Questioning Secularism: Islam, Sovereignty, and the Rule of Law in Modern Egypt

Paperback | November 2, 2012

byHussein Ali Agrama

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The central question of the Arab Spring—what democracies should look like in the deeply religious countries of the Middle East—has developed into a vigorous debate over these nations’ secular identities. But what, exactly, is secularism? What has the West’s long familiarity with it inevitably obscured? In Questioning Secularism, Hussein Ali Agrama tackles these questions. Focusing on the fatwa councils and family law courts of Egypt just prior to the revolution, he delves deeply into the meaning of secularism itself and the ambiguities that lie at its heart.
 
Drawing on a precedent-setting case arising from the family law courts —the last courts in Egypt to use Shari‘a law—Agrama shows that secularism is a historical phenomenon that works through a series of paradoxes that it creates. Digging beneath the perceived differences between the West and Middle East, he highlights secularism’s dependence on the law and the problems that arise from it: the necessary involvement of state sovereign power in managing the private spiritual lives of citizens and the irreducible set of legal ambiguities such a relationship creates. Navigating a complex landscape between private and public domains, Questioning Secularism lays important groundwork for understanding the real meaning of secularism as it affects the real freedoms of a citizenry, an understanding of the utmost importance for so many countries that are now urgently facing new political possibilities.

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The central question of the Arab Spring—what democracies should look like in the deeply religious countries of the Middle East—has developed into a vigorous debate over these nations’ secular identities. But what, exactly, is secularism? What has the West’s long familiarity with it inevitably obscured? In Questioning Secularism, Hussei...

Hussein Ali Agrama is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago. 
Format:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.8 inPublished:November 2, 2012Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226010694

ISBN - 13:9780226010694

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: A Secular or a Religious State?
CHAPTER 1. The Legalization of Hisba in the Case of Nasr Abu Zayd
CHAPTER 2. The Indeterminacies of Secular Power: Sovereignty, Public Order, and Family
CHAPTER 3. A Paradox of Islamic Authority in Modern Egypt
CHAPTER 4. Law’s Suspicion
CHAPTER 5. What Is a Fatwa?: Authority, Tradition, and the Care of Self
CHAPTER 6. Islamist Lawyers in the Egyptian Emergency State: A Different Language of Justice?

Epilogue
Notes
Index

Editorial Reviews

“Questioning Secularism is one of the most innovative, pathbreaking interventions into contemporary debates on the secular to date. Based on extensive ethnographic research in Egypt, the book provides a theoretically sophisticated and highly original analysis of the conceptual and practical ambivalences and contradictions at the core of Egypt’s legal and religious institutions. The implications of Hussein Ali Agrama’s argument for our understanding of the modern career of religion and secularity are vast, extending well beyond Egypt and the Middle East. Scholars concerned with these twin concepts cannot afford to ignore the challenge Agrama’s work poses to the field.”