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Religious Secularity: A Theological Challenge to the Islamic State

A Theological Challenge to the Islamic State
  • Book Title:
 Religious Secularity
  • Book Author:
Naser Ghobadzadeh
  • Total Pages
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  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • The Rise of Religious Secularity 4
  • Unpopularity of the Islamic State 9
  • Iran: A Chain of Backlashes 12
  • Fall of a Theory 14
  • From Secularism to Secularisms 17
  • From Islamism to Islamisms 20
  • A Scholarly and Latter-Day Discourse 25
  • Shiite Discourses on Sovereignty 30
  • Sovereignty in the Shiite School 32
  • Velayat-e Faqih: A Doctrine of Divine Sovereignty 39
  • Popular Sovereignty: A Recent Shiite Articulation 42
  • Jurisprudential Approach 44
  • Challenges from an Historical Perspective 54
  • Non-jurisprudential Challenges 59
  • Seeding Secularity: The Rise of a Jurisprudential State 73
  • The Shifting Trend in State–Religion Relations 74
  • Fiqh-ul Maslaha 78
  • Fiqh and the Spirit of Religiosity 84
  • Islamic State and Fiqh 87
  • Hypocrisy and the Unification of Religion and State 90
  • Religious Rationale for Separation 96
  • Religious Motivations 101
  • Discharging Religion from Governance 102
  • viii Contents
  • Unrealistic Expectations of Religion 110
  • The Hereafter: The Principal Mission of Religion 111
  • Differentiating Religion from Political Ideology 114
  • Extra-Religious Nature of Governance 116
  • Fiqh and Governance 119
  • Political Construction of Clericalism 128
  • Pope–Emperor Relations 129
  • An Enduring Apolitical Tradition 133
  • Political Engagement: A Marginal Discourse 135
  • The Clergy’s Political Leadership in Khomeini’s Thought 138
  • Khomeini’s Shifting Political Stance 142
  • Institutionalizing the Power of the Clergy 147
  • Clerics against Clericalism 150
  • Passive Resistance: Loyalty to Political Quietism 151
  • Active Resistance: Campaigning for an Apolitical Stance 155
  • The Clerical Political System: Resisted and Rejected 167
  • Clerical Hegemony: Contradictions and Paradoxes 171
  • The Clergy: A Genuine Class in Islam? 173
  • Governmental Incompetence 176
  • Shortcomings of the Hawza Educational System 177
  • The Clergy’s Financial Livelihoods 181
  • A Decentralized Structure 187
  • Marjaiat–Velayat Conflict 188
  • Religious Remuneration 193
  • Dealing with Dissident Clerics 195
  • Politicizing the Preferment to Marjaiat 197
  • Clergy’s Spiritual Reputation 202
  • Conclusion 208
  • Repudiating the Clerical Islamic State 209
  • Promoting the Secular Democratic State 211
  • Religious Secularity: An Unfolding Discourse 213
  • Bibliography 217


from the second half of the twentieth century, the quest for an Islamic state was an aspiration common to most Islamists across geographic borders and sectarian divides.

 Mainstream Islamic groups—including the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates across the Arab world; Jamaat-e Islami in the Indian subcontinent; and Shiite Islamists in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon—all contemplated setting up Islamic states as a defining feature of their respective identities.

Their aspirations climaxed with the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979; but, disillusioned by the failures of the Islamic state, this zeal was short lived. The notion of an Islamic state is no longer considered a desired political system.

As well as being demonized in the West, it has also been depicted as an undesirable and forbidding choice in the Muslim world, evident in the lack of quest for Islamic states evinced by the world’s mainstream Islamic groups.

 In Indonesia, the world’s most populous and democratic Muslim-majority country, neither the leading Islamic organizations (including Nahdlatul Ulama and the Mohammadiyeh movement) nor the major Islamic parties are committed to an Islamic state.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has no desire to convert the modernizing Turkish secular state into a Shari’a-based Islamic polity. And, following the “Arab uprisings” in the Middle East and North Africa, the more mainstream Islamists have not championed the establishment of an Islamic state, even though they continue to uphold Shari’a principles (Gerges, 2013).

Despite these trends, radical Islamists continue to aspire for the build- ing of Islamic states, and, while marginal, these groups remain vociferous both in their demands and in their militant methods. Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya; Boko Haram in Nigeria; Ansar Dine in Mali; and al-Shabaab in Somalia are a few cases in point.

The Islamic groups that flourished under conditions of crisis and chaos in Syria—for example, the Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar ash-Sham, and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS)—maintain their zeal for an Islamic state. The marginality of these groups is evidenced by the fact that no state in the Muslim world—nor any of the mainstream Islamic movements—offers them concrete support or official acknowledgement.

The lived reality of the Islamic state in Iran is of symbolic and practi- cal importance mainly due to the fact that the Iranian-Shiite Islamists were the first in the modern age to seize political power and establish an Islamic state.

Despite numerous existential challenges, the country’s ruling clergy has managed to sustain the problematic political system; but their attempts to promote the Islamic state as a viable model in Sunni and Shiite countries have generally floundered (V. Nasr, 2003: 69).

Despite the Islamic state’s official policy of exporting Islamic revolutions, their particular politico-religious system of governance has remained confined to Iranian borders.

More importantly, the very foundational legitimacy of the Islamic state remains contested, the reality being that the Islamic Republic is riddled with sociopolitical, economic, and theological contradictions (Adelkhah, 2000; V. Nasr, 2003; Roy, 1999).

 It is from this difficulty that a competing politico-religious discourse which refutes the religious foundations of the Islamic state has emerged. This book investigates this counter-discourse by developing the seemingly oxymoronic term “religious secularity” to highlight the paradoxes inherent in the Islamic state ideal.

By this term, I mean the vision for the emancipation of religion from the state. More than three decades after the establishment of the Islamic state in Iran, the very idea of an Islamic state remains contested.

This contestation was starkly demonstrated by the political crisis that erupted in 2009. Widespread protests challenging the outcome of the presidential election were dramatically transformed into a protest movement challenging the legitimacy of the Islamic state.

The cry “Where is my vote?” morphed into more far-reaching slogans such as “Death to the Dictator”, “Down with the Islamic Republic”, and “Independence, Freedom, Iranian Republic”. Instructively, the word “Iranian” replaced “Islamic”, which was at the centre of the 1979 revolutionary slogan calling for “Independence, Freedom, Islamic Republic”.

This discernible shift was followed by animated discussions within the country’s political and scholarly communities interrogating the legitimacy and propriety of symbiotically fusing religion and the state.

The fragile legitimacy of the Islamic state is also evident in the societal

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