Muslim Leadership and the Challenge of Reconciling the Religious with the Secular

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Louay Safi

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Abstract

The "return to religion" is a worldwide reality shared equally by the fol­lowers of different religions. Now that secularism, as a social ideology, has failed to provide a moral foundation for modern society, religion is reassert­ing its authority in all cultures. Intellectuals and religious leaders are increasingly rethinking the place of religion in modern society.
Nowhere is the challenge of reconciling the religious and the secular more intense than in Muslim societies. Unlike western societies, Muslim cultures have experienced secularism not as a structure designed to prevent the imposition of one religious tradition on another, but as modern faith promoted by many political leaders eager to offer an alternative to religion. For many years, Muslim secularists looked at religion with contempt and tried to use their political authority and commanding social positions to undermine religion and religious sentiment. Most recently, however, secu­lar leaders have had to step back from their anti-religion posture in the face of the rising tide of religion in Muslim societies. Still, secularism and the secular state are widely associated with corruption, intolerance, and author­itarianism because of the archaic and bankrupt manners by which the self­proclaimed prophets of secularism in the Muslim world have exercised their power.


But while secularist excesses have led to its retreat before a newly founded religious spirit in the Muslim world, the new religiosity, in its effort to compensate for secularist extremism, is in danger of committing its own excesses. Finding a creative space between the stagnant tradition­alist outlook and the dogmatic and power-prone attitude of many Muslim ...

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