rests on what some theorists have termed ‘liberal anti-pluralism.’[48] Liberal anti-pluralist accounts, while “relying on a contingent and thus contestable conception of individual autonomy…do not in fact seek to challenge the rationale for public law or public reason itself. On the contrary, such accounts advance a vision of ‘universal’ or ‘global’ social order governed by a ‘neutral’ public law that limits the freedom of its subjects pursuant to the single ‘trumping’ or ‘covering’ value of individual freedom itself.”[49] The secular conception of individual human freedom is given expression in both the norms espoused in local activism as well as in an international political consensus reached on the relation between nation-states and the global family of nations.

Kant had echoed a prototype of this formulation in both his moral philosophy and his idea for a universal history with a cosmopolitan purpose. For Danchin, however, this type of order itself becomes a peril to liberty and pluralism by undermining the law’s established limits upon the international code. It does this by “effectively eliminating the public-private distinction and by redefining fundamental rights to mean only, or ultimately, the rights of autonomous individuals.”[50] Whereas national sovereignty, in the traditional Westphalian understanding, mediated between a multitude of (private) national ways of life and (public) international society, the new cosmopolitanism of liberal anti‐pluralists undermines this sovereignty and replaces it with a “universal global law.”  Danchin explains: “On this view, sovereignty becomes a human right and thereby loses its traditional intersubjective and value-pluralist function in international law: that is, to maintain the conditions necessary for peaceful coexistence between different ways of life as opposed to their merging into that single form of life we have known since at least the late nineteenth century as ‘civilization.’”[51]

It is this converging global morality, aesthetic, and politico-economic set of norms and practices, necessarily constituted by power—what I refer to as cosmopolitanism, or what is broadly termed globalization—that provides the context for universal human rights. Massad has shown that the history of the governmentalization and internationalization of gender issues, beginning in the 1970s, was deeply implicated in Western hegemony.[52] The process of envisioning women’s rights as human rights proceeded along with the hegemony of Western interventionism in the Cold War political context. ‘Transnational’ and ‘international’ organizations and solidarity networks were often codes for the proliferation of Euro-American and European knowledge frames.[53] Massad claims that the emergent human rights norms in this period issued from “white Euro-American middle class and Protestant culture,” and that the international culture of modernity “is nothing less than the institutionalization of these cultural norms.”[54] Women-focused world conferences since the 1990s (such as Vienna 1993, Cairo 1994, and Beijing 1995) have revealed not only tensions and discrepancies of interests between North and South, but also that the woman question is posed in exclusively Western ways.[55] The liberal framing of global campaigns like the one to end violence against women is internal to a “technology of transnational governmentality.”[56] In this context, focusing on military humanitarianism, capacity-building, civil society, and empowerment betrays human rights’ relationship to a neoliberal world order:

Its imperial mission aside, the discourse (and organized campaigns) of human rights has more of a symptomatic relationship to neoliberal global capitalism: it broaches moments of critique; it attempts to inoculate against neoliberalism’s worst excesses; sometimes it pretends to offer something almost like a counter-public, yet it continues to operate insistently outside the economic sphere, the most important of neoliberalism’s theaters of operations.[57]

It may be argued that much feminist theory today goes against convergence, particularly the proponents of multiple modernities.[58] However, as the claims made by Habermas and Reilly reveal, postsecularists and feminists see secularism as suitable for being reimagined with emancipatory content for the religious. The argument given is that secular dialogic public space is not anti-religious, but is tolerant of competing interpretations.[59] The argument goes: since secularism is no longer a normative principle for feminism, it will ensure human freedom in a way that respects religious pluralism.[60]

But isn’t such an account somewhat circular? What guarantees that the liberal definition of human freedom is non-abusive? What guarantees that democracy is non-abusive? Charles Mills has shown that accounts of personhood in the liberal social contractarian tradition were simultaneously and explicitly theories of racialized sub-personhood.[61] Subsequent elaborations of justice, democracy, equality, property law, etc. flourished while gross personhood inequalities were violently institutionalized and maintained against non-whites. Reilly claims: “Moreover, this cosmopolitan feminist perspective embeds feminism in democratic practice oriented towards the substantive realization of human rights and freedoms.”[62] I caution that this itself does not avert oppressive requirements for homogenization within a secular global public law. Democratic practice that aims at ‘human freedom’ is neither necessarily safe from horrific abuses nor is postsecular in any substantive way.

But what about universal human rights? Do human rights represent a suitable framework for postsecular and feminist emancipatory hopes? Universal human rights seek to establish a set of restraints against states for the protection of basic rights that all persons are entitled to by virtue of being human alone. Across various prominent approaches, human rights claim universality and neutrality, i.e., that they do not rest on any particular philosophical anthropology or comprehensive doctrine—and, for this reason, can be appropriated by all.[63] However, this neutrality claim is false. Universal human rights is a valued and storied concept that advocates a number of modern liberal rationales. Human rights espouse a particularly modern grammar of ‘religion’ and a secular definition of the human being, something that can be discerned upon closer examination of the universal human right of freedom of religion.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.[64]

The International Covenant on Civil and Political as well as Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the ICCPR and ICESCR respectively, both drafted in 1966 and made effective in 1976) also address the freedom of religion as a basic human right. The ICCPR further stipulates that no one shall be coerced with regard to adopting the religion of his choice (Article 18.2) and that the:

Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.[65]

The ICCPR also maintains that States party to the covenant will respect the right of parents and legal guardians to determine their children’s/wards’ religious upbringing.[66] Importantly, the covenant ensures the freedom of all persons to enjoy equal protection of the law, regardless of religion or other factors.[67] It also calls for the protection of religious minorities.[68]

The covenant on social, economic and cultural rights similarly addresses freedom of religion as a basic human right.[69] In 1981, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, which further echoed the same sentiments pertaining to freedom of religion.[70] The limits to such freedoms are to be found, again, in the State’s discretionary power, corralled by the rule of law:

Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.[71]

It is in the ambiguity of the space opened up for state power that human rights language pertaining to freedom of religion reveals its secular grammar of ‘religion,’ as well as its secular definition of the human being. Across the prominent approaches to human rights today, the human being is a morally autonomous subject who has natural rights of freedom from authority structures of tradition, religion, and community. When human rights refer to freedom of religion, they are underscoring the strict separation of politics and religion, delineating the public and private realms (respectively) as the appropriate realms of each and, in so doing, are operationalizing a modern definition of ‘religion’ (see Cavanaugh above). This, in turn, opens the door for selective and subjective interpretation as to how the freedom of religion is upheld. For example, in practice, the religious freedom norm has acted as a device of discrimination in the European Court of Human Rights. Recent cases reveal that Muslim practices and symbols are litigated against while their Christian counterparts are treated more favorably.[72] In Lautsi v. Italy, the Court permitted crucifixes in Italian schools, while the same verdict was not passed in cases involving Muslim women’s headscarves, such as Dahlab v. SwitzerlandLeyla Sahin v. Turkey and Belgin Dogru v. France.[73] As feminist political theorist Joan Wallach Scott argued in relation to France’s 2005 ban on headscarves in public schools, something about Muslim identity and practices in the public space seems to offend the identity of the secular nation.[74]

Human rights—alongside feminism and postsecular theorizing—also promotes secularism through its promotion of the morally autonomous subject. The right to reason privately is the individual’s protection against the forces of public reason. Indeed, the social contract theory of Hobbes and Locke justified the sovereignty of the absolutist monarch and the sovereignty of the private conscience on the basis of the secular separation of the jurisdictions of church and king.[75] In an important way, the modern individual is, of course, not autonomous—neither free nor sovereign—in relation to the forces of market and state. (We cannot, for example, have a meaningful say in localizing production and distribution of goods, whether imported from abroad to the United States or American transnational companies setting up factories and disrupting economies abroad). But she is free—morally autonomous—vis‐à‐vis organized religion.

It is in these ways that universal human rights require assent to a secular theory of the human being and modern (secularized/privatized) concept of religion. Elsewhere, I have surveyed a number of contemporary Muslim political thinkers on human rights and found a direct correlation between whether Islam is posited as a religion in the modern sense or more akin to premodern religio, on the one hand, and whether universal human rights are fully endorsed or problematized on the other.[76] Thinkers who pose Islam as a religion in the modern sense tend to promote full-scale adoption of universal human rights as either a primary or complementary/non-contradictory organizing principle to fulfill religious practice. Thinkers like Abdullahi An‐Na’im, Abdolkarim Soroush, Fatima Mernissi, Abdulaziz Sachedina, and Jerusha Tanner Lamptey all share a set of core values for religious belief and practice that is rooted in or scaffolded by universal human rights norms. Thinkers who pose Islam as something other than religion in the modern sense, something more akin to premodern religio, are more critical of universal human rights and do not advocate for their full adoption. Rather, they bring important critical challenges to bear on the discourse and its philosophical grounds. These include Sherman Jackson, Saba Mahmood, Abdal Hakim Murad, and Katherine Bullock.[77]

Conclusion: Religion as din

One way that American Muslims can intelligently and compassionately place a safe distance between ourselves and universalizing impulses toward feminist, human rights-centered, and supposedly ‘post’-secular norms is to provincialize the liberal discourse—to identify and name it as one historical tradition among countless others. There is nothing inherently universal, neutral, rational or safe from power-politics or the particularity of historical values about liberal discourse and practice. Moreso, it is not only secular but compellingly secularizing; it seeks constantly to universalize its secularism. I propose that Alasdair MacIntyre’s 1988 work Whose Justice? Which Rationality? can be especially useful in this regard.

According to MacIntyre, all inquiry is constituted by tradition and is essentially historical. Every form of inquiry begins from the beliefs, institutions, and practices of some community, which authorize particular texts and voices; tradition is always to some degree local. A tradition:

is an argument extended through time in which certain fundamental agreements are defined and redefined in terms of two kinds of conflict: those with critics and enemies external to the tradition who reject all or at least key parts of those fundamental agreements, and those internal, interpretative debates through which the meaning and rationale of the fundamental agreements come to be expressed and by whose progress a tradition is constituted.[78]

As such, traditions go through stages in which beliefs are reevaluated as inadequacies are identified and new exigencies arise. They have a systematic and deliberative character and are marked by theorizing.

One of the Enlightenment’s central aspirations was to provide standards and methods of rational justification for debate in the public realm, such that “reason would replace authority and tradition.”[79] However, MacIntyre argues, all rational inquiry emerges from some tradition that provides the standards of rational justification from within its own history. Such an understanding of tradition contradicts “one of the central characteristics of cosmopolitan modernity: the confident belief that all cultural phenomena must be potentially translucent to understanding, that all texts must be capable of being translated into the language which the adherents of modernity speak to each other.”[80]  That language today is secularism.

The belief in universal translatability, says MacIntyre, cannot register the fact that rival accounts of practical reasoning and justice emerge from within different conceptual frameworks, each with their own modes of argument. There is, in other words, no “neutral court of appeal.”[81] Various attempts to establish a tradition‐independent moral standpoint have all failed. This, precisely, “was and is the project of modern liberal, individualist society.”[82] The interminable debate over what the principles of shared rationality actually are has itself transformed liberalism into a tradition. Besides differing in their accounts of practical rationality, justice, and modes of argument, traditions also differ in “their catalogs of the virtues, in their conceptions of selfhood, and in their metaphysical cosmologies.”[83]

Along with Macintyre, Talal Asad’s recent theorizing on traditions provides a useful toolkit for contextualizing feminist, human rights, and post-secular thought. Asad has used tradition in two ways: 1) as a theoretical location for questioning authority, time, language use, and embodiment; and 2) as an empirical arrangement of everyday life connecting discursivity and materiality.[84] The discursive aspect of tradition is the language through which learning and relearning occurs and is something passed down. Embodied practices cultivate sensibilities that can change the self (i.e., emotions, language, dispositions) and the environment.[85] What is learned, says Asad, is not a doctrine but a mode of being, a capacity for experiencing that can’t be renounced. Like MacIntyre, Asad affirms that disagreements are a constitutive part of traditions. In theory, traditions can accommodate rupture as well as continuity. There are entries and exits.[86]

The relevance of MacIntyre’s rationality-of-traditions approach for American Muslims is that it can provide us with an intelligent language with which to politely but firmly refuse the values underscoring secular discourses like feminism, human rights, and postsecularism. We can do so in conversations with Muslims and non-Muslims alike. There is no consensus among contemporary Muslim sociopolitical commitments as to whether Islam is a religion in the modern, privatized, disembodied (apolitical) sense or if it is something else. There are American Muslims who throw their energies into supporting identity politics campaigns of every stripe and there are Muslims who preach that it is forbidden to vote. As such, applying a traditions-approach to encountering and interpreting various iterations of feminism, human rights, and the postsecular promise could help open up space for non-modernist/non-secular renditions (i.e., a true respect for difference). Otherwise, well-intentioned dialogue and solidarity may continue to end in a monologue that celebrates diversity of ethnicities, languages, and holidays but always under the trumping umbrella value of a secular moral autonomy. Blaney and Inayatullah have pointed out that even when some International Relations theorists temper cosmopolitanism with ‘humane governance’ and grassroots/‘from below’ voices, secular liberal values and norms are still positioned authoritatively:

Instead of something that emerges in a dialogical process and whose direction cannot be forecast readily, these world order values are taken as given. These values are then used to distinguish those agents fostering civility from those whose incivility must be purged to create a global order.[87]

Cosmopolitanism and human rights, according to these authors, perpetuates neo-modernization theory and an inability to deal with difference. American Muslims can avoid the liberal epistemological trappings I’ve described in this paper (trappings that are found increasingly across our communities) if we ponder the distinction between understanding Islam as a religion in the modern, secular sense, or as din. Al-Attas describes the etymology of din as follows, and for present purposes is worth quoting at length:

The primary significations of the term din can be reduced to four: (1) indebtedness; (2) submissiveness; (3) judicious power; (4) natural inclination or tendency…The verb dana which derives from dinconveys the meaning of being indebted…In the state in which one finds oneself being in debt, that is to say, a da’in it follows that one subjects oneself, in the sense of yielding and obeying, to law and ordinances governing debts, and also, in a way, to the creditor, who is likewise designated as a da’in.​ There is also conveyed in the situation described the fact that one in debt is under obligation, or dayn. Being in debt and under obligation naturally involves judgment: daynunah, and conviction: idanah, as the case may be. All the above significations including their contraries inherent in danaare practicable possibilities only in organized societies involved in commercial life in towns and cities, denoted by mudun or mada’in. A town or city, a madinah, has a judge, ruler, or governor, a dayyan. Thus already here, in the various applications of the verb dana alone, we see rising before our mind’s eye a picture of civilized living; of societal life of law and order and justice and authority. It is, conceptually at least, connected intimately with another verb maddana which means: to build or to found cities: to civilize, to refine and to humanize; from which is derived another term: tamaddun, meaning civilization and refinement in social culture.[88]

Al-Attas shows that Islam as our din unites the innermost, natural tendency of the human—what Abdal Hakim Murad termed primordial God-consciousness in defining fitrah[89]—with the outer manifestations in culture, law, economics, politics, and the human heritage broadly conceived. The terms and conditions of being indebted within human society are intimately determined by the din that begins with the human’s indebtedness to God.

A comprehension of Islam as pictured in al-Attas’ etymological exposition cannot be reduced to the modern concept of religion as privatized, disembodied belief pertaining only to conscience and, in increasingly limiting ways, the private realm (see Figure 6 below). Recall that the universal human right to freedom of religion sets forth several important provisions—but all under the subject, scrutiny and, most importantly, discretion of state power. Rather, Islam-as-din encompasses the gamut of human experience, from innermost to outermost, from personal to political to borrow a well-known feminist adage. Can a postsecular feminism that reduces freedom to democracy and the human being to self-invention and a set of liberal rights, ever speak to a Muslimah’s commitment to her din?

Islam vs Religion Secular

Figure 6: Din and ‘religion’ in the modern sense: truly alternative conceptions

The secular liberal discourses examined in this paper pose serious philosophical problems for Islamic belief and practice and, given their hegemony in the context of liberal universalism and homogenization, these become political problems as well. What does this mean for American Muslims in their relations to these discourses? Feminists, human rights advocates, and postsecularists are committed to protecting Muslims (especially women) and Islam from the coercive instrumentalization of the freedom norm,[90] state violence, and imperialism.[91] Muslims have to acknowledge that most proponents of such frames are sincere in their altruism, solidarity, and anti-racist/anti-imperialist politics. But can secular discourses accomplish these noble tasks by uncritically universalizing their values and foundational assumptions about the human being, knowledge, and religion, as if liberalism was natural, ahistorical, philosophically neutral, and universally applicable?

I caution that such a reliance only masks and exacerbates cosmopolitanism’s impulse to proselytize secularism. I caution American Muslims to retreat from the secular discourses currently framing our universe of norms and values and seek out and forge a coherent worldview rooted in the Qur’an and Sunnah that is appropriately fitted to our cultural place and historical time. We don’t have to force our din to fit into the limiting possibilities of identity politics. Rather, only when we are confident and clear in our commitments to Islam and intelligently versed in the foundations of popular discourses will we be able to fulfill the requirements of neighborliness, utilize human rights verbiage in ways that correctly identify the human being (as a slave of Allah), identify common cause, forge meaningful solidarity networks, and contribute discursive clarifications as well as meaningful benefit insha’Allah to our nation and the family of nations. Returning to Hall’s iceberg theory of culture,[92] it is imperative that Muslims acknowledge and appreciate the good aims of feminism, human rights and postsecular theorizing above sea level, such as justice and freedom, while critically refusing the underlying mass of secular assumptions about the human being, religion, and, ultimately, God. Rooting ourselves authentically in faith without internalized fear of social reprimand can guide us to achieve the moral clarity needed to work with people of other beliefs to begin to tackle some of our shared problems. Only then can we forge a position vis-a-vis feminists that neither throws the baby out with the bathwater nor dissolves into secular Islam. And Allah knows best.


[1] See Josephine Donovan, Feminist Theory: The Intellectual Traditions (New York: Continuum, 2000).

[2] Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 181-195; Zara Khan, “Refractions Through the Secular: Islam, Human Rights, Universality” (doctoral dissertation, City University of New York Graduate Center, 2016), 36-40 and 77-79, CUNY Academic Works url: https://academicworks.cuny.edu/gc_etds/1618/; and Nour Soubani, “Does Islam Need Saving? An Analysis of Human Rights,” Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research (2017),  https://yaqeeninstitute.org/en/nour-soubani/does-islam-need-saving-an-analysis-of-human-rights/.

[3] In actuality the UDHR did not represent a global consensus, but rather was the consensus of the Euro-American global elites after World War II. As Joseph Massad states, “The 750 million people the United Nations left colonized voted with their feet for a cosmopolitanism that implied their collective emancipation with more assurance and with more practical meaning than international human rights did.” Joseph Massad, Islam in Liberalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 379.

[4] See J. C. D. Clark, “Secularization and Modernization: the Failure of a ‘Grand Narrative’,” The Historical Journal 55, no. 1 (2012): 161‐194.

[5] Examples include: materialist worldview; capitalist worldview; belief in linear, infinite progress; the reign of science and technology; ostracism from and vilification of death in public consciousness; cosmopolitan aesthetics; etc.

[6] Edward Hall, Beyond Culture (New York: Anchor, 1976).

[7] Quoted in Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas, Islam and Secularism (Lahore: Suhail Academy, 1978), 17.

[8] Ibid., 18.

[9] Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003).

[10] See William Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

[11] Ibid., 59.

[12] Jonathan Z. Smith, “Religion and Religious Studies: No Difference At All,” Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal 71, no. 2/3 (1988): 231-244. Elsewhere, Smith argues that: “With respect to practice, the history of religions is, by and large, a philological endeavor chiefly concerned with editing, translating and interpreting texts, the majority of which are perceived as participating in the dialectic of ‘near’ and ‘far.’ If this is the case, then our field may be redescribed as a child of the Renaissance.” See Jonathan Z. Smith, Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004), 364.

[13] Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions: Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in The Language of Pluralism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 20.

[14] Cavanaugh, Myth62.

[15] Ibid., 64.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 64-65.

[18] Ibid., 65-68.

[19] See ‘Theme III’ below.

[20] Asad, Formations199.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Wael Hallaq, The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 49.

[23] Ibid., 28.

[24] Ibid., 107.

[25] Ibid., 28. See also Cavanaugh, Myth 4‐5, 8, 10, 56, and especially 122.

[26] Asad, Formations, 16.

[27] Ibid., 25.

[28] On the genesis of the secular category of ‘the social’ in 19th century England, see Ibid., 189-190. Of ‘agency’ Asad states: it “is not a natural category…successive uses of this concept (their different grammars) have opened up or closed very different possibilities for acting and being. The secular, with its focus on empowerment and history‐making, is clearly one of those possibilities.” Ibid., 73.

[29] A powerful and lucid unmasking of the false claim that we live in a post-racial America is found in Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness (New York: The New Press, 2010).

[30] Asad, Formations, 30.

[31] Ibid., 43.

[32] G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, trans. S. W. Dyde (London: George Bell and Sons, 1896).

[33] Asad, Formations, 192-193.

[34] Ibid., 179-180.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid., 180.

[37] Niamh Reilly, “Rethinking the Interplay of Feminism and Secularism in a Neo‐secular Age,” Feminist Review 97 (2011): 5‐31.

[38] See the last section of Theme I above.

[39] Asad, Formations, 184.

[40] Ibid., 186‐187.

[41] Ibid., 185.

[42] Jurgen Habermas, “Religion in the Public Sphere.” European Journal of Philosophy 14, No. 1 (2006): 1-25; specifically 7-10.

[43] See Stefan Rummens, “The Semantic Potential of Religious Arguments: A Deliberative Model of the Postsecular Public Sphere,” Social Theory and Practice 36, no. 3 (2010): 385‐408, specifically 390‐391.

[44] Rummens states: “Recognizing the autonomy of moral and political individuals implies that they are free to shape and reshape their own values and preferences in response to the changing circumstances of the historical society in which they are situated.” Ibid., 395.

[45] Asad, Formations, 199.

[46] Reilly, “Rethinking,” 26.

[47] See for example Charles Sampford, “The Potential for a Post‐Westphalian Convergence of ‘Public Law’ and ‘Public International Law’,” in Sanctions, Accountability and Governance in a Globalised World, eds. Jeremy Farrall and Kim Rubenstein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 53‐54.

[48] Peter G. Danchin, “Whose Public? Which Law? Mapping the Internal/External Distinction in International Law,” Publication of the University of Maryland School of Law 38, (2010), accessed April 20, 2015.  The Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection, http://ssrn.com/abstract=1662569.  For an example of ‘liberal anti-pluralism’ theorizing, see Gerry Simpson, “Two Liberalisms,” European Journal of International Law 12, no. 3 (2001): 537-571. Simpson states: “Liberal anti‐pluralism finds its most prominent manifestation in the recent work of Fernando Teson, Michael Reisman, Thomas Franck, John Rawls and Anne‐Marie Slaughter where, in each case, the internal characteristics of a state has the potential to determine that state’s standing in the family of nations,” 537. These internal characteristics can include regime type, the rights of individuals and democracy, with an emphasis on popular sovereignty and civil rights. Liberal anti‐pluralism, says Simpson, undermines sovereign equality and ontologically privileges individuals, 539-542  See also Edward N. Megay, “Anti‐Pluralist Liberalism: The German Neoliberals,” Political Science Quarterly 85, no. 3 (1970): 422-442. Megay argues that liberalism is not necessarily pluralist, nor is pluralism necessarily liberal. He indicates that German neoliberal views regarding social freedom and power are logically consistent with anti‐pluralism, and can result in elitist governments led by technocrats.

[49] Danchin, Whose Public, 29.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid., 32.  The intersubjective nature of international law is important because it achieves reconciliations and reaches political settlements between “conflicting claims to freedom of differently situated subjects and the divergent assertions of right and justice to which they continually rise.”

[52] Massad, Islam, 111-112.

[53] Ibid., 127.

[54] Ibid., 127‐128.

[55] Ibid., 135‐138.

[56] Ibid., 145.

[57] Ibid., 133.

[58] The theory of multiple modernities developed to explain diversity among societies in light of modernization theory’s emphasis on their similarities along the supposed singular path to modernization. Modernization theory thus stresses convergence while multiple modernities stresses divergence. See Volker H. Schmidt, “Modernity and Diversity: Reflections on the Controversy Between Modernization Theory and Multiple Modernists,” Social Science Information 49, no. 4 (2010): 511-538.

[59] Reilly, Rethinking, 26-27. See also Irene Oh, The Rights of God: Islam, Human Rights and Comparative Ethics (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2007).

[60] Reilly, Rethinking, 25.

[61] Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997). He states: “The Racial Contract is that set of formal or informal agreements, or meta‐agreements (higher‐level contracts about contracts, which set the limits of the contracts’ validity) between the members of one subset of humans, henceforth designated by (shifting) ‘racial’ [phenotypical/genealogical/cultural] criteria C1, C2, C3…as ‘white,’ and coextensive (making due allowance for gender differentiation) with the class of full persons, to categorize the remaining subset of humans as ‘nonwhite’ and of a different and inferior moral status, subpersons, so that they have a subordinate civil standing in the white or white‐ruled politics the whites either already inhabit or establish or in transactions as aliens with these polities, and the moral and juridical rules normally regulating the behavior of whites in their dealings with one another either do not apply at all in dealings with nonwhites or apply only in a qualified form (depending in part on changing historical circumstances and what particular variety of nonwhites involved), but in any case the general purpose of the Contract is always the differential privileging of the whites as a group with respect to the nonwhites as a group, the exploitation of their bodies, land, and resources, and the denial of equal socioeconomic opportunities to them. All whites are beneficiaries of the Contract, though some whites are not signatories to it,” 11.

[62] Reilly, Rethinking, 26.

[63] The neutrality/universality claim is made by the following prominent approaches to human rights today: 1) the political/minimalist approach to human rights, represented by John Rawls (“The Law of Peoples,” Critical Inquiry 20, no. 1 (1993): 36‐68, and “Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 14, no. 3 (1985): 223‐251), Simon Caney (“Humanity, Associations, and Global Justice: In Defence of Humanity‐Centred Cosmopolitan Egalitarianism,” The Monist 94, no. 4, (2011): 506‐534, and “Global Interdependence and Distributive Justice,” Review of International Studies 31, no. 2 (2005): 389‐399), and Charles Beitz (The Idea of Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); 2) the moral autonomy approach advocated by Alan Gewirth (The Community of Rights (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996) and James Griffin (On Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)); and 3) the human dignity approach argued by Jack Donnelly (Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003).

[64] See The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, http://www.un.org/en/universal‐declaration‐human‐rights/.

[65] Article 18.3. See full text of ICCPR at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx.

[66] Ibid., ICCPR Article 18.4.

[67] Ibid., ICCPR Article 26.

[68] Ibid., ICCPR Article 27.

[69] Insofar as the ICESCR advances the right of all people to self‐determine (politically, economically, socially and culturally), have access to technology for such development, and enjoy gender equity in these and other rights, it does so in a manner that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion. See Article 2.2. See full text of ICESCR at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx. Like the ICCPR, the ICESCR also defines the limit of the rights it enumerates. States party to the covenant may subject these rights to such limitations as “determined by law only in so far as this may be compatible with the nature of these rights and solely for the purpose of promoting the general welfare in a democratic society.” See ICESCR Article 4.

[70] Available at: http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/36/a36r055.htm. This resolution lists the freedoms associated with freedom of religion in both the realm of the individual’s conscience and the communal, institutional aspects of religious practice (i.e., confession, observance, producing literature and proselytization, observing holidays, congregating, establishing places of worship, parental rights in religious upbringing of children, etc.).

[71] Ibid., Article 1.3.

[72] See Samuel Moyn, “From Communist to Muslim: European Human Rights, the Cold War, and Religious Liberty,”  South Atlantic Quarterly 113, no. 1 (2014): 63-86.

[73] Ibid., 65-66. For an analysis of Islam and Muslim women in the European Court, see also Carolyn Evans, “The ‘Islamic Headscarf’ in the European Court of Human Rights,” Melbourne Journal of International Law 4 (2006), accessed July 4, 2016, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/MelbJIL/2006/4.html.

[74] Joan Wallach Scott, The Politics of the Veil (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007): 26-50.

[75] Locke stated: “[T]he church itself is a thing absolutely separate and distinct from the commonwealth. The boundaries on both sides are fixed and immovable. He jumbles heaven and earth together, the things most remote and opposite, who mixes these two societies, which are in their original, end, business, and in everything perfectly distinct and infinitely different from each other.” John Locke, Concerning Toleration (1689) quoted in Cavanaugh, Myth, 82.

[76] Khan, Refractions.

[77] Ibid.

[78] MacIntyre, Whose Justice, 12.

[79] Ibid., 6.

[80] Ibid., 327.

[81] Ibid., 333.

[82] Ibid., 335.

[83] Ibid., 349.

[84] Talal Asad, “Thinking About Tradition, Religion and Politics in Egypt Today,” http://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/thinking_about_tradition_religion_and_politics_in_egypt_today/.

[85] Ibid. See also Saba Mahmood, Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005). Mahmood’s famous treatment of the female pietists of Egypt’s Islamic revival operationalizes this exact rendering of ‘tradition,’ as she demonstrates that the subjects’ agentive motivations are embodied and performed through the vehicle of piety and the pedagogy of religious instruction.

[86] Asad, Thinking About.  See also Sherman A. Jackson, Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward the Third Resurrection (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). Jackson argues, in evaluating the inferior position afforded to Blackamerican Muslims by their immigrant counterparts (Arab and South Asian migrant Muslims to the U.S.), that failure to transfer religious authority in a timely fashion has resulted in the reification of Immigrant Islam’s ‘false universals’— here serving as example of rupture and continuity in Islamic tradition in the United States.

[87] David L. Blaney and Naeem Inayatullah, “Neo‐Modernization? IR and the Inner Life of Modernization Theory,” European Journal of International Relations 8, no. 1 (2002): 103‐137, specifically 128.

[88] Syed Muhammad Naquib al Attas, Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islam: an Exposition of the Fundamental Elements of the Worldview of Islam (Kuala Lumpur: National Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, 2001), 42-44.

[89] Abdal Hakim Murad, Crisis of Modern Consciousness, posted by A. Karim Omar (January 20, 2012, Youtube), http://youtu.be/RWOKaOb33K4.

[90] Judith Butler refers to the “instrumentalization of the freedom norm” by state power as the tendency of modern Western states to use sexual rights, specifically LGBTQ rights, to exclude non-normative subjects, specifically Muslims, from citizenship, socially persecute, or torture them. See Judith Butler, “Sexual Politics, Torture, and Secular Time,” British Journal of Sociology 59, no.1 (2008): 1‐23.

[91] “Freedom” was the moral, political justification given for war and invasion of Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. See Zillah Eisenstein, Against Empire: Feminisms, Racism, and the West (London: Zed Books, 2004). See Scott, Politics of the Veil, for how France has persecuted modern Muslim subjects, specifically in the context of the headscarf prohibition against women.

[92] See Introduction above.

 

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