Dissertation Abstracts

Expressing Post-Secular Citizenship: A Sociological Exposition of Islamic Education in South Africa

Author: McDonald, Zahraa Z, zahraamcdonald@hotmail.com
Department: Sociology
University: University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Supervisor: Prof T Uys
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: participation , public sphere , literary public , Deobandi
Areas of Research: Religion , Education , Political Sociology


Religion is increasingly recognised within public debate, realising the post-secular according to Habermas. Furthermore, for Habermas, citizen participation is possible via publics that are literary which operate within the public sphere. On the other hand, it has been argued that when individuals are educated in so-called closed Islamic educational institutions, they retreat from public life. In effect this would mean that although Muslims may be citizens with access to the public sphere, when they choose to be educated in Islamic institutions, their participation in debate is inhibited. Institutions of Islamic education for women, where secular education is regarded to have less importance are especially noted to eschew participation in national life. This thesis asks then, whether Islamic education for women can allow for the expression of post-secular citizenship.

By examining Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism, this dissertation illustrates how individuals can religious and direct public debate. Protestants systematised religious concepts within religious texts, developing a doctrine that emanated in particular acts. In the process of developing a doctrine, individuals also constitute a literary public because both require similar activities – writing texts and then reading as well as discussing them. The dissertation contends that one way to assess whether Islamic education can allow for post-secular citizenship is to determine whether it contributes to doctrinal development. In this way, those who are educated in Islamic education institutions could participate in the public sphere and express post-secular citizenship.

The Deobandi education movement, demonstrated to be a dominant Islamic doctrine in South Africa in relation to public participation, is found to be involved in doctrinal development. An effect of doctrinal development, the rationalisation of religion, realises a set pattern of action. Doctrinal development can thus also spawn Muslim publics – those who act according to an interpretation of Islam in a public space. The thesis relates, from literature on women’s Deobandi institutions, that patterned behaviour intent on engendering a particular interpretation of Islamic womanhood, can be seen reflected in the public sphere. Further research at Deobandi Islamic education institutions for women is thus advocated to explore the phenomenon.

Data were gathered at an institution of Islamic education for adolescent women, Warda Madrasa (WM), that had a strong association with the Deobandi education movement. A set pattern of action or behaviour is endorsed at WM via a particular corpus of texts. Findings from the data gathered at WM strongly tie the institution to the development of a doctrine, a Muslim public and a literary public. Moreover the findings point to an additional element in doctrinal development, through patterned action – specifically purdah, engendered at institutions such as WM. Purdah allows the body to be read like a book; to become a bodily text and thus bringing an interpretation of Islam into a public space and directing debate in the public sphere. As such, the thesis concludes, Islamic education for women in South Africa can allow for the expression of post-secular citizenship.

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