"Many minimalist Islamic theories of talking about democracy or constitutionalism begin from here: the ruler is just a human, not above the law, representative of the people, so there’s nothing religiously sensitive about knocking the ruler down to size. Now, this does come into conflict with some traditional Sunni views about never rebelling against the ruler, obeying the walī al-amr, leaving political matters to the ruler and to the scholars, but I think that even in very conservative Sunni tradition, these are two very conflicting views, and they’re not necessarily incompatible." Andrew F. March
"I’m committed to the idea that religious authority has to be able to maintain its own sphere of action, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not subject to questioning; it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to negotiate with other areas of life; it doesn’t mean that the religious positions of religious scholars are somehow unassailable, untouchable, that they can’t be questioned, that they can’t be shown to be telling lies or be morally questionable even." Caner Dagli
Recently, many Muslims have embraced democracy not only as a route to escape authoritarianism but as a political ideal. Caner Dagli and Andrew F. March focus on the themes raised in the latter’s upcoming article for Renovatio on democracy and Islam, itself inspired by March’s The Caliphate of Man: Popular Sovereignty in Modern Islamic Thought (2019). March observes that many “Islamic” theories of democracy begin by acknowledging that heads of state are fallible humans, not above God’s law. Moreover, some Muslim supporters of minimalist conceptions of democracy see it as a tool for reducing harm and corruption while others who forward more robust theories of democracy view it as a good in itself. However, ambitious theories of democracy tend to meet resistance from conservative ideas about authority and stability. March and Dagli discuss theories of democracy, how Muslims grapple with its promise as well as its baggage, and whether metaphysics can (or should) be untangled from politics. (While March raises Tunisia as an example of a succeeding Muslim democracy, please note that this podcast was recorded before the suspension of parliament and the dismissal of the prime minister.)
Andrew F. March is associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He taught for ten years in the political science department at Yale University and has taught Islamic law at both Yale and New York University law schools. His research and teaching interests are in the areas of political philosophy, Islamic law and political thought, religion, and comparative political theory. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Oxford.
Caner K. Dagli is an associate professor of religious studies at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, specializing in Qur’anic studies, interfaith dialogue, and philosophy. An editor of The Study Quran, he was among the 138 Muslim signatories of the 2007 letter “A Common Word Between Us and You,” an appeal to Christian world leaders for peace and cooperation between Christians and Muslims.
“Can We All Treat Blasphemy as Taboo?,” Andrew March, Renovatio
“Among the Disbelievers,” Andrew March, Renovatio
Islam and Liberal Citizenship: The Search for an Overlapping Consensus, Andrew F. March (Oxford University Press, 2011)
The Caliphate of Man: Popular Sovereignty in Modern Islamic Thought, Andrew F. March (Harvard University Press, 2019)