Reading Session on “Islam and the Secular State” with Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim
May 20, 2019

Date: Friday, 24th May 2019
Time: 5PM – 7PM
Venue: Graha Pemuda, Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur

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What should be the place of shariʿain predominantly Muslim societies of the world? In this ambitious and topical book, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim envisions a positive and sustainable role for shariʿa, based on a profound rethinking of the relationship between religion and the secular state in all societies. He argues that the coercive enforcement of shariʿa by the state betrays the Qurʿan’s insistence on voluntary acceptance of Islam. Just as the state should be secure from the misuse of religious authority, shariʿa should be freed from the control of the state.

State policies or legislation must be based on civic reasons accessible to citizens of all religions. Showing that throughout the history of Islam, Islam and the state have normally been separate, An-Naʿim maintains that ideas of human rights and citizenship are more consistent with Islamic principles than with claims of a supposedly Islamic state to enforce shariʿa. In fact, he suggests, the very idea of an “Islamic state” is based on European ideas of state and law, and not shariʿa or the Islamic tradition.

In this session, An-Naim would like to discuss on how other communities are responding to demands for reform within their own communities. And how to promote reform within Islamic communities by introducing contextual multidisciplinary analysis, instead of focusing exclusively on theological arguments. The idea is to broaden the scope and influence of our Islamic reform arguments to make more appealing to young Muslims and communities which may be sympathetic to Islamic reform but don’t feel comfortable in participating in an Islamic theological argument.


About the Author

Prof Dr Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim was born in 1946 in a village on the Nile, north of Khartoum. He went to school in towns in northern Sudan, Atbara and Omdurman, and graduated in law from the University of Khartoum in 1970. He was then sent on a scholarship from the University of Khartoum to do graduate studies in law in the United Kingdom in order to return to teach law at the same university. He taught on the Faculty of Law in October 1976, until he was detained without charge or trial from May 1983 to December 1984. An-Naim joined the Islamic reform movement of Ustadh Mahmoud Mohamed Taha in 1968 and continued to participate in its activities until it was banned and its founder and leader, Ustadh Mahmoud, executed for apostasy in January 1985. He left Sudan in April 1985. Hoping to be able to return to Sudan, he held a series of temporary teaching and research positions until 1992, when it became clear to him that the Islamist regime which came to power through a military coup in 1989 was consolidating its authoritarian hold on the country. In light of that realization, he took his first open-ended position outside Sudan in June 1993, as Executive Director of Africa Watch (before it was integrated into Human Rights Watch), based in Washington, D.C.. An-Naim resigned from that position in April 1995 and joined the faculty of Emory Law School in June of that year. He was granted tenure at Emory Law School in 1997 and became Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law in 1999.


500-510PM:    Introduction by the Chairperson, Rizqi Mukhriz
510-600PM:    Presentation by Prof Dr Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim
600-700PM:    Discussion
720PM:           Iftar and Prayer


Organized by: Islamic Renaissance Front

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