UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Modernizing" Islam : the imam discourse in Bangladesh Zakiuddin, Almas


International development policies and practices are curiously silent on the subject of religion. It is an overt silence, in the sense that religion appears to be deliberately omitted from consideration. There is an implicit assumption that societies in the South will adopt the secular project of political modernity already perfected in and by the North. The paradox, however, as my dissertation demonstrates, is that development and religion are deeply imbricated at various local, national and transnational sites of power-knowledge. I adopt Foucauldian “discourse theory” and a post-colonial, post-modern, feminist theoretical framework to focus on Bangladesh, a “moderate” Muslim nation-state, as a case study of this paradox. My investigations reveal that international development organizations, in conjunction with a patriarchal Bangladeshi state, are targeting and trans(forming) tens of thousands of male Muslim imams as socio-political and religious authority figures or “Leaders of Influence” to constitute what I call the “Imam Discourse in Bangladesh”. I propose that in this newly constituted discourse, male Muslim imams are being instilled with new forms of authority and influence not only in relation to Islam, but also in relation to gender and women’s subject positions in society. In embracing the development project, trained imams are constituted simultaneously not only as non-modern men who are a potential challenge to the development mission, but as subjects being given opportunities to strengthen their gender and religious authority in the service of development, somewhat like “soldiers of secularism”. My conclusions emerge from an interdisciplinary, qualitative study that included fieldwork in Bangladesh in summer 2006. I show how the Imam Discourse emerges in a particular ethno-religious context and a post 9/11 “moment” when American hegemonic interests are dominating geo-political understandings of, and entanglements with Muslim subjects. I also explore emerging, new counter-discourses that pertain to development and Muslim society and reflect gender-aware, and Muslim feminist reinterpretations of political modernity, secularism and international development.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported