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Barbara De Poli, Muslims in the third millenium. Laïcité and secularism in the world of Islam

Barbara De Poli, Muslims in the third millenium. Laïcité and secularism in the world of Islam. Carocci, Rome, 2007.

Contrarily to what is commonly thought, Muslim societies have since their origins more or less always incorporated a lay aspect with regard both to practical and legal issues. The impact with the West has accentuated the secularization of society and the laïcité of the institutions, but in particular it has presented these issues in a new light.

 

Contemporary fundamentalism (as opposed to conservative traditionalism), which supports a powerful state responsible for applying the law of the shari‘a, is at the heart of this process. It exaggerates certain traits of this tradition, that allowed for extensive grey areas somewhere between ideal norm and true praxis.

 

The author presents secularization as an irreversible process, while pointing out its ambiguities which are due to the theoretical non-relevance rather than to the absence of laïcité. The issue is further complicated by the political manipulation of religion: governments are «held hostage by that same Islam which they themselves have instrumentalized» (p. 201).

 

The book is doubly merit worthy, both for its presentation of first hand information – the chapter on religious observance is particularly interesting – and because it does not present us with a lay-centred, apologetic interpretation even if the reasoning regarding the religious freedom of minorities is perhaps too optimistic. The Muslim societies of the south Mediterranean emerge as troubled areas which are not suspended between tradition and modernity, but rather between two different forms of modernity, namely totalitarian fundamentalism and liberal pluralism.

 

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