Sunday, June 27, 2010

Secularism and Islamization of Society - A.N.M. Wahidur Rahman

Much ink has spent both by the Muslims and non-Muslim scholars, particularly sociologist. Islamists, political scientists, dealing with the question of relation between Religion and politics. The traditional, or pre-modern, relationship between religion and politics was one in which the two were closely integrated, one with the other religious beliefs and practices entered into the heart of political process, supporting and sustaining the exercise of power. Political concerns also, on the other hand extended throughout the religious sphere. The two formed, in effect, one co-terminus set of beliefs and actions it was a system in which social and political life was touched at virtually all points by religious consideration1. In that period Divine regulations govern economic behavior and ecclesial centers frequently wield extensive economic power. Above all, government is sacral. Religion and government, the two major society wide institutions of social control form on integrated religio-polical system2. This pattern applied to Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic societies. In the medieval West, it was a basic feature wherever the Roman Catholic Church was in ascendancy.

The key factor lay in whether religious authority and political authority was exercised by the same leadership or by distinct leaders. The former we can call as ‘organic model’ and the second we can call in Christian Western sense ‘church-state model’. In the modern world, however, the situation is generally much changed due to the modernisation and its associate process of secularization, to which we shall return shortly. Here it is suffice to say that steel the echo of intergraded or ‘organic model’ can be found in contemporary patterns and assumptions. On Britain, for example, the monarch is still technically both head of state-the political sphere-and supreme Governor of the established Church of England. And in relatively traditional Nepal, King Birendra is, still seen as an incarnation of Hindu god Bishnu by the more traditional sectors of society. Present day Saudi Arabia and Iran retains the centrality of this religious element in their state affairs: There are no secular constitutions. The basis of legal systems is the Shari’ah, derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (s). In Afghanistan Taliban Government is striving to achieve that end. Pakistan which came into existence on the plea of establishing an

Islamic state and implementation of Shari’ah, it has not yet succeed to materialize it fully due to secularist-conservative entanglement in the political process of Pakistan. Here in this connection it should be mentioned that in Islam it does not matter ‘who’ rules the country, but it does matter ‘how’ it is ruled, whether it is ruled according to the Shari’ah or not.

The key factor to hamper the process of Islamization or society is the secularism, imported from the western social structure or the ‘church-state model”. The key rule played in the secularization of Muslims majority states of the world, are modernist who tried to distinguish between Din and shari’ah, essential and non-essential, sacred and profane, universal and particular, aspects of islam. Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan and his Alighar School in India and Muhammad Abdullah in the Middle East are regarded as the initiator of Islamic Modernism. Without specially mentioning the secularism as the state policy, they tried to reform the medieval Islamic law and to interpret the Qur’an and Sunnah in Such a way that Sir Sayyid and Abduh became according to some scholars, the champion supporter of secularist doctrine and policy.

It is to be noted that as a concept it is somewhat controversial, being viewed by some as anti-religious (La dini) and some by neutral and still some as being indifferent to the role of religion in social life. Looking at its etymological dictionary meaning it is evidenced that it was basically anti religious movement, if we call it a movement. Oxford Advanced Learners dictionary defined secularism as “the belief that laws, education etc. should be based on facts, science etc, rather that on religion”. Hence secularization means, According to the above dictionary, “To remove something from control of the church or religion”.

Eric S. Wterhouse in an article entitled ‘Secularism’, which he contributed, to the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics defined secularism as “a movement, internationally ethical, negatively religious, with political and philosophical antecedents”. He further wrote, “ Since it undertook to do this without reference to a Deity or a future life, and thus proposed to fulfill a function of religions, apart from religious association, it may be regarded as negatively religious”. He further says that “it inherited the inevitable defects-the tendency to destructive rather that constructive action, the wrapping influence of heated feeling, the limited outlook and the negativism”. It has prejudice against religious implications of life and conduct. According to him, it was the British utilitarianism who were philosophically the sponsors of secularism. 

Secularism owes its name and in large measures its existence to the life and labors of George Jacob Holyoake (b.1817) who coined the term in 1850 from Bradlaugh, who along with Charles Watts, G.W. Foote and other atheists were identified with secular movement. Secularism is wholly unconcerned with the theological world and tilt interpretation. Hence, historically “secularism has been intermingled with atheism throughout its course”. Though Hoyoake tried to compromise between theism and atheism, Bradlaugh “considered that secularism was bound to contest theistic belief and that material progress was impossible to long as superstition so powerfully manifested itself. Bradlaugh holds that the attempt to ignore rather that denies religion is impractical, because religion embraces both secular and spiritual concerns.

The author of the article said, “it is an impossible proportion to maintain that there may be a God, but that he does not concern material existence”. He argues that one who believes in God, “it will be sufficiently incontinently inconsistent to neglect the implication of his belief upon conduct”. He opined, “it is for this reason that a secularism which does not include a definitely anti-religious theory is bound to fail”, Now he came to the conclusion that:

For this reason it does not seem apparent that secularism is destined to survive as a theory of life and conduct, and must be regarded as a movement arising out of, and passing with, the condition of its time. Whiles its ethical aims were honorable, it lacks an adequate basis upon which to establish itself as a permanent feature of human thought3.

During its hundred and fifty years of development, the term secularism has taken different facet and meanings 4. Some sense of its multi-dimensional use can be traced if we distinguish some of its constituent parts as delineated by K. Dobbelelaere:
1.     “Constitutional secularization: the process whereby the official character and goals of the stage cease to be defined kin religious terms”.
2.     “Policy Secularization: the process whereby the state ceases to regular society on the basis of religious criteria, and expands the policy domains and specific provision of the state into areas previously the reserve of the religious sphere”.
3.     “Institutional Secularization: the process whereby religious structures lose their political saliency and influence as pressures groups, parties, and movements”.
4.     “Agenda Secularization: the process whereby, issues, needs and problems deemed relevant to political process cease to have overtly religious content, and whereby solutions developed to resolve those issues are no logons developed to resolve those issues are no lounge constructed on the basis of religious principles”.
5.     Ideological secularization: the process whereby the basic values and belief systems used to evaluate the political reels and to give it meaning case to be couched in religious terms5”.

When the political power reformulates its power in new (secular) terms and religious leaders defines and constructs their new and somewhat different relationship with society and the state, it creates tension in the society. Amidst this tension there arises three models of polity as proposed by K. Modhurst in an article entitled “Religion & Politics: A Typology”, Contributed to Scotish Journal of Religious Studies (1981). The first he calls “ The confessional polity” where political leaders continue to legitimize their rule in religious terms; equally, religious leaders mobilize support against threats to their communal hegemony. Colombia and Iran and some respects Ireland too offered as contemporary examples.

A further pattern arises when secularization removes religion as the major basis of the political system and the state comes to view the forces of religion as just one group among, many contesting for power. Medhurst calls this pattern as “religiously neutral polity”. Here religious groups or parties become pressure to defend and promote their interest, i.e., religion.

Medhurst final model is the “anti-religious polity”. This represents and activity on the part of the state to eliminate any religious presence within political arena. Albenia is an example of this model. Here in this model society and polity were to be reconstructed without any religious institutions, symbols of practice. Commenting on this model Dr. Moyeser wrote:

Yet these various attempts to eliminate religion have failed. Indeed, in some instances, political oppression seems to have the opposite of the intended effect.

Even in liberal-democratic politics, he says, it is by no means clear that religion and politics to continue to lose mutual relevance. Hadden and shape go so far as to purpose a cyclical theory of secularization in which the process of removing religion from society contains the seeds whereby religion is eventually revived and revitalized6. They say that this worldly, secularized answers to the meaning and purpose of life are alienating and unsatisfying Reviewing the country studies of Europe, Africa, U.S.A. and Asia which were made by different scholars of religion and politics, George Moyser came to this conclusion that,

In short, the age of anti-religious polity is largely dead in Europe. A new age, in which religion can once again operate as a relatively legitimate political force, seems to have dawned7.

About Middle Eastern countries, India, Egypt as well as many other African countries, and the United States, he says that studies reveals the fact that a theistic and secularized state socialism have largely collapsed. Religion continues to play a very powerful role in all countries of the world, particularly in Islamic world. About India he comments that “ All in All, Indian politics will no doubt continue to be heavily influenced by religion as the country moves forward through the myriad problems of social and economic and cultural change”8. Now let us turn to the problem of Islamization. What is meant by Islamization,’ What is method? What is real impediment to thepath of Islamization? What is its remedy at the present jucture of our history? These are the questions we are supposed to answer if we like to do some justice to this paper. But the span of the paper will not allow us to go into the details. However, we shall try to present the issue in a headline manner to provoke the discussion from the learned audience and participants present here in this august occasion.

Islamization means three things:

I.                   To implement the Islamic laws and values, as thought by the Qur’an and Sunnah, into the society. In a word, implementation of the Shari’ah into the social milieu.
II.                To Implement the Islamic values to the new and new issues and situations arising out of encroachment of Western institution and values into our society. Here Islamization of society means the implementation of Islamic social values into the non-Islamic structure of the society.
III.             Abolition of those practices and institutions from the society, which are unIslamic.

It is, therefore, needless to say about Islamization about society where the Islamic values are already in operation and are in practice, such as in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Hence implementation of Islamic values are required where there is no practice of Islamic value at all or where some institutions and practices are Islamic and some are not. The last alternative is the fact for the most countries for the Muslim world. Since in this age of modern method of mass communication of mass media, non-Islamic cultures and practices constantly pouring our territory, this is the time to remain constantly on guard against this encroachment of alien cultures, practices and values. But it is almost impossible to deter this flow of cultural encroachment unless the heads of states take the initiative. Here lies the reason for inevitable necessity for the formation of an Islamic state. In this age of democracy, making of a state Islamically founded is an impossible task unless Muslims are majority and they desire to make it so. And the creation of this desire to live Islamically is the function of Da’wah. In order to set mankind on the right path and provide a positive orientation in the present morass, we must rediscover real Islam, which is correctly ever present in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. To create a religiously based social order is not an easy task, and human history knows how difficult it is and how perennial a desideratum. Islam is a practical remedy for human ailment and a recipe for how man may transcend his banalities and create a positive human brotherhood. The factors that stood in the path of creating this viable social order are many. Let us mention below a few key factors.

1.  The first and foremost factors are secularism: A Muslim as a Muslim      
 cannot believe in secularism. In any     one of the meanings mentioned above, Islam is incompatible with secularism. No Muslim who believes in an Al-Mighty God can consistently say that for a good part of my action is not concern of God. No Muslim can say at the same time that I am a Muslim and I want to remove the religion from the society. Akber S. Ahmed may be quoted in this connection:
    ‘Secular’ and ‘Muslim’ are by definition incompatible as any dictionary  
     will confirm. There can be no Muslim without God-just as there can be 
     no Christianity without Christ, Buddhism without Buddha, Marxism
     without Marx9.

2.     Lack of proper Knowledge of Islam: From the beginning until the Western colonialism-which began to extend its grasp throughout the world since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, ‘Ulama (fuqaha, Muhadditun, and Mufassirin) were the torchbearers of Islamic science and technologies. But those glorious days of Muslim history turned backward when Muslims became very much involved in power mongering forgetting the real source of power-knowledge and hikmah (science and technological know-how).
3.     Introduction of Western liberal/secular education: The Muslim society unreceptively adopted the western liberal education without giving due weight to the teaching of the Qur’an and Sunnah.
4.     Material Prosperity of the West: Some modernist Muslim became fascinated to the western way of thought and action by seeing the material prosperity of the west particularly after the renaissance10. (a team which, I think, should not be applied to term is, according to some thinkers, nahda which literally means the actualization of the potentialities latent in the child. Hence Islamically it means to actualize all potentialities latent in Islam into the society). The renaissance of the west was characterized with the same ultimate principle, which inspired Greco-Roman antiquity, namely, the man is the humanistic. This humanism dethroned the god of Christianity and replaces him with man. Although the main √©lan of Islam is also humanistic but this humanism is guided by God not by man.
5.     Muslim reluctance to knowledge: Knowledge is a lost treasure of the Muslims. They are asked to pick it up where ever it is to be found. Muslim reluctance came in the walk of western imperialist power when it intruded into the Muslim society. A good number of ‘ulama’ considered the European language and technology as un-Islamic, as it comes from those Christians who are very much critical of Islamic institutions and practices. Then some ‘Ulama’ such as Deobandis, decided to remain aloof from the European contact.  But the Madrasha education they sponsored, lacked modern education. Hence in the long run Muslim became ignorant of their own heritage and high days, and their education became ineffective for the Muslim society. If Muslim are to survive as a nation as an Ummah, they will have to devote their full energies and capacities to cope with the western technological progress, but not at the expense of their own faith.
6.     Heads of the states are not the Ulama and experts of the Shari’ah but the secularist and liberal minded Muslims: It is said that Modernist Muslims are inclined to the west by attraction and the conservative by repulsion.  Those Muslim who acqui5ed a good knowledge of western education they became the heads of the state, administration; judiciary etc. Then they naturally become reluctant to do the job implementation Shari’ah, abolition of non-Islamic practices and institutions etc.
7.     Conservative-modernist, or orthodox-liberal disputes: In Muslim society though the Ulama still control much of the public opinion, they are unable to face the western educated liberal minded Muslims who became the leaders of the society and tries to implement western values into the society; but ‘Ulama tries to resist this attempt. As a result, the dispute arises between the two groups; the dispute often leads to clash. Consequently lay Muslims become confused as to which course they should follow.
8.     Long western antipathy and hatred towards Islam: It created a psychological barrier in the way of Islamization of society. The western scholars are very much critical of medieval Islamic way of thoughts and practices. This has increased considerably by the technological development of media network. However some western scholars now realized that the propaganda changed little Muslim attitude towards the west, and they now begin to show some respect to the Muslim perception of their religion, though the basic premises of the west still remain unchanged.
9.     Muslim’s lack of respect to his own religion. This state of affairs became the best argument for the western materialistic world against Islam: Some Muslims became very much critical of Islam and began to question the very basic tents to Islam. For example, Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses arose a huge controversy throughout the world and some radical Muslims also took his side and argued in his favour. This has increased embarrassment among the Muslims.
10. Lack of good moral character (Hosne Khulq)’ among the state leaders of the Muslim world: Most of the leaders who are Muslims and act as the head of the state or the institutions are lacked of Islamic character. So those who work under such leaders do not feel obliged to lead an Islamic way of life.
11. Muslims against the Muslims: Western democracy and liberalism created a system, which has scope to set a Muslim against Muslims.
12. Christian missionary from the very early had spread a network throughout the Muslim world to convert the Muslims into Christianity. It is still working in the guise of N.G.Os and humanitarian activities in the third world countries.

Now the questions remain to be answered are (i) How to mitigate or remove these problem mentioned above? And (ii) how to start the Islamization process? There is no easy way to answer these questions. However, I would like to say that according to the Qur’an the virtue are coeval. They exist side by side. When Allah (Subahanahu a ta’la) created Adam as vicegerent of the earth, he also created a Satan and gave Satan on his request to continue his evil doings until the day of judgment11. Allah granting of this facility to Satan means that men will never be able to free the society from the evil forces and secret of virtue lies in the struggle against the vices. That is why the institution of Jihad also will continue until the Day of Judgment, as the prophet says. If not ‘Jihad with sword’, which according to some thinkers, is only permitted on the condition of aggression, but Jihad with the evil forces will continue forever. And this must be accompanied with the proper knowledge of Din and Dunia (the world). We know that God established the superiority of man over other forces of the world in respect of knowledge. Knowledge is the pre-requisite for establishing a God fearing (Taqwa) and humanitarian society. 

As to the second question, we have a model sanctioned by the Qur’an: “Call to the path of your lord with wisdom (scientific knowledge) and with good moral counseling”. This is the basic method of “Da’wah”. The combination of the two is absolutely necessary for establishing Allah’s rule on earth. But due to the bifurcation between the two in our systems and the present day Madrasha education represents the second” (good moral counseling). That is why both are unable to guide to the path of Allah. The perfect model is the combination of the two mentioned by the Qur’an.

Some leading thinkers of the Muslim world also suggested some method for the Islamization of society. For example, Hasan al-Banna, the pioneer leader of the Ikhwan al-Muslimun or Egypt, in his Risalat al-Ta’leem suggested two methods which he called maratib al-‘amal (the level of work) and Marahil al-‘amal (the stages of work). As to the stages of work he proposed seven basic stages for the revival of Muslims and establishing an Islamic society.

1.     To reform oneself.
2.     To reform one’s own family.
3.     To reform society.
4.     To free society politically12.
5.     To establish Islamic Government.
6.     To re-establish Muslim Ummah and to revive Khalifah, and finally.
7.     To lead the world and to carry the responsibility or guiding it to the path of Allah.

As to the level of works he emphasized that Muslim must be well-equipped with the knowledge and faith and to be ready to sacrifice one’s life in the path of Allah.

Another model of Islamization of society was offered by the Turkish outstanding scholar Bediuzzaman Sa’id Nursi(1873-1960). His lifer struggle became a legend for the Muslims of Turkey13. In his Risala-I-Nur “he attempts to cure the collective hearts, the public opinion, and the general conscience that have been subverted by corruptive tools accumulated and stored up for thousand years, using in the cure, the drugs and the remedies of the Qur’an and faith” 14. The basic ingredients of the Nursi model are:

1.     To cure weakness of Iman (faith) and development of individual conscience.
2.     Islamic work must be done with group approach.
3.     Unity (a) among Muslim individuals, (b) Among Muslim states, (c) a common fronts with other believers against the enemies the enemies of believers.

Bediuzzaman emphasized that in the present age, unbelief is much more common and attempts are being made to drive people away from religion by the misguidance of technology and science. According to him, it is therefore, necessary to study science from a religious point of view and to study religious from scientific point of view. In other words, he advises us to combine religious and modern science together and study them fully.

Another outstanding scholar of this subcontinent, Mawlana Abu al-‘Ala Mawdudi, who was considered by some Islamic scholars as a ‘Mujaddid’ (renewal of the Shari’ah), said that the main aim of the prophetic mission was the establishment of God’s sovereignty on earth. His analysis of the contemporary situation is that the Muslim society has gradually drifted away from the ideal pattern established by the Prophet and developed on the same line during the period of the Khulfa-I-Rashideen. He says that the first important change in the social body of Islam was the transformation of Khalifah to monarchy. This brought grave change to weaken and consciously or unconsciously a separation between religion and politics began to take place (Secularism finds its way to Islam).

The second major change was in the system of education. This process culminated when Muslim succumbed to the colonial power of the west. During this period an alien system was imposed. Because of this new system of education separation of religion and politics became almost in integral part of Muslim society. In the post-independent phase, the new leadership of the Muslim countries has generally gone into the hands of those people who are product of the colonial system of education. The Muslim countries were begun to be led by those people who have much respect for western values. Its consequence was inevitable –the beginning of politico-ideological rift in Muslim society. Hence, according to Mawdudi, only remedy to this secularist situation is to revive the pattern of ‘Khulafa-I-Rashidun’, which was a perfect manifestation of the perfect manifestation of the prophetic mission.

Now I would like to make some personal observation. I have argued that the greatest impediment to the Islamization of society is secularism. I have tried to show that secularism in any meaning or facets is incompatible with Islam. I have tried to show that secularism in any meaning of facets is incompatible with Islam. Islam is a complete code of life. There is no distinction between public and private morality. There is nothing private or exclusively private matter in Islam. For everything done or believed man are responsible to God. To Muhammad (s) religious life was not a part time thing. Every ‘Ibadah has social implication and every social matter has religious to perform it in congregation, it places emphasis on increasing brotherhood and fellow feeling among the Muslims. Above all, the Qur’an says, prayer prohibits you from adultery, reprehensible action and injustice. (Q.29: 45)

Likewise distribution of Zakah among the prescribed personal and the association of Fasting in the month of Ramadan with Sadaqat al-Fitra, and the institution of Hajj and the distribution of the meat of the sacrificed animal, all have deepest social implication. That is the lord of the world”. (Q, 6:162) Moreover, there is no more personal thing than one’s own body and life. You have eyes but you cannot look to a foreign woman with ill motive; you have hands but you cannot beat any one as you like; you have legs but you cannot enter into anybody’s home without his prior permission. Your life is more personal then anything else, but you cannot kill yourself.

I may quote now from a Christian scholar, who says,

The struggle between religion and state that marked western development did not appear in the Islamic world, partly because no church in the western sense developed, and partly because so much of the law that was applied was religious law…The ideal becomes not the separation of religion and state, but the unification of religion and state”15.

I may conclude my paper by saying that though secularism was the outcome of some historical situation, it could not fulfill total human aspiration. Moreover, it had shown a serious crack in solving the moral problems. The weakness of secularism is the strengths for conservation which believes in the unity of divine and mundane. Lawlessness is, at present, the obverse of free secular democracy, as we are experiencing in Bangladesh. The truth is that western civilization is a giant now fully corroded from within. Christianity was a spiritual force until the recent centuries, and it is the Christian West who sponsored secularism, which is turn, devastatingly damaged the spirituality of Christianity itself. This situation reminds us of a verse from a Persian poet.

The wonder is not so much that you posses the
Miraculous art of healing like Jesus;

The wonder is rather that your patient is even

More sick than before16.

1.      G. Moyser Politics and Religion in the Modern World (ed. George Moyser London: Routledge, 1991) p. 12.

2.               D. E. Smith, ‘Religion and political Development (Boston; little Brown, 1970) p.6.
3.               Eric S. Waterhouse, “Secularism”, Encyclopedia of religion and Ethics, 1949, pp.348-350.
4.               See k. Dobbelacre, “Secularization: A Multi dimensional Concept.”. Current Sociology 29, vol. 1 (1981) pp. 11-12.
5.               George Moyser, “Politics and Religion in the modern World: an overview”, in Politics and religion in the Modern World, pp. 14-15.
6.              J. K. Hadden and A. Shupe, Prophetic Religions and Politics: Religion: Religion and political order (New york: Paragon House (1986), p.XV
7.               G. Moyser, Religion and Politics in the Modern World, p.18.
8.              Ibid.pp.19-23


1.     Akbar S. Ahmed, Post Modernism and Islam (London: Routledge, 1991), P. 320.

2.     Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan once in a letter from London to Muhsin al-Mulk, attributed the Indian peoples as dirty animals as compared to the Western Whitman.

3.     See the Qur’an: 7: 14-17; 15: 36-39 and 38: 79-82. The repletion of same theme in three places in the Qur’an indicates the importance of this human situation in the eyes of the Qur’an.

4.     He wrote the book when Egypt was still under the foreign occupation.

5.     Bediuzzaman Sa’id Nursi was born in Anatolia in 1873. From the beginning of his life he was a devout Muslim. In World War I, Bediuzzaman Sa’id Nursi served as the commander of a volunteers’ regiment in the Caucasian front and in Eastern Anatolia. The heroism he demonstrated in the battles was highly admired by the generals of the Ottoman Army. The Signs of Miraculousness (Isharat ul-I’jaz), which received immense appreciation from eminent scholars, was written during the war on horseback, front line and trench. In one of those battles against the invading Russian forces, Bediuzzaman and ninety other otured, He was sent to prisoners’ camp in Kostroma, Northwestern Russia. One day the Russian Nicola Nicolaevich, commander-in-chief of the Caucasian front and uncle of the Czar, came to the camp for inspection. Bediuzzaman did not stand up before the general. When asked, Bediuzzman explained the reason in this words; “ I am a Muslim scholar and have belief in my heart. Whoever has belief in his heart is superior to the one who does not. I cannot act against my belief”. He was court-martialed, sentences to death, and, when the sentence was to be executed, he began his last duty, prayer, before the shooting squad. The general witnessing the scene, was deeply impressed, and came to Bediuzzaman, this time with an apology.
6.     S. Kurter O’ Berge, “Bediuzzaman’s Model for Islamic Renaissance”, in Al-Ittihad 15 (October 1978) P.36.
7.     Freeland Abbott, “Pakistan and the Secular State”, in South Asian Politics and Religion, ed. D.E. Smith (Princeton: University Press, 1966) p.359.
8.     Quoted by Fazlur Rahman, “Islamic Challenge and Opportunities”, in Islam: Post Influence and Present Challenge, Ed. By A. Welch and Picrre Caches, (New York: State University of N.Y. Press, 1979), P.330.

Late A.N.M. Wahidur Rahman
Department of Philosophy, University of Chittagong
source: A. Farid and N. A. Khan (eds.) 2008. 21st Century Challenges
For The Global Muslim Community, Renaissance Foundation for
Human Resource Management. (RFHRM), Dhaka

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