The politics of engagement between Islam and the secular state: ambivalences of ‘civil society’



The paper reveals contemporary transformations of the interaction between Islam and secular states from opposition to engagement. In-depth ethnographic evidence challenges the predominant juxtaposition of Islam against the secular state. Following micro-sites of interaction between the Gülen movement and the state from Turkey to Kazakhstan, my fieldwork revealed a continuum of engagements between them. The paper analyses the engagements ranging from contestation and negotiation to co-operation. The case illustrates the extent to which scholarly interest in opposition and clash has left a wide-ranging variety of state–Islam interaction understudied with regard to civil society. It also reveals the conditions under which effective Islamic horizontal organizations have provided the platforms of vertical engagements with the secular states. The major argument of the paper is that both civil and uncivil outcomes in the Muslim world are primarily shaped by the nature of state–Islam interaction. The evidence suggests that the key to understanding the relationship between Islam and civil society is the state.