Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies

Reviewed by Faisal Kutty*

Islam, Secularism and Liberal DemocracyNineteenth-century French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that the relationship between religion and democracy in the West was the “great problem of our time.” While arguably it may be less significant in the West now, it is altogether a different matter in the Muslim world.

Canadian political scientist Nader Hashemi’s book tackles the question in historical and comparative perspective, and proposes fresh ideas on reconciling the tensions among Islam, secularism and liberal democracy. His relatively short work – a revised doctoral dissertation – argues boldly for a fundamental rethinking of the relationship that de Tocqueville presciently identified as problematic.

In the first of four chapters, Hashemi challenges the widely held beliefs that have been used to argue the incompatibility of religion and liberal democracy. He begins his deconstruction through a historical examination of the role played by religion in Western democratization. Piggy-backing on Fernand Braudel’s longue durée view of history and Michael Walzer’s work on the influence of Puritans on modernization, Hashemi extracts lessons to help understand political evolution in the Muslim world. Contrary to conventional wisdom, he argues, many of our ideals evolved out of clashes and bargaining. We should not expect otherwise from the Muslim world.

Many thinkers, including Islamists such as Rachid al Ghanoushi, have advanced such arguments. What is refreshing is Hashemi’s extensive appeal to historical examples and the work of leading Western thinkers to make the case. He provides convincing evidence that the appearance of “saints” and religious zealots during societal upheavals are historical and sociological facts. For instance, the 1534 bloody takeover by Anabaptists of the German town of Munster eerily echoes – in words and deeds – the Taliban and extremists at similar junctures in the Muslim world.

Hashemi weaves a narrative about the parallels and argues that this kind of analysis makes it possible to see links and contributions made to democratization by radical religious protest movements. Essentially, he concludes that zealots serve as midwives to the process of modernization, by acting as catalysts to unwittingly force change (cycles of regression, renewal and reform).

The second chapter focuses on Locke’s use of religion in support of democracy. “For obedience is due in the first place to God, and afterwards to the Laws,” is a statement attributed not to an Ayatollah, but to John Locke, a pre-eminent thinker – if not the father – of modern liberalism. Today, secularists as well as pro- and anti-democracy Islamists in the Muslim world all rely on interpretations of religious sources (what Hashemi calls “dueling scriptures”). Indeed, it is illustrative that conservatives and reformists alike in Iran, for instance, employ Islamic rhetoric.

Chapter three contends that some form of secularism is assumed to be a sine quo non of liberal democracy and herein lays the most difficult tension. Hashemi does not challenge this, but he notes that secularism in the West is associated with positive developments. Many Muslims, on the other hand, associate it with the colonial/imperialist agenda, oppressive regimes and hostility to religion as exemplified by the more rigid (French) laïcité version. What needs to be defined, Hashemi asserts, is the precise relationship between secularism and liberal democracy. He suggests, echoing others, that there is considerable latitude in the form of secularism.

Hashemi sees an opportunity in this flexibility to use Alfred Stepan’s groundbreaking concept of “twin tolerations.” The idea that religious institutions and the state must recognize and respect “the minimum boundaries of freedom of action” is at the core of this paradigm. Hashemi maintains that this form of mutual accommodation (a more tolerable secularism) may be more palatable.

The book’s most valuable contribution may be in constructing the case for an indigenized version of secularism by building on Stepan’s model, one based on an organic socio-cultural reformation of Islamic thought. The case studies from Iran, Turkey and Indonesia reveal that there is robust debate on reformulating religious political thought from within, in a manner preserving doctrinal legitimacy.

Hashemi’s sustained and persuasive arguments forcefully challenge the essentialized and ahistorical – albeit popular – “clash” and “Islamic exceptionalism” arguments championed by, among others, Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis, who see no hope for Islam.

Obviously, any book – particularly one advancing controversial arguments – is open to criticism. Indeed, both liberals and Islamists may have a field day with it. For some liberals, Hashemi may concede too much ground to religion. Similarly, some Islamists will dispute the book’s underlying premise that a secular liberal democratic paradigm is the only acceptable governance model. Moreover, some may see the “twin tolerations” as mere rhetorical obfuscation or even a Trojan horse.

Hashemi, who teaches at the University of Denver, may also attract criticism for too readily conceding to arguments regarding the alleged inherent doctrinal irreconcilability between Sharia and liberal democracy. Ironically, consistent with his calls for reform, there is a growing body of work advancing the view that the doctrines of shura (consultation), ijma (consensus), millet (community system), maslaha (public interest), ijtihad (independent reasoning) and maqasid al sharia (higher purposes), among others, may all be employable in democratization as well as the pursuit of the rule of law and other such ideals. In all fairness, Hashemi did not set out to grapple with these issues.

The fresh ideas and possibilities for debate make this book a must read for anyone interested in global politics. Though at times they are highly theoretical, Hashemi makes his views accessible by setting out a road map of what he proposes to argue, then summarizing his arguments and conclusions at the end of each chapter.

Hashemi’s book is undoubtedly a weighty contribution on the question of Islam and democracy, one of the “great problems of our time.”

* Faisal Kutty is a lawyer, academic, writer, public speaker and human rights activist. He taught at Valparaiso University Law School in Indiana and Osgoode Hall Law School. He is considered to be one of the world’s most influential Muslims:

** This article is published in the Globe and Mail, Canada:


  1. I loved as much as you’ll receive carried out right here.
    The sketch is attractive, your authored material stylish.
    nonetheless, you command get got an nervousness over that you
    wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come more formerly again as exactly the same nearly very often inside case you shield this hike.

  2. Great blog! Do you have any tips and hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m hoping to start my own site soon but I’m a little
    lost on everything. Would you advise starting with a
    free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out
    there that I’m totally overwhelmed .. Any tips?
    Bless you!

    Feel free to surf to my homepage; lpe88 online

  3. Heⅼlo І am so delighted I fοund your website, I really found you by mistake, while
    I was searching on Aοl for ѕomething else, Nonetheleess I аam here now and
    would just like to say cheers for a fantaѕtic post and a alll rond
    intеresting Ƅlog (I also lߋve the theme/design), I dⲟn’t
    have time to read through it ɑⅼl aat thhe moment bᥙt I have bօokmarked it
    and also added in your RSS feeds, sso when I have tiume I wiⅼl be baack to read a loot moгe, Please
    do keep up the superb job.

  4. It’s perfect time to make some plans for the future and
    it’s time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I desire to suggest you few
    interesting things or tips. Maybe you could write next articles referring to this article.
    I desire to read even more things about it!

    Here is my blog … slot game calibet

  5. Y᧐ou can definitеly see your skills within tһe work you write.
    Thhe arena h᧐pes for even more passіonate writers like yyou
    who are not afrai to sɑy how they believe. All the time follow yoսjr heart.

  6. I wanted to thank you one more time for the amazing site you have developed here.
    It truly is full of useful tips for those who are really
    interested in this kind of subject, specifically this very post.

    You’re really all actually sweet and also thoughtful of others and
    also reading your blog posts is a good delight if you
    ask me. And that of a generous reward! Ben and I really have enjoyment making use of your recommendations in what we need to do in the near future.
    Our list is a kilometer long and tips might be put to fine use.

    Also visit my website ::

  7. I had been honored to obtain a call from a friend
    immediately he discovered the important recommendations shared on the site.
    Examining your blog article is a real fantastic experience.
    Many thanks for thinking about readers much like me, and I want for you the best
    of achievements being a professional in this domain.

    Also visit my website …

  8. Does your site have a contact page? I’m having trouble locating it but,
    I’d like to shoot you an email. I’ve got some creative ideas
    for your blog you might be interested in hearing.

    Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it expand over time.

    my blog … ok388apk ios

  9. I feel that is one of the most vital info for me. And i’m glad studying your
    article. However wanna remark on some normal issues, The website taste is ideal,
    the articles is really excellent : D. Just right task, cheers

    Have a look at my homepage … ace333 slot game

  10. Hey! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering
    if you knew where I could get a captcha plugin for my
    comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m
    having difficulty finding one? Thanks a lot!

    my web site :: ok388 download pc (Bobbye)

  11. Thanks a ton for being my instructor on this matter.
    My spouse and i enjoyed the article very much and most of all preferred the way you handled the areas I regarded as controversial.

    You are always rather kind towards readers much like me and aid
    me in my lifestyle. Thank you.

    Also visit my web page – Cleveland

  12. Needed to put you the very little remark so as to say thanks a lot the moment again just for the marvelous principles you’ve
    shown on this site. It was pretty open-handed of people like you to provide extensively what exactly numerous people could possibly have sold
    for an ebook to make some cash for themselves,
    certainly since you could have tried it if you decided.
    The creative ideas additionally served to be the great way
    to be sure that many people have the identical desire really like
    my own to figure out a whole lot more regarding this matter.

    I am sure there are a lot more enjoyable sessions
    in the future for individuals who see your site.

    Here is my web page :: Jibe CBD

  13. An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a
    friend who was conducting a little homework on this.
    And he actually ordered me dinner due to the fact that I found it for him…
    lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!!
    But yeah, thanks for spending the time to talk about this issue here on your blog.

    Take a look at my site … Vital Max XL Reviews

  14. Undeniably believe that which you said. Your favorite
    reason appeared to be on the internet the simplest thing to be aware of.
    I say to you, I definitely get irked while people think about worries that they just don’t know about.
    You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole
    thing without having side-effects , people could take a signal.

    Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

    Feel free to visit my website Filomena

  15. Thanks for some other informative website. Where else could I get that type of information written in such a perfect approach?
    I’ve a project that I am simply now operating on, and I have been at the glance
    out for such information.

    my web page;

  16. Great ? I should certainly pronounce, impressed with
    your website. I had no trouble navigating through
    all tabs as well as related info ended up being truly easy to do to access.
    I recently found what I hoped for before you know it at all.
    Reasonably unusual. Is likely to appreciate it for those who add forums or
    something, site theme . a tones way for your customer to communicate.
    Nice task.

    My site ::;u=3204

  17. Hello! Quick question that’s totally off topic. Do you know
    how to make your site mobile friendly? My web site looks weird when viewing from
    my iphone4. I’m trying to find a template or plugin that
    might be able to correct this problem. If you have any
    recommendations, please share. Thank you!

    My web site:

  18. I loved as much as you will receive carried out right here.

    The sketch is tasteful, your authored material stylish.
    nonetheless, you command get bought an nervousness over that you wish be delivering
    the following. unwell unquestionably come more formerly again since exactly
    the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this hike.

    Here is my web-site … Cognifen

  19. I comment when I like a article on a blog or I have something to add
    to the conversation. Usually it’s triggered by the passion communicated in the article I browsed.
    And after this article Islam, Secularism and Liberal Democracy
    – ILN. I was moved enough to post a leave a responsea response ;
    -) I do have 2 questions for you if it’s okay. Is it only me or does it appear like
    some of these comments look like written by brain dead visitors?
    😛 And, if you are writing on additional sites, I’d like to follow everything fresh you have to post.
    Would you make a list all of all your social pages
    like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

    My blog post … Naked CBD Gummies

  20. I think what you wrote made a great deal of sense.
    But, what about this? suppose you added a little information? I am not suggesting your
    content isn’t solid., but what if you added a post title to
    possibly get folk’s attention? I mean Islam, Secularism and Liberal Democracy –
    ILN is a little vanilla. You should peek at Yahoo’s
    home page and watch how they write article headlines to get
    viewers to open the links. You might add a related video or a picture or two to grab people interested about everything’ve got to say.

    Just my opinion, it could make your website a little livelier.

    My web blog; Radical Slim Keto Review

  21. Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thanks, However I am experiencing issues with your RSS.
    I don’t understand the reason why I am unable to
    subscribe to it. Is there anybody else getting identical RSS issues?
    Anyone who knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanx!!

    Here is my site … QuadAir Drone Reviews

  22. Thanks so much pertaining to giving everyone an update on this subject
    matter on your site. Please realize that if a brand-new post becomes available or if perhaps any modifications occur
    on the current posting, I would be thinking about reading more and finding out how to
    make good use of those techniques you share. Thanks for your time and consideration of other people by making this website

    Take a look at my blog post Bionic Ultrasonic Pest Repeller Review

  23. Have you ever thought about publishing an ebook
    or guest authoring on other sites? I have a blog based on the same subjects you discuss and would really like to have
    you share some stories/information. I know my audience
    would appreciate your work. If you’re even remotely interested,
    feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

    My homepage;

  24. hello!,I love your writing very a lot! share we keep up a correspondence extra about your post on AOL?
    I need a specialist on this area to solve my problem.
    Maybe that’s you! Looking forward to peer you.

    Also visit my blog; Steffen

  25. You’ve made some good points there. I checked on the
    internet to learn more about the issue and found most people will go along with your views
    on this web site.

    Here is my site: XTRM Life Keto Review (Shalanda)

  26. Hello terrific blog! Does running a blog like this take a lot of work?
    I’ve very little understanding of programming however I was hoping to start my own blog
    soon. Anyways, should you have any ideas or techniques for new blog owners please share.
    I understand this is off subject but I just had to ask.

    my page Radical Slim Keto

  27. Hi there great blog! Does running a blog such as this
    require a massive amount work? I’ve very little knowledge of programming but I was hoping to start my own blog soon.
    Anyhow, if you have any recommendations or techniques for new blog owners please share.
    I know this is off topic but I simply needed to ask.

  28. Right here is the perfect blog for anybody who wishes to find out about this topic.

    You realize a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I personally would want to?HaHa).
    You certainly put a fresh spin on a subject which has been discussed for ages.

    Wonderful stuff, just great!

    Feel free to surf to my page: Gorges Cream Reviews

  29. I would like to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this website.
    I am hoping the same high-grade website post from you in the upcoming as well.
    In fact your creative writing abilities has encouraged
    me to get my own website now. Actually the blogging is spreading its wings quickly.

    Your write up is a great example of it.

    Here is my homepage :: Sage Elixir

  30. First off I would like to say superb blog! I had a quick question in which
    I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear
    your mind before writing. I’ve had a tough time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out there.
    I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes
    are wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints?
    Thank you!

    Review my web-site …

  31. I will right away grasp your rss feed as I can’t in finding your email subscription hyperlink or
    newsletter service. Do you have any? Kindly let me understand in order that I
    may subscribe. Thanks.

    Feel free to visit my web page …

  32. Excellent blog here! Also your site loads up very fast!
    What web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host?
    I wish my web site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

    Also visit my website ::

  33. I do not even know how I finished up here, but I believed this post
    was once good. I don’t recognize who you might be but
    definitely you’re going to a well-known blogger should you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

    Feel free to surf to my web-site – Slimingo Keto

  34. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this submit used to
    be great. I don’t recognize who you’re but definitely you’re going to
    a well-known blogger in case you aren’t
    already 😉 Cheers!

    Here is my web site –

  35. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t
    appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless,
    just wanted to say great blog!

  36. Its such as you learn my thoughts! You appear to know a lot approximately this, like you wrote the e-book in it or
    something. I feel that you just can do with a few percent to force the message home a bit, however instead of that, this is excellent blog.

    A great read. I will certainly be back.

    Here is my page Prime Naturals Cream

  37. 1Xbit Casino is a superior quality online casino that gives a range of different games for players to select from
    at any time. The company was established in January of this year and has already established lots
    of opportunity in the gambling world, thanks to its unique approach.
    This is an online casino whose aim is to offer its clients
    with a highly personal service, whilst ensuring which they enjoy playing here and making the best utilization of the casino’s facilities.
    If you are looking for an online casino with a selection of different games to supply,
    but by having an incredible customer care and a lot of exciting bonuses and promotions, then your 1Xbit casino is your best selection for you.

  38. My coder is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP.
    I have always disliked the idea because of the costs.
    But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type on a number of websites for about a year and am worried about switching to another platform.
    I have heard fantastic things about Is there a way I can import
    all my wordpress posts into it? Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated!

    Feel free to visit my website: Greener Earth CBD Oil

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment