This post is in response to this article by Humeira Iqtidar on Guardian. Quotes are excerpts.
Is it possible that groups such as the Islamists who oppose secularism may be, inadvertently perhaps, facilitating secularisation?
The general understanding about the relationship between secularism and secularisation is based on a reified reading of European history.... There are many problems with this narrative, including questions of historical accuracy, as well as immense variations and reversals in the European experience. However, it is important here to note that in this version secularism and secularisation seem to have developed together.
But secularism as a separation of church (religion) and state does not make ready sense in societies where there was no hierarchical, structured church that had inherited an empire's state apparatus as the Roman Catholic church had in Europe. In the various versions of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc there has been no one clerical figure vested with the kind of power and authority that the pope excersised over domains now assumed within the modern state.
So we cannot assume that the lack of secularisation within these societies is due to some "lateness" on their part. They did not secularise in the way that Europe did because they did not need to.
The Islamists are vehement in their public insistence on dislodging the idea of secularism as universal, claiming it to be a parochial, European experience – with some justification. Yet, the process of raising these and other questions about the definitions of public and private in the political arena, the fierce competition amongst Islamists to provide a definitive answer and the very structure of Islamist thought that emphasises an individual relationship with religious texts has led to a deep, conscious and critical questioning of the role of religion – a secularisation – in predominantly Muslim polities.
The Protestant reformers were not arguing for less religion, they were asking for more – for a continuously religious life against the Catholic cycles of sin and repentance. Yet, as Max Weber's influential work suggests, they ended up rationalising and secularising. To say all this is not to suggest that Pakistani Islamists will have exactly the same impact as the German Protestants. There can be little doubt that they will produce a very different subject and citizen because of the disparity in context.