Recent Scholarship: Islam and Secularism

This article by SHARIAsource Senior Scholar Sherman Jackson, published in the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, tackles an issue that is often brought up in Islamic law courses as well as the media: how do you define “secular” in Islam?

“The Islamic Secular”

It is common to assume an inherent conflict between the substance of the category “religion” and the category “secular.” Given its putative rejection of the separation between the sacred and the profane, this conflict is presumed to be all the more solid in Islam. But even assuming Islam’s rejection of the sacred/profane dichotomy, there may be other ways of defining the secular in Islam and of thinking about its relationship with the religion.

This article differentiates between a mode of assessing human acts that is grounded in concrete revelational sources, and modes of assessing human acts that are independent of such sources, yet not necessarily outside God’s adjudicative gaze. This non-shar‘ī realm, it is argued, is the realm of the “Islamic secular.”

As Jackson shows, this distinction between the shar‘ī and the nonshar‘ī has a long pedigree in the Islamic legal (and theological) tradition. As such, the notion of the Islamic secular is more of an excavation than an innovation.

The article is available open-access here.