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Lecture: American Muslims of Imagined and Re-Imagined Communities

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 4:45pm to Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 10:00am

Kaufman Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall (March 12th)
Toboggan Lodge, Cornell University (March 13th)

Abdullahi An-Na’im (Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law, School of Law, Emory University)


In this lecture, Professor An-Na’im will introduce the main themes of his book, What is an American Muslim? An American Muslim is a citizen of the United States who happens to be Muslim, but religious identity or lack of it among any community is irrelevant to the practice of citizenship. To be a Muslim by conviction and choice, which is the only way to be a Muslim at all, An-Na’im needs the state to be neutral regarding all religions or lack thereof. Being Muslim is one of multiple identities that he practices as a citizen of the United States, but citizenship is the only identity that all Americans share. Thus, there is no permanent minority or majority, whether religious or in any other marker or indicator of identity.  Self-perceptions of identity tend to shift and change as people constantly engage in tactical and strategic negotiation among their contingent and contested identities. As a citizen, An-Na’im demands his right to religious self-determination, which doesn’t exhaust who he is. He refuses being boxed into a religious communal identity because in fact he shares political, socio-economic, and other identity formations with all other citizens, often more with non-Muslims than with other Muslims. This leads him to revisit Benedict Anderson’s notion of imagined communities to call on all citizens, Muslims or not, to keep imagining and re-imagining their communal affiliations and the implications of such affiliations to the fundamental rights of all citizens. 


Thursday, March 13, 2014
10 a.m.
Toboggan Lodge
38 Forest Home Drive

Professor An-Na’im will introduce for discussion his next project, which explores how the state is conceived and engaged by Muslims in various so-called Muslim-majority countries, like Bangladesh, Iran, Malaysia, and Pakistan. He also includes India as the home of the second largest Muslim population in the world. The object is to go beyond theoretical characterizations of the state as secular, to understand the range of meanings and implications people ascribe to their state as a matter of daily practice beyond stable dichotomies of secular versus religious. It is also to contest nationalism as the premise of the “nation-state” and its unavoidable production of “majority/minority” politics.

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