Political Islam and Democracy – What do Islamists and Islamic Movements want?

Political Islam and Democracy – What do Islamists and Islamic Movements want?

The term “Islamist” today is mostly popularly connected in the Western mind with theocracy, disregard for human rights, and hostility towards the West. It is used indiscriminately to describe various religiously-inspired political movements in a broad swath of the Muslim world which is internally culturally, socially, ethnically and, to an extent, religiously diverse. The broad application of this term in this manner thus collapses a range of views among groups loosely labeled as Islamist. “Hard-line” Islamists who reject Western-style democracy outright, for example, need to be distinguished from “moderate” Islamists who are willing to be accommodating of democratic political participation.

In the past 10 or 15 years, many Islamic movements have in fact become strong advocates of democracy, but still have vague interpretations of what democracy means. Does democracy – in their view – include equal rights for non-Muslims and secularists? Does it include equal rights for women? How do they reconcile the basic concept of democracy (rule of the people, by the people, and for the people) with their understanding of “divine sovereignty” (al-Hakimiyya)? Will Islamists and Islamic movements respect the right of the people to change their governments or to pass legislation that appear to contradict traditional interpretations of the Sharia? These moderate Islamist parties are gaining in popularity, but are they capable of providing effective solutions to the social and political problems of the Arab and Muslim world? Should the US and the West engage such moderate Islamists, or should we try to exclude them from the political process in their countries by making “secularism” a pre-condition for political activism?

The Ninth annual conference of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) will be devoted to exploring the complexities of this highly important topic today in the context of democracy and democratization in these diverse Muslim-majority societies. Paper proposals are invited from prospective participants on the following five broad topics. Possible topics are not restricted to the ones that follow but proposals must establish their relevance in general to the issues of democracy and democratization processes in the Islamic world:

1. What do the main Islamic parties from Morocco to Indonesia say about democracy, human rights, equality, and rule of law? Do they believe in implementing sharia laws, and if so, what is their understanding of the shari”a and how do they intend to implement such laws?

2. Are Islamist movements capable of generating interpretations of Islamic law so as to promote a democratic political culture and pluralist civil society? If so, where have they succeeded in doing so, and how can these experiences and views be replicated in other parts of the Muslim world?

3. Should the US, Europe, and the West engage these moderate Islamists in a dialogue and encourage them to participate in peaceful political movements and processes? Can broad coalitions between moderate Islamists and secularists be built to support moderation and peaceful democratization in the Muslim world?

4. How has the rise of political Islam or Islamism in late twentieth century affected the rights of women and religious minorities in Muslim majority societies?

5. How can moderate Islamist movements be harnessed to promote gender rights and the equality of citizens today? What is the spectrum of views now current among these groups in various parts of the Islamic world?

6. Has the current exclusion of Islamist groups in general from the broader political dialogue in the Middle East, for example, adversely affected the process of democratization in the region?

Both broad theoretical studies and specific case studies are welcome.

Paper proposals (no more than 400 words) are due by February 20, 2008 and should be sent to:

Prof. Asma Afsaruddin
Chair, Conference Program Committee
1625 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 601,
Washington, D.C. 20036.
Tel.: (202) 265-1200. Fax: (202) 265-1222.
[email protected]

Authors of accepted proposals will be notified by March 1, 2008 and final papers must be submitted by April 1, 2008.

Selected panelists and speakers must cover their own travel and accommodations to participate in the conference, and pay the conference registration fee ($100) by April 1. CSID will waive the conference registration fees and provide an honorarium of $300 for speakers and panelists coming from overseas to present their papers.