March 8, 2006

"Is Islam Compatible with Democracy?"

Last week, I mentioned that my colleague Asifa Quraishi was giving a talk on Monday called "A Reconsideration of Presumptions: Is Islam Compatible with Democracy?" So, what's the answer? Here it is in Professor Quraishi's words:
I think yes, Islam is compatible with democracy. It is also compatible with a lot of other methods of government. There's nothing mandating or prohibiting any particular form of rule in the source texts of Islam (Quran and Hadith).
Quraishi, who teaches constitutional law and Islamic law here at the UW Law School, explained how, historically, Islamic law developed, with a "public lawmaking realm [that] was separated from the realm of those who derived law from from interpretation of divine texts." This traditional public lawmaking "could very easily translate to a democratic public legislative (even representative democracy, even federalism if you like that too) system."
The question then becomes what do you do with the law that is derived from divine texts (and this is law, by the way, that a lot of Muslims in the world like, and in fact demand their rights under - much the same way we demand our constitutional rights - and this includes women, often in a very empowering way, but that's another topic) - i.e. the doctrinal corpus of law created by private Muslim jurists (fiqh).

What I was tackling in my presentation was the roadblock in this issue that I think is presented by the western tendency to think that the sovereign state should be the location of all law for all of society. Once we are able to re-think the location of legal authority in a society, that some can exist as valid and authoritative, yet outside the realm of public lawmaking mechanisms, then I think that we will have gotten much further to coming up with a system of government and lawmaking and adjudication for Muslim societies that can be (but doesn't have to be, frankly I don't care what it looks like, that's up to them) "democratic" but in a very different model than western nation-state democracies.

I don't have any specific proposal on how this would look, and how it would work (that's something for me to work on for the next several years). I'm just saying that the western model is not the only one, and then I try to push that point by showing how the merging of nation-state model with Islamic law pressures from the people and political movements has actually resulted in the worst of both worlds - i.e. theocratic-type authorities despite the fact that neither Islamic heritage, nor the western model would have chosen that on their own.
I wish everyone could hear Asifa give this presentation. She's a terrific speaker, and she uses Powerpoint slides, which I normally hate, quite brilliantly. There's a point in the presentation where one circle moves to a different position and everyone feels a great sense of enlightenment.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers. Feel free to continue into the comments, where some readers take issue with Quraishi, and I relay some of her responses and note that she likened muftis (whom I initially mistakenly call mullahs) to law professors.


Dave said...

I would like to think that Islam is compatible with democracy, given Turkey and India, however, on balance, I would say the current evidence suggests it is not.

Of course, my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. I am hardly expert in Islam or political theory.

Robert Burnham said...

...Once we are able to re-think the location of legal authority in a society...

"Re-thinking the location" is something I hope this county never does. It would open the way to a religion-based state, which would be a disaster.

Ann Althouse said...

Robert: You should see that Quraishi's analysis shows that Islam is compatible with the separation of religion and state!

Dave: You could have said the same thing about Christianity, looking at Europe not all that long ago in the great historical scheme of things. The question is whether the two things are compatible, not whether the religion necessarily or strongly leads people to democracy.

The Drill SGT said...

I think I understand the thrust of her argument.

1. Did she address how to reconcile the overlaps in Civil and Religious, areas of interest?

2. Assuming this approach is implemented: How does one implement this approach in bi or multi-culture country. e.g Nigeria

3. How does one protect religious rights of minorities without using a Dhimmitude approach?

Mark Haag said...

"the western tendency to think that the sovereign state should be the location of all law for all of society."

in Western society, don't we also rely on something outside of the state as the location for our laws? (The notion of individual rights?)

hoof_in_mouth said...

"the western tendency to think that the sovereign state should be the location of all law for all of society." Are you saying this is true? I'm pretty sure that law is pretty well hashed between Federal/State/Local, with most conflict based on that little Federal/State thing. How about Islamic law in the State position?

Ann Althouse said...

Quietnorth: The point is that if you have a right, in our system, we expect the courts to enforce it. Rights, wherever they originate (a lot of us would say it's in the written law), are then recognized and preserved by the government, through its courts. Even if we create private rights through contracts, we expect the courts to be the enforcers. It would be odd to us to think of going to individual scholars -- Quraishi liked mullahs to law professors -- to get an answer to your legal question and have that be the end of it, with no recourse to the government's courts.

Edmund said...

It would be odd to us to think of going to individual scholars -- Quraishi liked mullahs to law professors -- to get an answer to your legal question and have that be the end of it, with no recourse to the government's courts.

We already have that in the West. It's called binding arbitration.

The problem boils down to this: who has the right to use force to ensure their dictates are followed. In the West, it is a secular government. In some Islamic countries use of force is spread out among the state, the tribe, and heads of households.

Scott Ferguson said...

Malaysia says it is a Muslim democracy, although I think its legal system is based for the most part on English common law.

Ron said...

I am a bit confused as to who the enforcer of law would be if not the nation-state. A parallel religious "court?" What would be the arbiter of disputes? Surely you can get different opinions from different law professors; advice, by itself, lacks, what, "the force of law?"

Ann Althouse said...

Ron: According to Quraishi, people accepted that there were multiple interpreters and shopped around for someone they liked. The divergency and decentralization was not perceived as a problem. So, essentially, you're being "western" to ask the question that way.

goesh said...

There can be no fundamental equality accorded in a state of Democracy if the Spiritual and Secular cannot be separated. This is impossible in an Islamic state. Al Qu'ran and the Hadith are a priori, the given by God on which all else is based. Quraishi would have us believe that a Sharia Court could sanction a simple majority vote to be able to eat pork one day a week. The only thing inalienable in Islam is the original,unaltered direct communication(s) from God to Mohammed. The Quran cannot be amended. Why else would educated Muslims endorse a death fatwa against Solmon Rushdie? The poor bloke is still in hiding and like me, will not accept any cigar from Quraishi for buying into a myth.

"And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them."

"If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. If they repent and amend, Leave them alone; for Allah is Oft-returning, Most Merciful."

"Allah (thus) directs you as regards your Children's (Inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females."
Sura 4., An-Nisa

- fundamental equality, even for Jews?

Smilin' Jack said...

According to Quraishi, people accepted that there were multiple interpreters and shopped around for someone they liked. The divergency and decentralization was not perceived as a problem.

Hey, I'm starting to like this idea! As an atheist, I won't have any laws at all! I can run amok! (which I've always dreamed of doing.)

The Krishnans said...

Dave said...

I would like to think that Islam is compatible with democracy, given Turkey and India, however, on balance, I would say the current evidence suggests it is not.

Since no one has corrected the misconception that India is an Islamic society, let me just say this - India is NOT an Islamic society. We do have one of the largest Muslim communities (i think after Indonesia, the largest number of Muslims are in India) but 82% of the population is Hindu.

The Drill SGT said...

The Krishnans,

On what does India base its code of laws? My perception was that it had an English legal structure, and I assumed it was colored by Indian common law.

I guess I'm asking how India deals with its Muslim minority and their desire for Sharia.

Dave said...


No misconception of India was implied. I realize its majority is Hindu; nonetheless, it has, as you mention, one of the largest populations of Muslims in the world.

Hence, it is reasonable to point to India's democracy as an example of a large group of Muslims living in a democratic society.

PatCA said...

"...the western tendency to think that the sovereign state should be the location of all law for all of society."

Our law is clearly based on Judeo-Christian ethics; but since we believe in religious plurality, we cede authority to a secular state, answerable to the electorate and not to the diety, an admission that no one religion has a clear mandate from the diety. Can political, or radical, Islam admit the same? To me, there are two Islams, and radical Islam is out of the running completely; it's like saying, can Germany learn to live certain principles of Naziism. I don't know which she is speaking of.

She's very erudite, I'm sure, but again we keep hearing that Islam is compatible with some form of democracy...tba.

The Krishnans said...

To the Drill SGT : Indian law is based on English common law. However, the Muslim community can use some aspects of Sharia (i am not exactly clearly how Muslim law is nested within the greater Indian law). I do remember a case bought to the Supreme Court challenging sharia, and the lady Shah Bano winning, but again political expediency won out. My knowledge of Muslim law in India almost non existent so maybe someone else can answer your question better.

To Dave : Your point taken, but the way your original sentence was written, it seemed to imply that India was an Islamic nation. I was addressing that in my comment.

paul a'barge said...

roadblock: "the western tendency to think that the sovereign state should be the location of all law for all of society".

I don't mean to be harsh, but frankly the location of all law for our (western, certainly American) society is precisely the sovereign state.

In other words, if you subvert this, you might as well toss all the historical effort of western society into the trash bin. Placing all our law into the sovereign state is not a menu option for us, it is the tautology that defines us.

Look, the alternative here is frighteningly obvious... either we are who we choose to be, or we are dhimmi.

And whether our fundamental nature, as western societies, are under attack by the sword of Islam or by the clever manipulation of PowerPoint slides makes no difference. This is a competition for the identity and values that will prevail in our cultures, and I for one have no intention of letting Islam and Sharia win.

Ron said...

people accepted that there were multiple interpreters and shopped around for someone they liked.

This may be some form of therapy...but law?

The divergency and decentralization was not perceived as a problem.

If two diverging interpretations are in the same room together, or are about something both sides feel is terribly important, I don't see how it could not be seen as a problem. What happens then, mob violence? Oratory? Random chance?

So, essentially, you're being "western" to ask the question that way. Maybe...but all cultures have disputes, both internal and external. I'm trying to see how such a system would look, and perhaps enlighten my own "western" outlook.

Ann Althouse said...

I wrote: "Quraishi liked mullahs to law professors..."

Asifa corrects me. That was muftis not mullahs ("a mullah is just an elder of a variety of types; a mufti is someone qualified to issue a fatwa"). She adds:

"It's not that the *only* recourse for fiqh law decisionmaking is by the muftis/law professors. That's only if there's an amicable mutual agreement to abide by their decision (e.g. like a mediator or some arbitration). But if one of the parties doesn't like it, she can take the case to a qadi court, which is appointed by the state to adjudicate fiqh-based disputes (and Qur'anic criminal law, sometimes). Now, the question obviously is - this is where we Americans get nervous - it's a state government enforcing rules according to doctrine derived from divine sources. Yep, it's a problem if the state decides to enforce them in a way that we (or more appropriately the relevant Muslim public - I still maintain it's really none of our business if we're
completely outside the polity) don't like. That's when the maslaha-basis (public good/welfare) of the state authority comes into play - and where there's the potential for flexibility (though I admit not every Muslim would go in the same direction on this). The state still has the power to decide the scope of the jurisdiction of its qadis - so it could decide to not empower a particular judge to adjudicate a particular area of criminal law (say those where one cuts off the hand of the thief) - on public policy/maslaha grounds. THIs is *not* changing the internal doctrine of Islamic law, but rather just deciding, for public good reasons, not
to apply it in certain circumstances. There's historical precedent for this, by the way, the 2nd Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, suspended the theft punishment during a time of famine - on the apparent grounds that the state was not providing adequately for the public and it would be unjust to punish starving people for stealing. A similar argument has been made by Tariq Ramadan, who has called for a moratorium on the death penalty
in Muslim countries b/c it is disproportionately applied to women and socio-economically underprivileged. Many disagree with him, but still,
he's making a significant contribution to the sort of thing I'm talking about. (Ramadan is, by the way, the Geneva prof who Homeland Security thinks is too dangerous to let him keep the visa they issued him; they revoked it days before he was to start a tenured position at Notre Dame last year).

"Anyway, that's much more than I intended to write. I just wanted to say that, yes, there is the police power of the state somewhere in here (as your readers have pointed out), and of course there's the rub. But I think we're all colored in how we imagine this would work out b/c we've seen the most extreme, restrictive uses of state power on the
back of religious law, and I just don't think it has to look that way."

Ann Althouse said...

I wrote (twice) "Quraishi liked mullahs to law professors..."

Should be likened. Sorry!

paul a'barge said...

"Yep, it's a problem if the state decides to enforce them in a way that we ... don't like".

No, it's a problem either way.

Religious doctrine and the apparatus that executes that doctrine have no place in the legal system of a secular, western society. Ever.

Look, put down the law books and put down the Koran and take a quick gander at the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. It could not be more clear.

Look, if you really have to live by Sharia, then you have to choose either to avoid our legal system or go live somewhere else. We have a legal system based on fundamental principles that are incompatible with Sharia, and we've spent many years and have invested lives of hundreds of brave soldier-citizens to get it that way.

No to the camel, no to the nose, and no to shoving that nose under the tent.

HaloJonesFan said...

It isn't a "tendency" to think that the sovereign state is the location of law for all of society--it's part of fundamental Christian doctrine. Matthew 22:21, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, render unto God what is God's." The separation of Church and State is laid out in the founding documents of the Church itself!

PatCA said...

Yes, we know who Tariq Ramadan is, and I doubt he was denied a visa for his views on the death penalty in Muslim countries.

I agree with the paul and other posters here who say that separation of church and state is not a subject for revision. In theory and practice, identity politics will be the death of democracy.

Ron said...

Thanks for the clarification,Ann! Interesting stuff!

Harkonnendog said...

What a great example of how you can say disgusting things in a nice way. Let's paraphrase:

"This idea that people should vote for a governnment and then that government makes the laws is just another idea. So Western democracy, seperation of state, freedom of religion, these are just value-neutral ideas and other ideas are just as good.

So when you talk about Muslims and democracy, the problem isn't Muslims, it is the presumption that YOUR democracy, (the one where you vote for a government and then that goverment makes laws which are equally applied to everybody) is better than OTHER kinds of democracy.

I don't want to get into the specifics of what kind of democracy Muslims should have, though. That's another topic. It suffices that Muslims will live under divine law 'cause that's what they like- and they'll demand the rights of that divine law 'cause that's what they want. Of course Muslim won't have to VOTE to make those laws into actual laws, or to prove they really want those laws. After all, I assure you they do, and that's enough."

And this woman is a law professor, lol.

Ann Althouse said...

First of all, everyone should be clear that Quraishi is not talking about changing the U.S. system. Clearly, we have separation of religion and state as part of our written constitution. It's a great idea too. But how do you convince other countries to adopt it? England has an established church, you know, so it's scarcely as fundamental an idea as you are assuming. Quraishi is writing about countries where Muslims are a majority. If they operate democratically, what are they going to do with respect to religion and government? You need to make arguments that are appealing to the people who are going to make the decisions democratically. Quraishi is trying to talk about that. A lot of you seem to be missing the point! How would you go about convincing someone who cared about the Muslim tradition to separate religion and government? Do you have any idea how even to begin to do that? Try to focus on what she is talking about!

D.E. Cloutier said...

Ann: "How would you go about convincing someone who cared about the Muslim tradition to separate religion and government?"

You don't. You encourage them to update their religion.

Robert Burnham said...

The best argument in favor of secular law over sharia is to remind Muslims of the religious wars in Europe's history. These are the reason why we (the West) now separate religion and government.

And the factional bloodshed going on today among Muslims (Shiites vs. Sunnis) is their version of the same thing.

If this argument isn't sufficient to persuade a Muslim society to follow the West's example, I doubt anything else can.

JackOfClubs said...

Prof Quraishi, through no fault of her own, is answering the wrong question. People often conflate the idea of democracy with the idea of personal freedom because that is historically how the former idea was sold. She quite rightly points out that Islam and Democracy are compatible, but what people are really asking is whether Islam is compatible with Freedom.

As democracies are established in the Middle East, I suspect that Islam will slowly be edged out as Christianity has been in the West. This seems to be what the more radical sects are afraid of.

But even in the West, it is by no means certain that the radical secular viewpoint will ultimately triumph. In recent years many have seen that secularism has its costs and are trying to negotiate at least a partial return of religion to the public discourse. I think that is what paul d'abarge, PatCA and DEC are afraid of for their part. I personally think their fears are unfounded, and that religion and freedom are indeed compatible, but it all depends on who is in the driver's seat. And politic power tends to attract the least savory representatives of any ideology.

D.E. Cloutier said...

I have no fears, Jack. I have dealt daily with Islamic nations for 30 years. I lived in Muslim Egypt and in Muslim Indonesia. Over the decades my friends, neighbors, and customers often have said the same thing: "We need to update our religion."

With respect to your comment "as democracies are established in the Middle East," you are getting way ahead of yourself. The U.S. isn't doing too well with its "democracy crusade."

PatCA said...

"How would you go about convincing someone who cared about the Muslim tradition to separate religion and government?"

This question is based on the assumption that most Muslims do NOT want religion and state separated in the western tradition. Yet every Iraqi blogger I read, including the devout Muslim Alaa at the messopotamian, wants no concession to religion, because it leads to tyranny. All the Muslim friends of my liberal Dutch friend supported Pim Fortuyn, because they “know what the radicals can do.” Certainly she is not asserting that she speaks more authentically for Muslims than people who live in Muslim countries!

So, her argument cedes legal authority to religion to please... whom exactly? The Muslims who shout the loudest, western intellectuals?

The Afghans and the Iraqis have made a good start at establishing consensual governemtns. I wish our intelligentsia could look beyond their contempt for the West for once and be more supportive.

Anonymous said...

I believe Quraishi is right. But we should be realistic. Reform in the Islamic world will involve bloodshed. Even if the West stayed out of it. But without military support from the West any reform movement is doomed. The anti-reform forces are more dedicated and have greater fighting spirit.

mtrobertsattorney said...

Paul a' barge says all law comes from the sovereign state. I take it he means that human rights owe their existence to the state.

If the state can create human rights, it can just as easily take them away. And if it does, Paul is left without any argument.

I think I'll pass on this notion. I feel much safer with the natural law theory set out in the D of I.

vbspurs said...

I think my arguments have been mentioned by others, in relation to Turkey etc., so I'll concentrate (as ever) on elucidation.

Teacher, leave dem kids alone!

Mufti is a great word.

I love using it, but sadly, it generally raises eyebrows of incomprehension.

Mufti, apart from its religious significance, means "going in street attire", and not wearing uniform or official dress.

It used to be used commonly before WWI in many countries, like Germany, which had uniform manias.

This is what Wikipedia says:

The history of this description comes from the term Mufti to describe an official class of men in India who at that time, interpreted the law.

Known throughout India as Muftis', they dressed in civilian attire, unlike many other civil servants of the day. So, when a naval officer shifted out of uniform into civilian clothes to proceed ashore, it was spoken of as shifting into 'mufti'.

Mufti Day is an event at certain schools in which students are permitted to wear ordinary clothing, instead of the usual school uniform.

In my school in England, when you reached the sixth-form (US=12th grade), you were allowed, as the term had it, to go mufti.



Andy Levy said...

My question is:

Is Islam compatible with democracy when Muslims are in the minority?

It seems to me that this is a wholly different question than whether a majority-Muslim nation can be democratic. In my mind, the recent rioting over the Danish cartoons, during which Muslims in Britain called for beheadings, and Muslims worldwide called on the Danish government to apologize, shows a fundamental (no pun intended) lack of understanding of how a democracy works when Muslims don't get to make the laws.

Anything can be "compatible with democracy." A country in which 51% or more of the people think Jews should be put to death is not a good place to be Jewish. A nation in which 56% of the people believe homosexuality should be punishable by death ain't a great place to be gay. Come to think of it, I think I just described a Muslim-majority democracy.

Democracy does not have to be necessarily synonymous with individual liberty. Democracy does not necessarily mean a free press, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, etc. Where our founders got it right, if I'm allowed to be "western" for a minute, was in creating a system that limited the power of both the government AND the peepul. 60% of the people in America could believe that gays (or Jews, or whatever) are evil and deserved to die, and, legally, it wouldn't matter. I'm pretty sure you couldn't say the same about a country run under Shari'a, whether it was a kingdom, a theocracy, a democracy, or whatever.

Obviously, some Muslims have little or no problem living in a country such as America. But, to me, the question remains: can Muslims -- MOST Muslims, not SOME Muslims -- live in democratic societies that emphasize individual liberty over religious teachings? Can most Muslims understand that occasionally being offended is the cost of doing business in such a society? Can most Muslims understand that the Q'uran most be subservient to the law in such a society?

Hopefully the answer to all these questions is "yes," but I must confess that over the last several years I've become increasingly pessimistic that this is the case.

Crownfield said...

You all know very little about Islam and the art of TAKIYA (deception), telling gullible westerners ( i.e. "useful idiots") what you want them to believe. There can never be a separation of Islam (the religion) and the State. Do not compare with Church and State ( cheese and chalk).

What she says are things that should make Islam more "acceptable" to the West ( in her own and her coreligionists' interests).

In India Moslems are a minority Turkey unfortunately slowly but surely, detaches itelf from the secular mode imposed by Attaturk. Islamist subversion is rife and active. The government is Islamist the army still secular- for how long?

We are told that there is a difference between extremist Islam and peaceloving normal Islam.
Judging by their behavior, Muslims are anti-West, anti-Democracy, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, anti-Buddhist, and anti-Hindu. Muslims are involved in 25 of some 30 conflicts going on in the world: in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Cyprus, East Timor, India, Indonesia (2 provinces), Kashmir, Kazakastan, Kosovo, Kurdistan, Macedonia, the Middle East, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Sudan, Russia-Chechnya, Tajikistan, Thailand, Uganda and Uzbekistan.

Doesn't this mean that extremist Islam is the norm and normal Islam is extremely rare?

Open your eyes goto:

Anonymous said...

Any chance you could post the slides?

Unknown said...

The problem with this is that the question is illogically framed.

Islam isn't the problem; the problem is SHARIA, which is nothing more than a set of common laws.

It is SHARIA that is incompatible with democracy; because in a democracy, we all get to vote on what our laws will be (and as such, our laws can have nothing to do with our individual religions. See abortion laws.)

And so, let's redebate the issue: Is SHARIA compatible with democracy?

Crownfield said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Crownfield said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
paul a'barge said...

AlaskaJack said...
Paul a' barge says all law comes from the sovereign state.

AlaskaJack is wrong. Paul A'Barge said that indeed, "the sovereign state should be the location of all law for all of society".

What AlaskaJack confuses is the distinction between LAWS and RIGHTS. Indeed, according to the Declaration of Independence, our RIGHTS come from G-d, not from the state.

However, all of our LAWS reside in the sovereign state, separate from any religion. Check out the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights ... it's not that murky.

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

Can Islam be compatible with demoracy?

One of the things that make Christianity more compatible (with democracy)is that it is fundamentally a religion of choice.

According to scripture, God did not wrap up operations, wipe out the fallen angel, and MAKE us all be good. He allowed a choice between himself and Satan.

Christianity is about people freely choosing to follow God without coercion.

In the past (and even today) Christians have fudged that central point because they have often as not merged the Old Testament (Jewish scripture) and New Testament into one continuous message.

But to the extent Christians follow Christ's example, and indeed take the New Testament as a NEW TESTAMENT or new set of standards, then one can very easily harmonize Christianity with democracy, giving unto Caesar what is his, and to God what is his.

I don't imagine that Islam has this split (New/Old Testaments) and tends to follow an Old Testament literary/theological form (in terms of earthly punishments for non-believers).

So, Christianity has had a clear path to evolve, moving from a world under a pure God's direct supervision (Old Testament), to a world where God submits to earthly law, and shows us how to live and makes a sacrificial "way" (New Testament), to a world now where God in the form of the holy spirit comes into your heart/life, and guides you from inside. God in heaven, to God on earth, to God inside of man. (And counterintuitively, the closer God gets to man, the gentler he shows himself.)

In proper practice then, the Christian of today should not look at Old Testament law and practice it, seeing the Old Testament as simply God's example to us of how unapproachable he is in his purest form. We turn to Jesus, and his example, and by focusing on that, we come to understand the importance of voluntarily choosing who we will serve.

In the end God want's voluntary company, not mandated love (which, in itself, is impossible). It is this underlying issue of choice that helps harmonize Christianity with secular forms of governance, including democracy.

Does Islam have that type of release valve (of a Christ) to make it work with democracy? I am not sure, but actual real world examples seem to indicate otherwise.

Islam, in many ways, is like Judaism. There is the Torah, which is notoriously difficult to follow in today's world. And we have the Talmud, which seeks to "explain" or rationalize the words in the Torah to make them more liveable.

So today, we end up with a largely secular Jewish world (foresaking scripture altogether), alongside a small minority of Orthodox followers.

I would argue that you cannot be a good Jew, or a good Islamic person (in terms of accurately following those scriptures) and have true harmony with Democracy, without becoming more secular (as most Jewish people are today).

Ann Althouse said...

Crownfield: I can't let you copy such long quotes. Please provide links and summaries or very short quotes.

Centcom: The slides are just diagrams that won't mean anything without the accompanying lecture.

Ann Althouse said...

Finn: "I would argue that you cannot be a good Jew, or a good Islamic person (in terms of accurately following those scriptures) and have true harmony with Democracy, without becoming more secular (as most Jewish people are today)."

It's for Muslims to articulate the meaning of their own religion. It seems to me that all religions are susceptible to reformation. It is a natural process of human thought to discover the need for reformation in a system that contains to much repression.

CatoRenasci said...

According to Quraishi, people accepted that there were multiple interpreters and shopped around for someone they liked. The divergency and decentralization was not perceived as a problem. So, essentially, you're being "western" to ask the question that way

Ann, the essential problem here seems to be the postmodern idea that reason is not universal, but rather a societal social construct valid only for a particular society -- otherwise your comment about a "western" way of asking a question would be meaningless (as I would argue it ought to be).

Moreover, and more importantly, ideas concerning 'democracy' and 'justice' as we know them are "western" ideas in the sense that they were developed in the West (if one includes the Greeks, Romans and Hebrews) and our thinking about them has proceeded - in the past three centuries anyway - along lines that assume reason is a universal.

One of the significant ideas in our notions of justice is that the result should turn on the law, not the interpreter. Ms. Quraishi's notion that people would accept multiple interpreters and shop around is essentially saying that people would accept justice being equivocally predicated. I find that quite troubling, because it is a simple move from approving the idea of different results based on who interprets the law, to approving the idea of different results based on the identity or status of otherwise similarly situated litigants -- which eviscerates the western notion of equality before the law.

While it is a fact that litigants forum shop, that does not mean our system suggests that the law should be equivocally predicated.

I have always thought knowledge a good thing, and that increased undesrtanding of different cultures would lead to a better appreciation of them. The case of Islam has shaken that view: the more I learn about it, the more troubled I am by its claims and the less I think it is compatible with secular classical liberal individual rights based republican (or constitutional monarchal) government.

MEC2 said...

The question simply boils down to this simple test - can Muslims render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's? Modern democratic government authority derives not from God, but from the people, who possess inalienable God-given rights. God does not empower the government. Perhaps what we are most likely to see is a theocratic republic.

Ann Althouse said...

Cato: " the essential problem here seems to be the postmodern idea that reason is not universal..."

Well, I think you could say, in Quraishi's approach, that reason is something all human beings possess, but reason continually produces discordant answers, even when we are trying to intepret the same text.

But I do agree with the observation that Quraishi's portrayal of the Muslim tradition seems suspiciously like the ideas about postmodernism that flowed through academia when she pursued her degrees. I have no way of knowing whether her historical interpretation is accurate, but I do find it very appealing, which is another thing that makes me suspicious about its accuracy! On the other hand, I favor interpretations of religion that improve human life, so maybe I like someone going into the history, finding a plausible and beneficial interpretation, and promoting it. Isn't that what reformation is?

Disreputable Organ said...

Ann - you opined that "It's for Muslims to articulate the meaning of their own religion. It seems to me that all religions are susceptible to reformation. It is a natural process of human thought to discover the need for reformation in a system that contains to much repression."

Isn't an alternatice possibility simply extinction? Isn't history littered with countless and now practically unknown religions and cultures which could not or did not "reform"? Granted, it seems unlikely from our point of view given the size of the "Islamic" world, both numbers and geography, but there's always that saying about the bigger they are the harder they fall.

maryatexitzero said...

There is no reason why Muslims, or the religion Islam, can't live with democracy.

However, Islamic Sharia laws are completely incompatible with democracy because they are, by definition, apartheid laws. Non-Muslims have fewer rights than Muslims. Women have fewer rights than men. These laws are used to set up an apartheid state. Apartheid states are not modern democracies.

You say: A lot of you seem to be missing the point! How would you go about convincing someone who cared about the Muslim tradition to separate religion and government? Do you have any idea how even to begin to do that?

Define the "Muslim tradition"

When they were created, Muslim laws did not allow for the separation of church and state, but Mohammed himself encouraged innovation, change and the ability to question authority. This concept was called "Ijtihad"

To solve problems like these, Prophet Muhammad (SAS) himself introduced the fifth component (if I would say so) of the Shariah called Ijtihad which is individual intellectual effort. One who performs Ijtihad is a Mujtahid. The word Ijtihad is derived from the Arabic root word of jihad. Ijtihad was once an important force in the articulation and interpretation of Shariah. Some of the greatest minds in the history of Islamic jurisprudence used Ijtihad during the first centuries of Hijra.

The concept of "Ijtihad" was later replaced by the doctrine of taqlid or blind imitation. Taqlid not only discouraged individual interpretation but also prohibited it. Some Muslim scholars throughout the ages have been protesting the prohibition of Ijtihad as it violates the original spirit and intention of Islam.

Asifa Quraishi is trying to tell us that this Taqlid-based, apartheid Islamic law is compatible with democracy. I don't believe her.

She has addressed women's issues in the past, but has she discussed the persecution of non-Muslims under Sharia? Has she discussed the sharia-based slavery in Africa, or the sharia-based genocide in the Sudan? Has she discussed the sharia-based persecution of Kurds in Saddam's Iraq, and his Anfal Campaign? ("Anfal" is a principle from the Koran and it allows the looting of a non-Muslim population when Muslims conquer them.)?

Is slavery and genocide compatible with democracy? Should we respect these Sharia-based traditions?

Apartheid Islamic law is comparable to one currently existing Christian group. Like the fundamentalists who claim to base their laws on the Koran, the Lord's Resistance Army claims to base their laws on the Bible. They've used the Bible to justify their campaign of slaughter, rape and slavery in the local area, just as the fundamentalists and Arabists have used Islamic law to justify their campaign of ethnic cleansing in Africa and the Middle East.

If the Lord's Resistance Army was sitting on many billions of dollars worth of oil, we'd probably be debating whether a legal system murders, enslaves and padlocks people's mouths shut through holes cut in their lips in the name of the Bible was compatible with democracy.

CatoRenasci said...

Ann: On the other hand, I favor interpretations of religion that improve human life, so maybe I like someone going into the history, finding a plausible and beneficial interpretation, and promoting it. Isn't that what reformation is?

On one level, I agree that ceterus paribus I prefer interpretations of religion that improve human life, but as an historian before becoming an economist and then a lawyer, I am troubled the the rest of your statement. As an historian, one's obligation seems to me (remember I was trained in the bad old modern period) to try to establish an understanding (interpretation) that is as true as possible - true in the sense that it is consistent with all of the available evidence (or at least more consistent than any other interpretation), meets Occam's Razor, and one is sufficiently aware of one's own biases and metaphysical assumptions to determine reasonably that one's biases have not distorted the interpretation unduly.

So, what you're talking about is not history or historical interpretation, but some sort of special pleading or (at best) apologetics (in the theological sense).

Fundamentally, I understand the process of reformation to be different, at least in the Western example. The Reformers of the 16th century (and their predecessors in the 15th) were not interested in the plausible, but rather in what they thought was true. They believed reform was necessary not because of facts in the external world (e.g. compatiblity with some political system), but because the existing religious institutions had distorted truth and had lost sight of what the texts and teaching meant. In a very real sense, they were arguing against the very thing you are proposing, in that the institutional churches (Orthodox and Roman) had over the centuries built up what they regarded as plausible and beneficial interpretations of the texts.

Pierre said...

This "Law professor" makes it seem that Mr. Ramadan was denied entry for unjust reasons. Being the Grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't sound like the beginning of a fabulous resume.

This defense of Islam sounds like a much cleverer way of reaching the same goal as Bin Laden. I appreciate Bin Laden's approach a bit more since at least I don't have to parse his words to find his meaning.

Daniel Pipes lays it out.
He has praised the brutal Islamist policies of the Sudanese politician Hassan Al-Turabi. Mr. Turabi in turn called Mr. Ramadan the "future of Islam."
Mr. Ramadan was banned from entering France in 1996 on suspicion of having links with an Algerian Islamist who had recently initiated a terrorist campaign in Paris.
Ahmed Brahim, an Algerian indicted for Al-Qaeda activities, had "routine contacts" with Mr. Ramadan, according to a Spanish judge (Baltasar Garzón) in 1999.
Djamel Beghal, leader of a group accused of planning to attack the American embassy in Paris, stated in his 2001 trial that he had studied with Mr. Ramadan.
Along with nearly all Islamists, Mr. Ramadan has denied that there is "any certain proof" that Bin Laden was behind 9/11.
He publicly refers to the Islamist atrocities of 9/11, Bali, and Madrid as "interventions," minimizing them to the point of near-endorsement.
And here are other reasons, dug up by Jean-Charles Brisard, a former French intelligence officer doing work for some of the 9/11 families, as reported in Le Parisien:

Intelligence agencies suspect that Mr. Ramadan (along with his brother Hani) coordinated a meeting at the Hôtel Penta in Geneva for Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy head of Al-Qaeda, and Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheikh, now in a Minnesota prison.
Mr. Ramadan's address appears in a register of Al Taqwa Bank, an organization the State Department accuses of supporting Islamist terrorism.

DRJ said...

I did not hear Professor Quraishi's talk. I'm sure she is thoughtful and persuasive, and it sounds like she is dedicated to melding Islam and democracy. If there were more like her, theoretically it could be done but it seems to me that Islam and democracy are not philosophically compatible unless Islamic societies are willing to become more secular.

Democracy is founded on the principle that people govern themselves. Religions in western civilizations, which were historically Christian and Catholic, ultimately relinquished temporal power as discussed above (the concept that Christianity is a choice), thus making possible the concept that temporal power resides in the people and can be delegated to the State.

It is my understanding that Islam is based on the concept that the higher law of religion governs the people, who are powerless. Islam does not recognize the concept that people can choose, thus people who live in Islamic countries do not have a viable choice to submit to democratic government and equally to their religion. Their only choice is to be religious or to be secular. Even more important, democracy is based on the concept that the people are the source of power and rights. Islamic religion, society, and law do not recognize that concept.

I think the best we can hope for, and I do hope and believe this can occur, is something similar to Japan. The US imposed democracy on Japan even though it was an undemocratic nation in government and culture. Democracy was successful because the Japanese did not fundamentally alter democracy to suit their lifestyles and beliefs. Instead, they modified their culture - which was intertwined with religion - to make democratic government acceptable. I think Japan is a good example of how a nation can retain its culture within a democratic framework. Whether this would be enough for Islamic societies remains to be seen.

Kel said...

Of course Islam is not compatible with democracy. The only Muslim countries which are vaguely able to practice democracy were only able to do so at the point of a gun by secularists who wished to re-make their countries away from Islam.

This has nothing to do with setting up an established religion. England has an established Church and it seems to be doing fine. The distinction here is that the CULTURE is entirely different in England than it is in Islam, and the reason for that is Christianity does not impose a totalizing effort of control over one's lives according to secular rule. Islam, by contrast, has a detailed code for ruling over one's everyday life. And Islam reveres its prophed, Mohammed, who it sees as the perfect man that all should emulate, and he ran an undemocratic theocratic state. Those cultural assumptions aren't going to go away, there are implicit in an understanding of Islam and cannot be ignored.

So Islam is fundamentally incompatible with democracy.

Pluto's Dad said...

Democracy is not compatible with any school of thought that seeks to place itself above the will of the people.

For many centuries, the West was not ready to supplant Christian law with Democracy.

Still today, I know many socialists and communists that pay lip service to Democracy, but also admit they think that sometimes Democracy doesn't work, and the government should decide what's best for the people no matter what they think. So those also, I believe, are not compatible.

So no, I think no religion is inherently compatible with Democracy. But rather, Jewish and Christian organizations finally realized they had to let go of the reigns of government. It took a lot of oppression and bloodshed before we figured it out. The Muslim leaders and people have not yet realized this.

(In the West we also have arbitrage which people can agree too, in which other standards besides the government law can apply. This may be one route. Though I've read that is abused in some places esp. regarding women and divorce.)

CatoRenasci said...

Others have noted the issue, but one of the difficulties of this entire discussion is the word "democracy" and our indiscriminate use of it to describe the American system. Strictly speaking, we are a constitutional republic founded upon a classical liberal (Locken ) principles in which individual rights are taken as given a priori (whether by God or some other mechanism, imperfectly understood) and in which there is a balance between respect for inalienable rights and allowing representatives of the mass of the people to make majoritarian decisions. The modern European states strike the balance somewhat differently (except perhaps the Swiss), and several of them retain vestigal monarchies, but they, too, are founded upon something like this understanding of the relation of man and the state (and the church) -- even though most of them do not really recognize their Lockean origins.

So, the interesting question is not whether Islam can be compatible with democracy, but whether Islam can be compatible with Western notions of individual autonomy and liberty.

The historical record is not encouraging. Only in Turkey has a modern secular society existed in a predominently Muslim state. And, there, special circumstances must be acknowledged: the Muslim Ottoman state was thoroughly discredited by its steady decline after the second siege of Vienna, which culminated in Turkey's utter defeat in the First World War. The not-unsurprising reaction was Attaturk. Today, Turkey has elected Islamist leadership, and it is only the thoroughly undemocratic Turkish Army that preserves the secular tradition.

Karasoth said...


Am I reading this right that she is basically advocating decentralizing much of how the legal framework of society is set up? kind of allowing communities to govern themselves in regards to some matters while leaving others up to the state?

ed said...


Frankly that's silly.

She's arguing that it's possible to have more than one locus for law. That you can have criminal and civil law exist under a multiple of separate authorities all co-existing within a single geographic space.

That's idiotic as it assumes a requirement that everyone complies with the same division of loci. Which implicitly requires the transformation of the population into a single culture with a single religious outlook.

How on earth is it possible for an Islamic population to follow Sharia civil law and a Christian population to follow a state-oriented law, i.e. non-Sharia, and still interact? How is it possible that contracts could possibly be managed and under which, or what, legal locus would any dispute be defined?

Under Sharia law an infidel, a kufr, doesn't have the right to bear witness.

Frankly I could go on but this whole subject is utter nonsense and reinforces why I don't bother reading this blog any longer.

Mark Terwilliger said...

First of all, when the doctrine of "separation of Church and State" was initially adopted in the West, the major selling point was to *defend religion FROM the State.* This was far more compelling to most people at the time (a few Deists excepted) than the converse. In this more secular age, we tend to discount or lose sight of that fact. Today, we *only* see the converse.

On another front entirely:

I have the impression that, in the Muslim world, the object of the game is to create a stable society based on, and enforced by, shame and honor. God is the only player who cannot be shamed, so divine word and its interpretation become pretty central to keeping the peace and preventing people's lives from being ruined by overwhelming shame.

Western society once looked a lot like this, too, but we moved slowly toward a "guilt-based" culture over the past several centuries. Not the least reason for us to do so was that a shame-based society is awfully balky and brittle when it comes to making changes. (Celtic fringe, Ancien Regime, Dixie, etc.) We could never have increased the pace of social and intellectual change to the current frenzied rate if we had kept our shame-based social "glue."

Some days I think this is far more important, even, than "Islamic Law" in determining the political complexion of Islamicate cultures. On any day, I'm sure it's impossible to understand their challenges and their prospects without tackling the shame-based nature of their cultures.

From an "entering the modern (Rationalist) world" point of view, shame is awkward, to say the least. Questions of fact, questions of morality, and even questions of material outcomes are all subordinated to questions of honor. Why? Because they're crazy? No. (Well, "yes," but no more so than anyone else, in absolute terms). Honor takes precedence over all other questions precisely because a person's life can be made literally unbearable by being shamed. Shame can, and often does, kill them. What good is it to demonstrate that you know the objectively "true" answer to some question, if, by demonstrating that truth, you shame another person -- or yourself -- so gravely that their life (or yours) is ruined? A person would have to be inhumanly courageous, cruel, or just plain stupid not to take such possible consequences into consideration when speaking and acting.

I'm not saying there can't be change in such societies, but it's often very heavy going. You have to give people time to make the necessary adjustments to new facts, new arrangements, new material conditions, and -- above all -- new relationships of power, influence, alliance, and patronage among the "honorable" parties. Change is slow, awkward, messy, and all too often very violent -- as the history of change in the West when it, too, was dependant on shame and honor for social control is sufficient to show.

In a guilt-based society, objective truth can refute or confirm a potentially ruinous accusation, while confession and atonement can remove the guilt once established. Hence our obsession with "objective truth" and "rational discourse" on the one hand, and our frequent over-valuation of "intentions" and "feelings" on the other.

In an honor-shame society, appearances count for everything. Your successes must be apparent to all if they are to add to your honor. It is more important that they be apparent than that they be "real" (in some rationalistic, objective sense). By being apparent and accepted by your fellows they *become real* -- for all "honorable" purposes. Your failures (and any lies about your successes) must be hidden, or they will shame you. There is no "guilt" to expiate, and no reason for any "atonement." Only a new success can cancel out an old failure.

When someone *else* shames you, you are stuck. You can either shame the shamer, or take a symbolic or actual revenge on them. In any case, you must hurt them in some way in order to symbolically "undo" the shame brought on you. If you cannot take revenge, you just have to live with the shame, forever diminished in the eyes of your friends and family -- who may not be too keen on sharing your shame. Now add to this a degree of sensitivity that permits a stranger 10,000 miles away to shame you utterly, even without intentional malice, and you see why Shame-Honor is an awkward foundation for civil society on a global scale.

This is where God comes in. God cannot be shamed. If you are following God, you are immune -- as long as your neighbors agree that your outward behavior constitutes "following God."

All across the Muslim world, people are *flocking* to God, seeking a haven against shame in these times of excruciating dislocation and rapid change. Outwardly devout behavior is the flavor of the month. I would guess it has little to do with anything a Westerner would understand as "piety" or "conversion" and a lot to do with seeking immunity from accusations of "shameful behavior." Although, in the Muslim world, that's a mighty fine (and possibly non-existent) distinction. Islam's strictures are all about "outward behavior."

Islam in Islamicate societies plays some very different roles than "the church" ever played in the West.

In some sense, the form of government in Islamicate societies is purely incidental, since real social control is achieved by shame and honor, the levers of which can only ever be but very partially under the control of the state.

On a brighter note, Muslims are human beings. This means, in my view, that, along with savagery and stupidity, they are also very clever and can be flexible when they need to be. I'm sure they'll find some way to make the changes that will allow them to embrace the use of reason in public life. They may have more trouble getting past their Shame/Honor social system than they will in finding a more felicitous interpretation of Islamic law, however.

As to "democracy." it's certainly compatible with shame/honor, it just gets messier under that regime (duels, beatings in the Senate, secession, ... you remember). The whole point of "democracy" has always been to let *the people who count* participate in governing their community. (Then we argue about who "counts.") Except for our own lifetimes (OK, since about maybe 1930), *all* democracies tread very carefully around religion and religious "powers." Any democracy in Islamicate cultures will do the same.

The very powerful role of religion in mediating and moderating the Shame/Honor system is, I think, the main difficulty in creating a state with real influence and authority over a *consenting* and *participating* citizenry. It's hard to create a state that has influence and authority that are entirely its own, and distinct from the influence and authority of religious law. Influence and authority require some measure of consent. If the state can't participate in the Honor/Shame game as a nearly "inviolable" player, and a crucial source of honor, it's got serious trouble. If shame does not become the penalty for a "lack of civic virtue," then democracy (in particular) has got real trouble.

Raw power has been the State response to all deficits in the past in these cultures. We'll see what they come up with in the future.

They have a mighty tough row to hoe.

Josh said...

A few points that I think are rather valuable on religions and democracy:

1) Keep in mind that the realization of a separate church and state occurred after tons of civil strife in Europe. The first place in which it really occurred was the Netherlands, for a number of important reason. Not only were the Low Countries involved in a war of religion for roughly a century, but they also ended up with a population that was not majority anything- there were more Calvinists than anything else, but they were merely a plurality. Islam has not had these factors. Furthermore, there was always a constant struggle between church and state in Europe, even as they tended to go together: the power of the Pope, a monarch in Europe separate from states, meant that rulers were often suspicious of what the Church's decrees meant. Once again, without a central religious authority, Islam has tended to be far more local and therefore far more intertwined.

2) There is, in fact, a democratic country with a system like that which some commenters have noted: Israel. In Israel, religious courts are predominant in a number of aspects of civil law, including marriage and divorce. This holds over all religions- Jews go to Rabbinical courts to have their marriages recognized, Muslims to Islamic courts, Christians to Christian courts, etc. (note that a number of people go abroad to have their weddings without religious interference, often to Cyprus; there is no civil marriage in Israel). I'm not suggesting this as a solution, as there tend to be some rather ugly and unfortunate consequences, but to suggest that religious law and democratic law cannot coexist is somewhat false.

3) Note that even within the United States, there are methods of linking religion and the state in civil cases. For a good example, google "New York State Get Law" (in quotes). You'll find a pair of laws that are designed to facilitate Orthodox Jewish divorce: the "first" law, in the case of a man initiating a civil divorce, requires that all obstacles to a woman's remarriage are removed before the divorce is granted, thus require him to give a "get" (or Jewish divorce document, which in traditional Judaism only men are allowed to give). The second is an ammendment allowing judges to take the ability to remarry into account when dealing with property allotments: if the woman initiated the civil divorce and the man refuses to grant a get, the woman can receive what is essentially monetary compensation. On a less intrusive level, it is also possible to write things like this into prenups: for example, a financial burden for the husband if he should refuse to grant the wife a certain document, which just happens to be a get. Again, this sort of thing, with lobbying or education (in the case of prenups) is something that could help a secular government still enforce some aspects of Muslim law, making Islam more compatible with democracy.

Knucklehead said...

Unfortunately (unfortunate because I don't see how we can tolerate Sharia within the US legal system) we have precedent here in the US for allowing religious communities to conduct themselves "outside" civil law.

Theoretically/legally speaking we don't seem to allow much but, at least according to the articles I'll link to, we allow significant diversion from standard civil law for, as examples, Amish, Mormon , and various other cults.

Martin Weiss said...

Wrong question

Asking whether islam is compatible with democracy is the wrong question. It is the wrong question because democracies come in all sorts of forms.

The right question is whether Islam is compatible with a sustainable system to protect the results of minorities.

Unfortunately, whatever the theoretical answer is, the empirical answer is somewhere between "no" and "maybe a little".

wfzimmerman said...

As I understand it:

The location of law in US constitutional law is the sovereign state. The source for the law's authority is the people. The US constitution is a device that allocates some of the U.S. people's legal authority to the state.

It seems reasonable that a legal system set up with similar principles could allocate some of its authority to bodies other than the state.

As other posters suggest, the problem seems to be more a practical one: is medievalist Islam compatible with democracy? So far, no.

SavingSoldier said...


According to Quraishi, people accepted that there were multiple interpreters and shopped around for someone they liked. The divergency and decentralization was not perceived as a problem. So, essentially, you're being "western" to ask the question that way

1. Isn't this the problem that Max Weber noted with qhadi justice? Between rational law and emotional law? Granted, he was trying to explain a lack of economic development, not a lack of democracy, but I think that since Weber, the political science field has generally realized that these two things are loosely linked. Anyways, the point is that if you can "shop around" and the opinions (for whatever the issue is) are divergent enough, can there even be a concept of basic, fundamental rights? How do people order their lives with no baseline (meaning the same across the state) understanding of what is legal or illegal; binding or non-binding?

Now, I think this could be resolved in Islamic cultures by having "higher" courts that the lower religious courts have to generally abide by. Apply stare decisis.

But that still leaves the problem of conflict of laws. What if the decisions of the religious courts conflict with the laws or decisions of the state courts? Which one trumps?

One way to resolve the issue may be to divide up the issues that the religious courts can resolve versus the issues that state courts resolve. The common law (vice civil law) tradition does have some experience with this - courts of law vs. courts of equity, and federalism.

Still, at some point, the two sets of laws/courts will still have conflicts, so I think that in the end you will need the equivalent of a Supreme Court that resolves the conflicts between the two sets of laws.

In the end, I agree that Islam is not inherently incompatible with democracy, but there has not been a successful Islamic and democratic system invented yet. I suspect that Iraq and Afghanistan will be one of the first to do so.


PatCA said...

Re your comments on postmodernism and academic thought, Ann, I agree. Per that dogma, accomodating fundmamentalism in hopes of defanging it is a pleasing conceit, but it has never worked.

As to reformation, Islam has no central authority, like the Vatican, so I don't think a comparable institutional "reformation" will ever take place.

However, many Muslims themselves have already "reformed" by moving to the West to live in a non-religious society, or by embracing the western concept of separation of church and state: see Lebanon, Afghanistan, hopefully soon Iraq. Intellectuals who ignore or condemn these developments because of supposed Western influence are missing the relevance boat.

Harkonnendog said...

The Jawa Report ran a statistical analysis on this question, comparing Muslim populations flows with civil rights increases and decreases and such...

The essay is here:
It is refuted here:

Dean's World has talked A LOT about this subject: is the URL for that site. Once in there you can search within that site for the posts on this subject. He runs some numbers and the results are interesting.

Anybody relaly interested in this subject should go there and check it out. Some (by no means all, nor even half) imprtant fruits of that discussion:

1. 99% of the time when Americans discuss Islam they're thinking of the Middle East when there are more Muslims OUTSIDE the ME than inside.
2. Democracy is just the means to an end- liberty. It is probably the ONLY means to that end, but the point stands. When people say democracy they really mean liberty, most of the time. 3. It is hard to talk about Islam and democracy because people usually end up talking about the ME and liberty.

That's happening a lot in this thread.

Interstingly enough nobody on either site said that democracy should be non-democratic in order to be compatible with Islam, lol.

Greg D said...

According to Quraishi, people accepted that there were multiple interpreters and shopped around for someone they liked. The divergency and decentralization was not perceived as a problem.

Sounds like "jurisdiction shopping" here in the US. In the US, that's something that is done only by the plaintif. Do both parties in the Islamic "suit" get to "mufti shop"? Only the plaintif (in whcih case, strict fundamentalism will rule)? Only the defendant (in which case, moderation will rule)?

In the US, we have "binding arbitration". We also have courts that routinely refuse to honor contracts, and overturn provisions the judges don't like, after the fact, for the strict benefit of one of the parties in a suit.

If the State can't force itself on the religious "courts" / deciders / arbitrators / whatever, i.e. if the State is not Supreme, then you do not have "Democracy", since you don't have rule by "the people", you hve rule by whoever it is who can pass and enforce rulings against the choices of the State.

If God is Supreme, and religious leaders are the final authority of what God wants, then you have a Theocracy, by definition.

"Render unto Ceaser what is Ceaser's, render unto God what is God's." An Islamic society not run on that principle, or one whose members in general believe that everything is God's, cannot be anythig other than a Theocracy.

If there is a muslim majority country anywhere in the world that is run on that principle, I'd like to hear about it.

abb3w said...

I can see the argument, and in the loosest senses of both words, "democracy" and "Islam" can be compatible.

The problem, as several others have noted, lies in the nature of the rights the culture recognizes as fundamental, that the government must not encroach upon. In England, these rights were encoded in the Magna Carta, such as rights of inheritance. In the US, additional rights were detailed in the Bill of Rights, such as the right to bear arms -- which much of the rest of the world thinks is utterly insane.

Historically, these rights (whatever they may be) are referred to as "God-given rights". Since God's intentions tend to the ineffable and the unarguable, I would say these might more exactly be called underlying cultural assumptions about the deciding circumstantial precedence for resolving essentially conflicting desires between sets of individuals... but that has two many sixty-four-dollar words for Joe Average, and lacks self-satisfying theological inarguability.

I further put forth my ignorant and uninformed opinion that much of the system of underlying rights set forth in the Koran is incompatible with many of the underlying rights widely recognized as fundamental by the Modern West. I also suspect, barring leadership of a caliber the world sees only every seven hundred to one thousand years or so, that this difference of opinion will be decided using the historical standard appeal to God to resolve such matters:Ultima Ratio Regum.

Ann Althouse said...

Greg: "Sounds like "jurisdiction shopping" here in the US. In the US, that's something that is done only by the plaintif."

As a jurisdiction teacher, I feel compelled to correct you on that point. Defendants have forum shopping tools too. They may be able to remove from state court to federal court, and they may be able to move for a transfer or to dismiss on the basis of forum non conveniens. They can also consent to personal jurisdiction or venue when it is improper, but choose to fight it when they are displeased with the choice.

james said...

The author’s main point seems straight forward. In the cause of an Islamic based democracy, the constitution is the Koran. It sets the fundamental limits on the states power and the rights of the individual. All other laws become the providence of the secular state. Of coarse this necessitates no freedom of religion, a restriction on some speech and some other items. This is, in itself, is not a very shocking concept. A nation’s constitution tends to only enshrine the rights thought important at the time of writing.

Where compatibility between Islam and a democracy breaks down is in the area of equal protection under the law. Legal religions under the Koran do not have the same rights as those of Islam. In court, a woman’s testimony does not have equal weight as a man’s. There is a mandated tax on those not following Islam. Those not following Islam are not allowed to hold as significant positions as followers of Islam. Fundamentally the Koran institutionalizes apartheid towards non believers.

jmw said...

The fundamental problem one must consider when facing the position of Islam within secular regimes is that of epistemology, or truth claims. If we view the position of Islamic scholars on a spectrum from “conservative” meaning those who insist on a literal interpretation of the Qur’an to “liberals” who may use more figurative and lenient approaches to Scripture; we find that even most of the liberals are not willing to concede that a nation must be neutral to the truth claims of every religion. Timothy Sisk summarizes the position of Islamist scholar Mumtaz Ahmad on the issue of democracy and says:
[…] the Islamist perspective of democracy does not accept the premise that truth is relative, an essential tenet of political pluralism. A secular political group that does not accept the principles of an Islamic state is not an appropriate candidate with which to share power. (Sisk 25-26)
This is the heart of the problem: how to enforce the relativity of truth on a religion and a culture that completely denies such a concept. This move towards relativity occurred over centuries in the post-Christian west, and if it ever occurs in Islamic cultures it may take an equal or greater length of time. Post-modern philosophical concepts are now dominant in Europe and the United States, relativity is almost an a priori to western intellectuals. Though many religious movements in the west would reject such relativity and claim to have access to an absolute truth, this has not motivated them to rise up against the secular order that has grown up around them. Islam however has not proved so malleable in the face of western intellectual trends.

mrsizer said...

Good discussion. Since I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, it may be that my point is implicit in what has been said, but the issue of enforcement has not been mentioned.

It doesn't matter who writes the laws, it matters who enforces them. Perhaps that what "locus" means as a term of art, but it doesn't mean that to me.

And, at least for a layman, it's not really the court system. A judge and jury can say whatever they like, but until the men with guns come, it doesn't matter.

We are a society of laws because most of us realize that, for example, signing a check is really writing a contract that will be enforced by a court backed by the armed force of the state.

If a religious court rules on stuff, it doesn't matter unless those rulings are enforced by someone. The Catholic Church is free to "rule" that catholics will burn in hell if they vote for politicians supporting abortion, but not very many American catholics that I know of much care.

P.S. I loved the comment on shame

Greg D said...

As a jurisdiction teacher, I feel compelled to correct you on that point. Defendants have forum shopping tools too.

Clearly you know more about this than I do, so I'm not going to argue with you.

But why is it that companies get stuck with so many lawsuits in "plaintif friendly" counties?

Was the rest of what I said good, bad, or irrelevant?



Aaron's cc: said...

Let there first be a single Muslim equivalent to the ACLU, where Muslim attorneys defend athiests, Jews, Christians, women, Sudanese slaves and... cartoonists are protected from the mobs.

Until the Muslim "moderate" protests are at least equal in size to the only protests we see, it is suicidal to act as if the mainstream doesn't agree with the vocal.

Dhimmi and democracy are not compatible. Let me know when the majority of Muslim clerics reprint the Koran without the words dhimmi, fatwa, dar al harb and jizya.

And does Muslim democracy give them the right to vote the existence of a Jewish Israel away?

Ann Althouse said...

Greg D said..."But why is it that companies get stuck with so many lawsuits in "plaintif[f] friendly" counties?"

Because they have enough purposeful contact with the state to lose a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, and because the lawsuit has enough connection to the county to satisby venue requirements and to avoid the granting of a motion to transfer or a motion based on forum non conveniens (that is, the inconvenience of the forum). There had been some strategic moves that were possible using class actions that permitted some of problems you're thinking of, but these were recently remedied by the Class Action Fairness Act.

As to the questions about how Muslim approaches work, I don't know.

mtrobertsattorney said...

Joel puts his finger on the problem. But the problem belongs to western democracies. Except for a few intellectuals, the notion the there is no such thing as truth will never be accepted by the general poplulation of the West. Couple this with the fact that this same population is fast losing (or has already lost) all understanding of the traditional world view and mythology that sustained western culture for centuries (i.e. the Judeo-Christian tradition), and you have a cultural vacuum. This is the situation in Europe today.

And what will fill this vacuum?
The most likely candidate is Islam. Post-modern nihilism can never compete with the world view offered by Islam.

It is the likihood of this outcome that should leave those who value the contributions of western civilization very worried.

Tanstaafl said...

alaskajack, you and your intellectuals are wrong. While you have come to the conclusion there is no truth scientists, ignorant of this "fact", have put truth to wonderful use. Their accomplishments are all around us. It enables us to communicate. To live longer. To visit distant places. And soon, unfortunately, it will permit the most depraved members of the world's most nihilistic faith, Islam, to incinerate us on scales that will surely convince even the most intellectual among us that there is indeed truth.

If Quraishi truly understands Islam, then what she says is taqiyya. You cannot have true democracy without the Rule of Law, which means there is one Law and it applies equally to all. The Koran and Sharia are likewise uncompromising, except under Sharia non-Muslims are inferior. The two systems are fundamentally incompatible. They cannot co-exist unless one or both change substantially.

mtrobertsattorney said...

Tanstaafl, I think you missed my point. Reread my post.

sbw said...

Pardon my late arrival... but:

At issue is not singularity of locus of authority but will whatever loci exist allow: 1) peaceful resolution of conflict amongst differing loci, and 2) that each locus allows a peaceful process of change that citizens can buy into.

It is well within the traditions of Islamic history (see Ibn Khaldun's "Muqaddimah ") to allow such liberty but it is seldom if ever within contemporary practice. Particularly when a misstep can result in one being labeled a heretic and threatened with penalties tougher than mere excommunication.

While personal, internal behavior is the realm of religion, Interpersonal behavior depends on rules all parties -- even those not of the faith -- can buy into.

So, yes, Islam can be compatible with democracy, but Islam may not always be compatible with government.

Tanstaafl said...

"Post-modern nihilism can never compete with the world view offered by Islam."

I didn't miss your point alaskajack. I said it was wrong and I pointed out why.

Crownfield said...

Do you want to see Quraishi's pie dreams in practice:

The following are excerpts from a television program with Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi,aired on Qatar TV on February 25, 2006. Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi is head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, president of the International Association of Muslim Scholars (IAMS), and the spiritual guide of many other Islamist organizations across the world, including the Muslim Brotherhood.


Yousef Al-Qaradhawi: "Our war with the Jews is over land, brothers. We must understand this. If they had not plundered our land, there wouldn't be a war between us."


"We are fighting them in the name of Islam, because Islam commands us to fight whoever plunders our land, and occupies our country. All the school of Islamic jurisprudence - the Sunni, the Shi'ite, the Ibadhiya - and all the ancient and modern schools of jurisprudence - agree that any invader who occupies even an inch of land of the Muslims must face resistance. The Muslims of that country must carry out the resistance, and the rest of the Muslims must help them. If the people of that country are incapable or reluctant, we must fight to defend the land of Islam, even if the local [Muslims] give it up.

"They must not allow anyone to take a single piece of land away from Islam. That is what we are fighting the Jews for. We are fighting them... Our religion commands us... We are fighting in the name of religion, in the name of Islam, which makes this Jihad an individual duty, in which the entire nation takes part, and whoever is killed in this [Jihad] is a martyr. This is why I ruled that martyrdom operations are permitted, because he commits martyrdom for the sake of Allah, and sacrifices his soul for the sake of Allah.

"We do not disassociate Islam from the war. On the contrary, disassociating Islam from the war is the reason for our defeat. We are fighting in the name of Islam."


"They fight us with Judaism, so we should fight them with Islam. They fight us with the Torah, so we should fight them with the Koran. If they say 'the Temple,' we should say 'the Al-Aqsa Mosque.' If they say: 'We glorify the Sabbath,' we should say: 'We glorify the Friday.' This is how it should be. Religion must lead the war. This is the only way we can win."


"Everything will be on our side and against Jews on [Judgment Day]; at that time, even the stones and the trees will speak, with or without words, and say: 'Oh servant of Allah, oh Muslim, there's a Jew behind me, come and kill him.' They will point to the Jews. It says 'servant of Allah,' not 'servant of desires,' 'servant of women,' 'servant of the bottle,' 'servant of Marxism,' or 'servant of liberalism'... It said 'servant of Allah.'

"When the Muslims, the Arabs, and the Palestinians enter a war, they do it to worship Allah. They enter it as Muslims. The hadith says: 'Oh Muslim.' It says 'oh Muslim,' not 'oh Palestinian, Jordanian, Syrian, or Arab nationalist.' No, it says: 'Oh Muslim.' When we enter [a war] under the banner of Islam, and under the banner of serving Allah, we will be victorious."

Fearless said...

Sunday, July 23, 2006
Anti-Israel Riot in Stockholm
Riot after Stockholm Israel protest. (Hat tip: LGF readers.)

Some 2,000 people demonstrated in central Stockholm on Saturday against Israel’s offensive in Lebanon, with two people arrested after clashes with police, police said.

The demonstration began calmly in the early afternoon at the Kungstradgarden park, with protestors waving Lebanese flags and carrying

The demonstrators then marched to the Israeli embassy, chanting slogans.

After the demonstration was formally concluded, several hundred protestors clashed with police, throwing stones and objects at police officers.

“Two people have been arrested,” a Stockholm police duty officer told AFP.