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3 - Argument: Political Opportunities and Muslim Strategies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 April 2021

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Summary

Abstract

This chapter lays out my argument. Firstly, I define and problematize the contentious categories used in the book: ulama, liberals, and conservatives. Subsequently, I delve into the agent-structure debate that pervades much of political science, and postulate a way of thinking of the problem, and then apply it to Muslim activists in Singapore. This is done through an application of the concept of political opportunities. The argument is explicated in detail.

Keywords: def initions, liberals, conservatives, ulama, political Opportunities

In the precarious times Muslims find themselves in since 9-11, culminating perhaps in the election of President Donald Trump amid a rise in right-wing populism globally, Islam has consistently been under the spotlight. Muslims have been asked to distance themselves from the actions of a small minority of Muslims who commit acts of terror. At other times, the religion itself has been the subject of much discussion. Islam has to be ‘reformed’, the common assertion goes, such that there is a perpetual search for the Muslim Martin Luther. These advocates often compare Islam with Christianity and the trajectory the latter has taken; the Christian faith has managed to break away from its violent, misogynistic and abhorrent past because of the Reformation, and in the same vein, Islam needs to undergo a similar process in order for it to adapt to the modern world. It is not the objective of this book to delve into the merits and paradoxes of the growing calls for an Islamic Reformation (apart from the observation that it does seem bizarre to hold all Muslims, and Islam itself, accountable for the actions of a miniscule minority amongst them), but it is instructive to recognise that much of the discourse surrounding Islam has largely revolved around security. The threat of Muslim terrorism has generated many responses. States have tried to promote the idea of the ‘moderate Muslim’; others have proposed a Reformation of Islam, as already mentioned; and some enlist the help of the ulama to disavow and counter the propaganda of the terrorists (Hassan and Pereire 2006). Often, the state has to engage with various groups of Muslims in order to build a broad-based coalition. Yet, states also exclude some categories of Muslims in order to define what types of ‘Islam’ are acceptable. The process of defining and delineating acceptable versions of Islam is inherently political.

Type
Chapter
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Islam in a Secular State
Muslim Activism in Singapore
, pp. 69 - 102
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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