Roundtable Discussion On: “Rethinking Secularism in the Globalised Era: Seeing Beyond Modernity”

July 6, 2017

Date: Sunday, 6th August 2017
Time:  11 AM – 2 PM
Venue: Nottingham University, Level 2, Chulan Tower, Kuala Lumpur


Dr Heba Raof Ezzat

Interveners: Prof Clive Kessler, YB Nurul Izzah Anwar, Prof Harlina Halizah Siraj

Elma Berisha

Jointly organized by:
Islamic Renaissance Front, Nottingham University and Penang Institute


Secularism, a contentious term that could well be described generally as a distinction between the sacred or divinely inspired aspects, to the profane or the worldly elements of human lives. If we were to focus our discussion on the field of society and politics, secularism is popularly understood as the separation between power and religion in a political system. Regardless of whether one would agree to its principles, secularism is one of the most integral principles in the foundation of modern states.

Many scholars have argued that we are now living in an era of late modernity, in which most societies are politically modeled as a modern-nation state, have passed or currently undergoing several modernization processes, including rationalization, individualization, and democratization. These processes came along with the advancement of capitalism and secularism.

Another influential element that is still shaping modern societies is Globalization, an inter-connectivity of different nations, cultural traditions, and faith-religions, into a One-world system. This move has created global interaction leading towards tremendous advancement of knowledge, technology and trade. However, the inter-connected globalized world has also exposed the vulnerability of modern civilization, to social problems related to alienation, exploitation and unequal treatment between different nations, social classes and religious communities.

Within this background, it is interesting for us to once again revisit the discussion on Secularism, Modernity and the Globalized world, mainly in Muslim countries of today. Without doubt, Muslim societies in some ways have advanced in terms of economic growth, democracy and rational thinking. Though, we are still being plagued with various problems and polemics either it be political, cultural, legal and also intellectual contestation particularly on matters related to the position of Islam as the dominant religion in the society.

This roundtable discussion on “Rethinking Secularism in the Globalised Era: Seeing Beyond Modernity” serves as the right platform among academics and activists to discuss further on the topic.



1030-1100:      Registration

1100-1110:      Opening speech by the Chairperson, Hazman Baharom

1110-1120:      Welcoming speech by Prof Zaharom Nain, Nottingham University

1120-1130:      Speech by moderator, Elma Berisha

1130-1215:      Presentation by Dr Heba Raof Ezzat

1215-1230:      Intervener I: Prof Clive Kessler

1230-1245:      Intervener II: YB Nurul Izzah Anwar

1245-1300:      Intervener III: Prof Harlina Halizah Siraj

1300-1400:      Discussion

1400:               Tea


Biographies of Presenter and Interveners

Dr Heba Raof Ezzat graduated from Cairo University and taught at the political science department three courses of political theory and history of political thought for almost thirty years. She also was an affiliate professor at the American University in Cairo 2006-2013 where she taught courses on political Islam, contemporary Arab thought and political thought and theory. She was a visiting researcher then a visiting fellow at many distinguished academic institutions including University of Westminster , Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, Georgetown University, University of Maastricht, and University of California – Berkeley, and London School of Economics. She published widely on classic and contemporary Islamic thought, issues of Globalization, women and Islam, and urban politics. She has also been active in the public sphere in Egypt, was a coordinator of many youth initiatives and is a public speaker and commentator. She is also a translator and a poet. Her latest publications include two books in Arabic: Towards a New Civility and The Political Imagination of Islamists. Her translation of Ziauddin Sardar’s book on Mecca into Arabic is due to appear in bookstores September 2017.

Professor Clive S. Kessler is now Emeritus Professor of Sociology & Anthropology at the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia, where he held a professorial position from 1980 to 2004. Before that he held academic positions at LSE and Barnard College, Columbia University, New York. He has been studying Malay culture, society, politics and religion since the mid-1960s. He also writes about multiculturalism, religion and democratic theory. He is especially interested in the divergent evolutionary development (doctrinal, political and social) of the three forms of Abrahamic ethical-prophetic monotheism (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), in the long-term patterns of historical interrelations between the three civilizations born within these faith communities, and with the way and extent to which those intercivilizational dynamics have provided the contours of much of world history. His more general work centres on the question of modernity and its varying cultural forms and diverse civilizational expressions. He has held visiting positions at and maintains close connections with several Malaysian universities. His contributions to scholarship have been recognized in his election as a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.

YB Nurul Izzah Anwar, is the current, second-term Member of Parliament for Lembah Pantai. Prior to being an MP, Nurul Izzah was and still is a strong proponent of human and civil rights with a special interest in prisoners of conscience; bent on pursuing a holistic reform agenda to expand Malaysia’s democratic space. She has worked with a number of agencies and institutes on advocacy work, among them are the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (ABIM), Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Women Leaders International Forum (WLIF) and Friedrich-Naumann Stifung (FNS). She has in the past advocated on behalf of Malaysian political prisoners and Malaysian human rights movements at the international level, most notably being an intervention in the main session at the 55th Commission on Human Rights, Geneva. She is the founding member for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Caucus and a member of the Women’s Caucus. She is a committee member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Malaysia. She has also moved the Parliamentary Bill in Malaysia’s Parliament to Revoke Emergency Declarations in the country; including the eventual abolishment of the draconian Internal Security Act – all of which were adopted by the Prime Minister six months later. Unfortunately, other laws were then re-introduced; in line with Malaysia’s semi autocratic regime. Prior to entering politics, she earned her Masters’ Degree from the School for Advanced International Studies – Johns Hopkins University studying International Relations (with specialization in Southeast Asia Studies). She actively contributes to Malaysiakini and the Malay publication Sinar – continuously provoking the electorate with dangerous thoughts on reforming status quo.

Dr Harlina Halizah Siraj is a Professor of O&G and Medical Education (Clinical Teaching) from the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and a prominent Muslim social activist. She was one of a leader in Jemaah Islah Malaysia and IKRAM Malaysia. She also a former Chairperson of Raudhatus Sakinah. Dr Harlina is a holder of 2011 Saidatina Khadijah Award by State of Selangor and was a Nominee for Great Women of Our Times 2008 by Malaysian Women’s Weekly. She frequently invited as a speaker in TV show (ASTRO Awani, ASTRO Prima, TV AlHijrah, TV9, TV3, NTV7, TV Selangor, RTM) and radio (,