Is Islam a "Religion"? Contesting Din-Religion Equivalence in Twentieth Century Islamist Discourse
Brannon Ingram [+]
This chapter examines how and why the prominent Islamist thinker Abul A`la Mawdudi theorized din so as to distinguish it explicitly from ‘religion’. Drawing on Carl W. Ernst’s discussions of din and ‘religion’, the chapter begins by suggesting that the academic study of Islam has given insufficient attention to the relationship between din and religion. It then shows why Mawdudi believed ‘religion’ was the opposite of din; religion, for him, was a politically vacuous category that colonizers imposed on Muslims as a means of control. I argue that his denial of din-religion equivalence was a critique of the category of religion directed at recuperating the political valence of din under colonial rule. If Mawdudi construed ‘religion’ as inherently private and apolitical, din was its purported opposite: inherently public, political, totalizing, and all-encompassing. A second way that Mawdudi differentiated din from religion was in explicitly arguing that din was, unlike religion, not a comparative category: there is only one din. The chapter will also suggest some provisional possibilities as to the pathways by which Mawdudi came to understand ‘religion’ in the form in which he did.