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Law of the land
Ankara train picture
On the train from Ankara to Instanbul, by Jeremy Walton ’99
  In Turkey, the law forbids female students and government workers from wearing headscarves; in Sudan, the law requires modest dress, which has been interpreted to mean wearing loose clothes and covering one’s hair. Such differences in legislated dress are just a small reflection of greater political agendas.

The 1920s secularist reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk fostered the modern secular Turkish state, and those reforms trickled down to the illegality of wearing headscarves in public buildings.

Bosphorus, Atatürk Bridge, Ortaköy Mosque  picture

Bosphorus, Atatürk Bridge, Ortaköy Mosque

Jeremy Walton
Fatih Mosque, Istanbul

Photos taken by Jeremy Walton (left). Fatih Mosque, Istanbul (right).

Conversely, Sudan’s National Islamic Front (NIF) took power in 1989 and sought to Islamicize both public institutions and national character through what it termed its Civilizational Project. There the wearing of the headscarf was mandated through strict interpretation of the article of the criminal code regulating “disgraceful dress.”

Throughout the twentieth century, many Muslim-majority nations have struggled to determine the nature of their law. Should it incorporate principles from the sacred law (and, if so, to what extent)? Or should it remain beyond the sphere of religion? While usually portrayed as a clear either/or choice, the reality is not so straightforward.

At Reed, the complex relationship between religion and politics in society is a subject of critical study in the religion department. This past March, a Reed symposium addressed this relationship between Islam and secularism in modern states. Chaired by Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, assistant professor of religion and humanities, the Religion Department Union on Contemporary Islam brought together students, faculty, and local alumni to hear and discuss papers by Jeremy Walton ’99 and Noah Salomon ’99, both department graduates who are now Ph.D. students at the University of Chicago. Walton and Salomon questioned the rigid dichotomy between a state based on Islamic principles and one based on secular liberalism. They illustrated that, although national tensions exist between secularism and Islamism, these two “-isms” can and do coexist in localized contexts.

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Reed Magazine May