Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

An Islamic Democracy? The Compatibility of Political Islam and Liberal Democracy
by Staarmann, Birgitta, M.A., The American University of Paris (France), 2013, 76; 10305839
Abstract (Summary)

In the last decades, political scientists, came up with several theories explaining the democratic underachievement in the MENA region, some of which follow an essentialist approach, which singles out Islam as the obstacle for democracy in Muslim-majority countries. With a view to the Islamic revival which emerged in the 1970s and lasts until today, this theory of an incompatibility of Islam with democracy is of particular relevance, especially considering the current political transformations of the “Arab Spring” which opened a window for political change in a number of countries.

This dissertation aims to answer the question, whether political Islam is compatible with liberal democracy by conceptualizing their relation thoroughly and by comparing them in a comprehensive and systematic fashion.

For the analysis, three main ideological currents of political Islam will be distinguished: conservatism, revivalism and reformism. With a focus on the latter two, the investigation continues by comparing moral autonomy, the Western philosophical justification for rule by the people, with the Islamic doctrine “viceregency of man”. Subsequently, the compatibility with the essential conditions of the realist and of the liberal understanding of democracy will be explored.

The analysis will show that political Islam is not inherently incompatible with liberal democracy. Revivalists and reformists, in contrast to conservatives, both advocate a flexible re-interpretation (ijtihad) of the Islamic sources considering their historical context. Revivalists, however, stress communitarian values such as solidarity, unity and community and reject the liberal individualism. Revivalism, therefore, displays a tendency to restrict individual liberties for all citizens. Furthermore, they partially exclude women and non-Muslims from political participation and from a number of civil liberties, resulting in revivalism being undemocratic, unequal and illiberal. Reformism, on the other hand, interprets shari'ah so as to accommodate participation, competition, equality and individual rights, making it entirely compatible with liberal democracy.

Keywords: Political Islam; Democracy; Liberalism; Islamism; Moral Autonomy

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hagel, Peter
Commitee: Beardsworth, Richard
School: The American University of Paris (France)
Department: International Affairs
School Location: France
Source: MAI 56/02M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Islamic Studies, Political science
Keywords: Islam, Liberal democracy, Moral autonomy
Publication Number: 10305839
ISBN: 9781369494037
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