ISIS for Secondary RE teachers: A deeper look at Islamist/modernist reform

Of interest to RE teachers in Secondary schools looking for vital background insight into modernist reforms in the Muslim world and their connection to media-hot Islamist movements such as Isis, my most recent paper “Islamising the State – The Last Oxymoron of 19th Century Reform?” has just been published. (For academics on ResearchGate, follow related publications there. For those without a Research gate pass, a public version is available in PDF below.)

When teaching Islam in RE, the question is often: how to tie the relatively peaceful accommodation of hundreds of sects from within most of the world’s religions (including Shia’s and Yazidis) and a leading role in science and philosophy seen the pre-modern Islamic sultanates to the wanton mass-murder in the name of the “Islamic state” our students witness on TV on a daily basis?

This paper presents an introduction to the context of education in the Middle East since the 60s, then explores the related trends in the post-1977 movements to “Islamise” contemporary knowledge and education and their inherent ontological and epistemological difficulties. Both are in themselves interesting for general philosophical reasons alone.

Mapping their connection to the historical attempts at modernising Islam and to contemporary political Islamism, it proceeds to explore some of the social and political implications of attempting to Islamise Western institutions, closing with a discussion of the Islamisation of the state construct and the takeover of the state by Islamists in Egypt, based on W. Hallaq’s recent critique of the idea of the Islamic state: The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament.

“If (…) sovereign will is the new god,

then there is no god but the state.”

Wael Hallaq, The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament

The other side of Islamisation

Usually perceived as an attempt by radical Muslims at taking over Western institutions (including schools in the UK), the reverse impact of “Islamisation” is a rarely understood phenomenon: Rather than turning the tools of secular humanism – including its language, ideas, political institutions and financial instruments – into a tool to promote Islam, it has created an unintended utilitarian version of the religion.

Indeed it is one of Hallaq’s main points that by making everything (from mass murder to democracy depending on your needs) halal at the flick of a switch, modernised Islam has nothing to offer a world already regulated by expediency and wanton opinion.

A very interesting point to spice up in the often knee-jerk classroom discussion about secularisation; what use is a religion aping the utilitarian nihilism of science and technique that is destroying all life on the planet? The impact here on the Ofsted concept of “learning from religion” in schools should be obvious.

Content “Islamising the State – The Last Oxymoron of 19th Century Reform?” 

  1. Introduction. 3
  2. Key developments in education in the Arab world since the 60s. 3
  3. The Islamisation movement. 6
  4. Islamism and Islamisation. 14
  5. The social and political impact of Islamisation. 15
  6. The impossible state of Islamisation. 19
  7. References. 24
  8. Bibliography as submitted to Copenhagen University April 5, 2014. 27


GO: ResearchGate


[for peer review and comments]


OR: Just read in your browser

.lille pdf

(A related publication on Student-Centred learning in the Gulf is available here).

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