Workshop on Citizenship, Islam, and Identity

Sponsored by the Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures (SFU) and the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (Aga Khan University, UK)

With the generous support of the SFU International Engagement Fund.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


Harbour Centre, Room 1700, Simon Fraser University at Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings 

The public is invited, but reservations are encouraged.
For reservations, email or

Workshop participants: 

Sarah Eltantawi, “In Defence of Secularism and Islam: Responses to Political Islam and Islamic Law in Contemporary Nigeria and Egypt.” Dr. Eltantawi is Assistant Professor of Comparative Religion and Islamic Studies at Evergreen State College, Washington. She has published widely on contemporary Islam and is the author of Sharia on Trial: Stoning and the Islamic Revolution in Northern Nigeria (University of California Press, 2017). Eltantawi is a regular commentator and analyst in the news media.

Zahra Jamal, “Being and Becoming Muslim in Trump’s America.” Dr. Jamal is Associate Director of the Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance at Rice University. Her research interests include citizenship, civic engagement, gender, and human rights in Muslim communities. She is in the process of completing a book on “Work No Words”: Voluntarism and Piety among South Asian Ismaili Muslims. She has consulted for an array of international organizations.

Gianluca Parolin, “The Jinsiyya Obsession and the Muwatana Veil: Constitutional Politics of Citizenship in North Africa.” Dr. Parolin is Associate Professor of Law at the Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures in London, UK, where he leads the Governance Programme. A specialist on comparative law and constitutions, Parolin is the author of Citizenship in the Arab World (Amsterdam University Press, 2009).

Russell Powell, “Religious Tradition and Conceptions of Citizenship: Overlapping and Concentric Identities.” Dr. Powell is Associate Provost for Global Engagement and Professor of Law at Seattle University. A specialist in comparative religious jurisprudence, ethics, and civil codes, he is the author of numerous articles and the book Shari’a in the Secular State: Evolving Perceptions of Law and Religion in Turkey (Routledge, 2016).

Derryl MacLean is the founding Director of the Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures (SFU). A social historian of religion, he is the author of numerous scholarly articles, the book Religion and Society in Arab Sind (E.J. Brill, 1989), and the co-editor of Cosmopolitanism in Muslim Contexts: Perspectives from the Past (Edinburgh University Press, 2013).

Amyn B. Sajoo is scholar-in-residence at the CCSMSC-SFU, and lectures in politics and history at SFU. A specialist in law, religion, and public ethics, his books include Muslim Ethics: Emerging Vistas (I.B. Tauris, 2004), and Pluralism in Old Societies and New States (ISEAS, 1994). Sajoo is the general editor of the “Muslim Heritage Series” (I.B. Tauris-Institute of Ismaili Studies, London) in which the fifth volume, The Shari’a: History, Ethics and Law, is forthcoming.

Workshop Program

10.45 CCSMSC Director’s Welcome: Derryl MacLean
10.55 Chair’s Introduction: Amyn B. Sajoo

Session 1

11:00-11:30 Russell Powell
“Religious Tradition and Conceptions of Citizenship: Overlapping and Concentric Identities”

11.30—11.45 Chair’s Response

11.45—12.15 Sarah Eltantawi
“In Defense of Secularism and Islam: Responses to Political Islam and Islamic Law in Contemporary Nigeria and Egypt”

12.15—12.30 Chair’s Response

12.30—1 Audience Q&A/Discussion

Lunch Break 1-2

Session 2

2:00-2:30 Gianluca Parolin
“The Jinsiyya Obsession and the Muwatana Veil: Constitutional Politics of Citizenship in North Africa”

2.30—2.45 Chair’s Response

2.45—3.15 Zahra Jamal
“Being and Becoming Muslim in Trump’s America”

3.15—3.30 Chair’s Response

3.30-4 Audience Q&A/Discussion

4.15—5 Plenary Session

Closing Remarks: Prof. Derryl MacLean


In Defense of Secularism and Islam — Sarah Eltantawi
This presentation examines how the demand for shar’ia, starting in 1999 in twelve northern states of Nigeria, affected national relationships in several respects. These included the relationship between Christians and Muslims in the North, as well as in all of Nigeria. Northern Muslims and secular forces have also opposed the shari’a on constitutional grounds, notably the guarantee of a secular republic. I use my findings on these issues to draw some comparative notes with regard to contemporary Egypt — where a wide swath opposed the Muslim Brotherhood’s one year of rule both on secular grounds, and because Islam itself was corrupted by that particular political project. This perspective resonates with my fieldwork in Northern Nigeria.

Being and Becoming Muslim in Trump’s America — Zahra Jamal
In articulating relationships of allegiance and accountability to the transnational and the national, to religion and state, American Muslims engage in rights politics rooted in their faith, Islam, and in the American political sphere. Following 9/11 and Trump’s election to the presidency, I draw on ethnographic examples to demonstrate that American Muslims’ charitable giving and civic engagement as acts of piety and of citizenship have been politicized by the American state and some citizens in new ways. This politicization has deep implications for Muslims in America, and those perceived or self-categorized as part of it, regardless of faith persuasion. Instead of reducing rights politics as a (neo)liberal political consciousness and privilege of certain "secular" social actors, I argue that American democracy is an open-ended process informed by deep histories of struggle through which democratic citizenship, ethics, and citizen-subjects are continuously remade--especially in the wake of critical historical events.

The Jinsiyya Obsession and the Muwatana Veil – Gianluca Parolin

References to ‘citizenship’ in constitutional texts have multiplied globally over the past couple of decades — and legal systems that official use Arabic are no exception. This increase in citizenship provisions needs to be closely examined, however, and I focus on the latter systems. One may group the new citizenship provisions in three blocs: (1) provisions on jinsiyya regulations, in line with the liberal trend that sets such regulations at the constitutional level to avoid legislators’ whims on such momentous decisions on membership in the political community; (2) provisions involving single-jinsiyya requirements to hold public office, against the liberal tendency to reduce them; and (3) provisions emphasizing muwatana as the mode of the political system, in line with the liberal emphasis on the participation of citizens in decision-making. I frame these developments in light of the enforcement of these provisions in recent years.

Religious Tradition and Conceptions of Citizenship — Russell Powell
Contemporary legal definitions of citizenship are largely framed by liberal constitutional systems. In general, those systems developed within Catholic and Protestant cultural and historical contexts that create inherent obstacles to applying those definitions elsewhere. The colonial importation of common and civil law membership principles into predominantly Muslim population countries provides salient cases in point. This paper considers precolonial developments in Islamic and Catholic jurisprudence on community membership, notably those that analogize to modern notions of citizenship. It will note tensions created by the imposition of colonial systems as they preempted traditional understandings. It will then analyze the emergence of constitutional citizenship law in the late Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic as a counter example to the colonial experience — and theorize principles of citizenship from Muslim and Catholic experiences that may be generalizable in other contexts.