Religious Secularity A Theological Challenge to the Islamic State By Naser Ghobadzadeh (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. 267 pages.)

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Banafsheh Madaninejad



Naser Ghobadzadeh’s Religious Secularity presumes that Muslim thinkers no
longer consider an Islamic state as the desired political system. This aversion
to a theocratic state is perhaps felt most by those Iranian reformist thinkers
who have had to operate in such a state since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The
author claims that in its place, the Muslim world has devised a new theoretical
category called “religious secularity,” which allows for a religiously secular
state to, at least theoretically, present itself as an alternative to an Islamic one.
He defines this religiously secular attitude as one that refuses to eliminate religion
from the political sphere, but simultaneously carves out a space for secular
politics by narrowly promoting only the institutional separation of religion
and state.
He claims that this concept has two goals: to (1) restore the clergy’s genuine
spiritual aims and reputation and (2) show that Islam is compatible with
the secular democratic state. In Iran, rather than launching overt attacks against
the theocratic state, this discourse of religious secularity has created a more
“gentle, implicit and sectarian manner in challenging the Islamic state.” Unlike
in pre-revolutionary times when there were both religious and non-religious
ideologies vying for an audience, Ghobadzadeh suggests that in Iran today,
“the alternative discourses are religious and concentrate on liberating religious
discourse from state intervention.”
The author pays homage to Abdullahi An-Na’im and claims to be using
Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari‘a (2008) as a
conceptual framework. As far as subfields within political science go,
Ghobadzadeh’s Religious Secularity is also similar in form to Nader
Hashemi’s Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy (2009) and, as such,
can be considered a work of theoretical comparative political science ...

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