Religions, Lifeways, Same Difference Defining Dīn in the US, the Middle East, and South Asia

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Jibreel Delgado


Dīn, Religion, Ethics, Politics, Islam, Islamophobia, Sociology of Religion, Law, Sharī‘ah, Theology, Taṣawwuf, Secular, Dunyāwīyah


A number of far-right politicians and conservatives in the United States continue to argue that the First Amendment’s freedom of belief
does not apply to Islam because it is not a religion in the western sense of the term, but a way of life that includes politics. By providing
definitions from both western sociologists of religion and conservative political lobbyists and think tanks, I show that most
experts on religion in the United States define religion as a way of life that governs behavior in the public sphere. I also argue that these
definitions match similar definitions, offered by Muslim scholars in the Middle East and South Asia for the last fifty years, of the Arabic
word dīn, typically translated as “religion.” By tracing the origins of the idea that dīn signifies something other than religion because of its relation to regulating public behavior, I show that earlier mid-twentieth century Muslim critiques of equating dīn and religion had little to do with any intrinsic nature if Islam itself and far more to do with western scholarship of that period’s understanding of secularity, conceptualization of the state, and prediction of the inevitable demise of religious belief and practice.

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