Is absolute secularism the only path to Islamic modernity?

Source: Daily Times

By Saad Hafiz

The tussle between religion and modernity hasn’t been confined to Islam. Western civilization also experienced a similar tug-of-war. The West chose the path of evolutionary secularism. It made room for the assertive secularism sans religion dominant in France and the passive secularism more accepting of religion in the United States. But the West generally downgraded the role of religion in politics.

One Muslim leader who implemented the Western model was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. He led a revolutionary effort to transform a traditional Muslim society into a confident modern state. He wouldn’t be a happy man today. Nearly a century after Atatürk, single-handedly force marched post-Ottoman Turkey to absolute secularism, his Islamist successors, are hellbent on overturning his legacy.

Some critics say that Atatürk’s absolute secularism, social engineering and political reforms went too far. Islamists view the Western social and political institutions that Atatürk imposed as incompatible with a Muslim majority country. Democrats question Atatürk dictatorial methods and his undemocratic, repressive, and sometimes violent actions to meet his goals. He disbanded the Ministry of Shariah, replaced the Islamic legal system with a Western legal framework, banned Sufi orders and madrasas (Islamic schools), placed mosques under government control, and discouraged headscarves for women, etc.

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