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Islam & Democracy Project

PI: Said Arjomand

Outside the West, constitutionalism appeared for the first time in the Muslim world, with the Tunisian constitution of 1861 and Ottoman constitution of 1876, which predate that of Japan, followed by the Iranian constitution of 1906. The relation between Islam and democracy and the constitutional rule of law is currently among the most hotly debated in the Muslim world where recent constitutional developments include the extensive liberal amendments to the Indonesian Constitution of 1945 between 1999 and 2002 carried out, significantly, by the leaders of the two largest Islamic popular organizations in the world. The history of the century and a half of constitutionalism in the Near East shows a significant range of variation in the placing of Islam in the constitutional order and in relation to democratic government. Yet this variation and constitutional history itself are largely ignored in the current superficial and ideological debates on Islam and democracy and their alleged mutual incompatibility.

Very broadly speaking, we have an early phase of liberal constitutionalism, followed by the era of ideological constitution-making, and finally the current return to the rule of law and post-ideological constitutionalism. The conception of the place of the shari’a (Islamic law) in the constitutional order is crucial for the definition of Islamic constitutionalism, but it was not a constant and will in fact be shown to vary considerably from one period to the next. The discussions of Islam in relation to women and human rights have varied accordingly, and even more significantly. The exploration of these critical variations, and of the other aspects of relation between Islam and democracy in historical perspective define the objectives of this Project.

The first “Islam and Democracy Project” conference is on “Constitutionalism, the Rule of Law and the Politics of Administration in Egypt and Iran.” It will be hosted by the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Onati, Spain, May 28-30, 2009. [Link]

For the subsequent years, we plan conferences and a year-long lecture series at the Stony Brook Institute for Global Studies on the following topics:

  • Constitutional History of the Muslim World
  • Patterns of State-Building, Modernization and Authoritarianism
  • Islamic Constitutionalism in Historical Perspective
  • Islamic Reformism and Democratization
  • Islamism, the Shari’a and ‘the Islamic State’
  • Islam, Women and Human Rights
  • Obstacles to Democratization in the Contemporary Muslim World

Selected papers from the conferences and lecture series will, as a rule, be published in the proposed SBIGS monograph series with State University of New York Press.

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