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Expressing Post-Secular Citizenship

A Madrasa, an Ethic and a Comprehensive Doctrine

Zahraa McDonald

According to Habermas, the contemporary public sphere is post-secular. In other words, the continuing presence of religious communities within a secular society is indisputable. However, the significance of this is not entirely clear, despite intensive discussion by social scientists, journalists, policymakers and politicians regarding the role of religion in the public sphere. Understanding contemporary religious phenomena requires serious academic and public engagement.
Drawing on theoretical approaches from sociology (Max Weber), philosophy (John Rawls) and religious studies (Abdulkader Tayob), this book analyses empirical data from the study of a madrasa in South Africa in order to explore the important question of how individuals may engage in the public sphere as members of religious communities.
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Most people in the world would probably be completely unfamiliar with Muslims in South Africa.1 Many South Africans may not be familiar with Muslims in their country. Why then, one may ask, has a book been written about a small group of young women who attend an Islamic education institution in that country? Notwithstanding the fact that each person in the world, no matter how small or wide her scope, influences society in some way, the rationale for writing about this group of young women their attendance of this institution infinitely broadens their scope. This book aims to explain how.

While the analysis in this book does not attempt to engage the global debate on Islam and terror directly, 9/11 has certainly impacted this project indirectly. When I commenced my Master’s studies in February 2002 ← vii | viii → at what is now the University of Johannesburg,2 the images of September 11, 2001 were fresh in my mind. Indeed, those events were etched in the public discourse, as they continue to be. Thus, as I joined a research project entitled Globalisation and New Social Identities (GANSI), Islam and the people who adhere to that religion, Muslims, emerged as a viable unit of analysis to approach the broad research area.

A number of factors, however, mitigated conducting research amongst those directly linked to the events of 9/11, amongst them limited funding, the distance of South Africa to the United States of America and Arab countries and...

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