Liberal Democracy and Political Islam: the Search for Common Ground.

Mostapha Benhenda

This paper seeks to establish a dialogue between democratic and Islamic political theories.1 The interplay between them is puzzling: for example, in order to explain the relationship existing between democracy and their conception of the ideal Islamic political
regime, the Pakistani scholar Abu ‘Ala Maududi coined the neologism “theodemocracy” whereas the French scholar Louis Massignon suggested the oxymoron “secular theocracy”. These expressions suggest that some aspects of democracy are evaluated positively and others are judged negatively. For example, Muslim scholars and activists often endorse the principle of accountability of rulers, which is a defining feature of democracy. On the contrary, they often reject the principle of separation between religion and the state, which is often considered to be part of democracy (at least, of democracy as known in the United States today). Given this mixed assessment of democratic principles, it seems interesting to determine the conception of democracy underlying Islamic political models. In other words, we should try to find out what is democratic in “theodemocracy”. To that end, among the impressive diversity and plurality of Islamic traditions of normative political thought, we essentially focus on the broad current of thought going back to Abu ‘Ala Maududi and the Egyptian intellectual Sayyed Qutb.8 This particular trend of thought is interesting because in the Muslim world, it lies at the basis of some of the most challenging oppositions to the diffusion of the values originating from the West. Based on religious values, this trend elaborated a political model alternative to liberal democracy. Broadly speaking, the conception of democracy included in this Islamic political model is procedural. With some differences, this conception is inspired by democratic theories advocated by some constitutionalists and political scientists.10 It is thin and minimalist, up to a certain point. For example, it does not rely on any notion of popular sovereignty and it does not require any separation between religion and politics. The first aim of this paper is to elaborate this minimalist conception. We make a detailed restatement of it in order to isolate this conception from its moral (liberal) foundations, which are controversial from the particular Islamic viewpoint considered here. Indeed, the democratic process is usually derived from a principle of personal autonomy, which is not endorsed by these Islamic theories.11 Here, we show that such principle is not necessary to justify a democratic process.
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