Across much of the Islamic world, many Muslims are disillusioned with the ugly things done in the name of their religion.
For decades, social scientists studying Islam discussed whether this second biggest religion of the world would go through the major transformation that the biggest one, Christianity, went through: secularization. Would Islam also lose its hegemony over public life, to become a mere one among various voices, not the dominant one, in Muslim societies?
Many Westerners gave a negative answer, thinking Islam is just too rigid and absolutist to secularize. Many Muslims also gave a negative answer, but proudly so: Our true faith would not go down the erroneous path of the godless West.
The rise of Islamism, a highly politicized interpretation of Islam, since the 1970s only seemed to confirm the same view: that “Islam is resistant to secularization,” as Shadi Hamid, a prominent thinker on religion and politics, observed in his 2016 book, Islamic Exceptionalism.
Yet nothing in human history is set in stone. And there are now signs of a new secular wave breeding in the Muslim world.
Some of those signs are captured by Arab Barometer, a research network based at Princeton and the University of Michigan whose opinion surveys map a drift away from Islamism — and even Islam itself. The network’s pollsters recently found that in the last five years, in six pivotal Arab countries, “trust in Islamist parties” and “trust in religious leaders” have declined, as well as attendance in mosques.
Granted, the trend isn’t huge. Arabs who describe themselves as “not religious” were 8 percent of those polled in 2013, and have risen to only 13 percent in 2018. So some experts on the region, like Hisham A. Hellyer, an Egyptian-British scholar, advises caution…