Berkley Center – Islam and Liberal Democracy

Sherman Jackson


Channel: Sherman Jackson

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The importance of recognizing the meaning given to " leg maturity" in the context of the discussion is emphasized, along with the need to distinguish between " legworthiness" and " leg maturity" in the context of the discussion. The speaker discusses the importance of being careful about the meaning given to " leg maturity" in the context of the discussion, as liberalization is a problem and the focus is on tacit consensus. The speaker suggests that while political accomplishments may be possible, it is not possible to improve on those, and the static and unchanging rule of Islamic law is a fundamental fundamental rule.

Transcript ©

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Well, I almost want to say thank you very much for inviting me to come before this audience and undertake a virtually impossible task of summarizing in five minutes, the ultimate solution to the issue of the modern Muslim world. What I'd like to do, I think, though, however, is tried to at least sort of contextualize, or frame what I anticipate to be the debate itself.

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Such that my comments that may emerge during the question and answer period, may actually take on the meaning that the meanings that are intended by them, I want to start off by saying the following I think that when we come to the question of Islam, and liberal democracy,

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I think we have to be very careful about distinguishing between Islam on the one hand as religion and the Arab Middle East, on the other hand, I think there is a tendency, often to conflate the two, and to imagine that whatever possibilities may seem feasible out of the Arab Middle East, than they are the equivalent of the possibilities of Islam. Whereas in point of fact, if other traditionally, Muslim communities were contemplated as the focal point of the discussion, we may come out with a very different set of possibilities.

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Beyond that, I also want to speak in my own capacity as a Western convert to Islam. And I say that only to say the following. And that is that part of what I see as being the problem of discussing the whole topic of Islam and democracy, is that there is this presumption that every single aspect of Islam has always been dictated by Scripture. Whereas in point of fact, scripture has not simply served as a dictator of institutions, but rather as a filter through which pre existing institutions, pre existing values, pre existing ideas and ways of doing things are either accepted or rejected, ie they are assessed, and therefore coming to Islam from a Western background for whom

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democratic sensibilities in general, come very naturally. The the the segue into a discussion about democracy, for me, may be very different for someone who comes from a different background. And I think we need to be very careful about which background we give priority to in terms of what we consider to be a normative discussion of the issue of Islam and democracy. So there's a very real sense in which we need to recognize that articulations of Islam are and have been throughout the history of Islam, very jaded, and multiple. And the histories of Muslim communities are also very jaded and multiple. And I think we have to be very careful about which of these articulations and

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which of these histories we're using as a template, when we come to the discussion of Islam and democracy. Now, having said that much I mean, my own personal sense is that there is a growing and potentially irreversible, sort of tacit consensus emerging in various parts of the Muslim world, or regard with regard to the overall desirability and the

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permissibility. I shouldn't say permissibility, but the the extent the compatibility between the broad parameters and outlines of Islam and democracy. I think the big question arises when we add that adjective, liberal democracy, because I think that

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there again, there's a tendency to conflate democracy with liberal democracy, democracy itself, I don't think you'll find it very much met very minimal, some communities today, who are not insistent upon a greater accountability on the part of those who happen to wield power in society. Liberal Democracy, however, brings along with it, other kinds of instrumentalities that may, or at least are perceived to pose certain problems for religious discourse. I mean,

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and Muslims aren't the only ones who feel this. I mean, we can talk about people like McIntyre and any other number of communitarians and others who have certain misgivings about the relationship between liberalism and certain communitarian modalities of collective being. So I think that we need to distinguish between democracy on the one hand and liberal democracy on on the other

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The third point that I want to make, and there are only four is

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that we we need to. And I think that Professor nyeem sort of alluded to this, at least in part, although I'm not sure we

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mean this in the very same way. But

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the notion that Islamic law is static and unchanging on the one hand, and on the other hand, that secular processes of reasoning, of assessing reality, of assessing interest and harms, is some kind of newfangled aspect that is being superimposed on Islamic discourse from without. That is not the case. It has always been the case, that while scripture has been the database upon which Muslims have attempted to contemplate their transcendent meanings, and how they are to be translated into a lived reality, that very process has always been mediated by secular forms of reason. Indeed, there is no Koranic reason, per se. And this is very clear in all of the various variations that you get

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in Islamic law. It's clear in all the variety you get in Muslim, a theology, secular modalities of reasoning have always come in competition, one with the other in the context of contemplating the meaning of Islam on the ground. Related to this, is the fact that there are any number of aspects of life that have always been a part of the realm of sort of discretionary assessment. And just to make a very long story short, and try and keep within my time,

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while Islamic law, for example, may establish as a value,

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the physical health and well being of all individuals, Islamic law, per se, has very little to say about health care, as a policy issue, that issue would have to be debated out, it would have to be assessed on the merits, it would have to be calibrated according to certain principles and parameters of Islamic law. But the Quran does not have any dictate with regard to whether a health plan health care plan should or should not have a public option, all of those issues would have to be debated. And this is the way that it's always been, I think, if we, if we look at the state of Arabian society upon the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and then just a couple of centuries later,

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we look at just the table of contents of the standard manuals of Islamic law, we will find all kinds of added institutions that were not around at the time of the prophet that are added to the edifice of Islamic law as staple

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issues upon which legal contemplations should proceed. And there is no reason why that why that should have to stop. Take for example, again, Dr. nyeem, talked about the caliphate of Abu Bakr, Umar and

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Uthman and ally, etc. At the time of those 4k lifts, and they are after the Prophet Muhammad, there was no such institution as the Sultanate. The sultanate didn't come about for another 400 years or so. And yet the Sultanate emerges as a sort of semi permanent institution in Islam throughout the pre Modern Period. My point being here is that Islamic law, Islamic religious contemplation has always been open to evolutionary to evolutionary

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development. And finally, I just want to say this, that one of the things that concerns me about the, the manner in which this whole discussion about the relationship between Islam and democracy precedes is that, to my mind, at least, it sort of assumes the sort of Francis Fukuyama thesis about the end of history and there and therefore, there is nothing to contemplate, beyond liberal democracy. As a modality of political organization for modern for modern communities, I would like to challenge us to do two things, to be a bit more imaginative, and to imagine that there might be ways in which we may be actually able to improve on a political organization on the one hand, and

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then to imagine what Islam might have to protect or to contribute to that very to that very possibility. And I think that one of the

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steps stones to that potential realisation would be not simply to look at all that liberal democracy has achieved, but rather take a more honest and objective look at some of the failings of liberal democracy.

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Thank you very much