Secularism and Islam

Imen’s project explores secularism and Muslim identity, and the tension between secularism and Islam. Islam’s positioning in relation to Western ideals of individuality, freedom, and women’s rights has been an abiding theme of sociological analysis and cultural criticism. Imen studies the specific challenge of gender inequality in Islamic inheritance law, particularly the case of Tunisia, which presents a unique case-study as a Muslim, Francophone,  Arab country with strong yet complex ties with its colonial past. The project aims at investigating the State initiative to reform inheritance law in Tunisia by granting women equal rights to inheritance, by amending the existing code that limits women to half the share of men.
The project combines approaches from intellectual and cultural history, media studies, theology and jurisprudence to examine inheritance law and debates over its form in Tunisia to look at the evolution of Muslim identity in Tunisia since independence, particularly under the authoritarian secular regimes. It explores the impasse regarding socio-political reforms that are perceived contradictory to Islamic teachings, and thinks about the possibility of a secular Muslim identity. Through the question of gender equality in inheritance, this project will bring a new insight on the issue of secularization in Tunisia drawing on public debate and scholarly work by institutions such as the Zitouna Mosque, and the Zitouna University in the post-independence era.
The project is also based on primary sources and archival work undertaken in the Archives Nationales in Tunis, and it studies the work of the Individual Freedoms and Equality Committee in charge of legislative reforms. The work of NGOs active in Tunisia on questions of women’s and minorities’ rights such as the Tunisian Human Rights League, Association Tunisienne des femmes democrates, and Association Tunisienne de défense des libertés individuelles will be analysed. The project will also include an investigation of both official and unofficial political discourses by – as well as interviews with- members of the Islamic party Al Nahdha, and women members of the parliament from secular and religious political parties.
The project aims to investigate key concepts relating to progressivism, and the perceived dichotomies of secularism versus Islam, Muslim identity and citizenship, post-Arab Spring new Muslim identity and the idea that citizenship is secular. The project also evaluates the idea of the government as an agent of change, thinking about secular legal reforms in Muslim majority countries. It also investigates resistance amongst members of the Muslim community to reform inheritance law in Tunisia, and the Muslim World, thinking about how and why some of Tunisia’s imams have opposed reforms in terms of protecting the Islamic ‘image’ and identity of Tunisia.