Scholars Examine Compatibility

Scholars Examine Compatibility

The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), at its fourth annual conference in Washington May 16-17, examines the possibilities democracy holds to remedy the political, economic and social ills besetting the Arab and Muslim countries.

The conference, entitled Why Democracy and Why Now, is part of CSID”s efforts to “produce scholarship that clarifies what extent such Western principles are halal (permissible) from a strictly Islamic standpoint,” said CSID President and founder Radwan Masmoudi.

Why Democracy addresses the question of whether democracy would “be helpful to solve some of the problems, especially political but also economic and social, in the Muslim world,” according to Masmoudi. Why Now relates to the “sense of urgency and the timing,” he said.

Keynote speakers for the conference include Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights Lorne Craner. Abdelaziz Sachedina, author of “Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism,” and Zainah Anwar, executive director of the Sisters in Islam organization, will also give keynote addresses.

Masmoudi said the “most notable” speaker is Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a leading democracy advocate in Egypt, who was recently released from jail. Ibrahim “will talk about how we move forward,” Masmoudi said.

“There is a general consensus in the region that we need democracy. The question is how to implement it and what is the best way to move forward,” Masmoudi said.

“Muslims should not feel that they have to choose between Islam and democracy because that is a false premise. I believe that democracy is fully compatible with Islam. Not only compatible, I believe it is required by Islam,” Masmoudi said.

CSID was founded in March 1999 by a diverse group of academicians, professionals, and activists — both Muslim and non-Muslim — from around the United States. CSID”s mission to help the mainstream American community and policymakers” understanding of Islam”s approach towards individual freedom, civil rights, and political pluralism, according to the CSID website (

Masmoudi was scheduled to give the opening remarks, followed by a series of panel discussions examining various aspects of promoting democracy in the Arab and Muslim countries.

The first panel, “The Role of Women and Gender in the Governance of Muslim States,” includes “a number of speakers and scholars both Muslim and non-Muslim who will speak about issues such as women”s rights in Islam,” said Masmoudi. Discussions within this topic will address Islam”s role in overcoming gender barriers and include a case study of Pakistan.

The second panel, entitled “The Two Cities – Religious and Secular in Governance of the Muslim Peoples,” will discuss the historical Muslim city, the role of religion in Muslim public life, and sources of authority in political decision-making.

The third panel will convene to discuss a “Critical Assessment of Islamic Resources and their Appropriateness for Building Democratic Institutions.” Discussion topics include post-colonial Islam, challenges and opportunities of Islamic democracy and Islamic political theology today.

The fourth panel, “Ijtihad and Its Application in Providing Cultural Legitimization to Democracy,” is scheduled May 17. Ijtihad is a “re-interpretation of Islamic text and teachings according to the changing needs of the society,” says Masmoudi.

The fifth and final panel is entitled “The Urgency of Dialogue and Cooperation between the Traditional and Modern Institutions for a New Political Discourse.” The participants will discuss such topics as terrorism, civil rights and discrimination, as well as non-violent resistance in Islamic tradition.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: