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Pluralism, Consensus, Human Rights, and Civil Disobedience in Islam: An Early Model of Democratic Culture

  • Author(s): Brown, Robert Bruce
  • Advisor(s): Laursen, Chris
  • et al.
Abstract

This thesis will attempt to demonstrate that Islamic political thought developed democratic features and embraced concepts of universal human rights long before these features were evident in the west. By surveying Islamic religious, philosophical, and juridical records, it will attempt to determine whether the single over-arching theme of religious exclusivism has remained constant in Islamic literature (fundamentally alienating east from west), or whether concepts have been debated, modified, and incorporated in a dynamic way that reveals Islam as an evolutionary concept, rather than a rigid set of religious precepts, that is capable of producing a political process predicated on pluralism, consensus, respect for human rights, and toleration of civil disobedience. Samuel Huntington may be entirely correct that liberal democracy as it is understood in the west will never be derived from an Islamic ideology. However, we shall ask if Islam could provide a conceptual framework from which a non-western liberal democratic theory (one that retains the unique features of Islamic ideology) may be constructed, given time?

Huntington seems to ignore the ways in which western liberal democracy emerged throughout centuries of social conflict and challenges to time-honored culturally nurtured institutions. Similarly, Islam's culture stretches back for more than a millennium, and has undergone its own transformations. Were there periods of time in which the philosophic debate in Islam incorporated ideas that have nurtured democratic process? Is there evidence that Islamic ideology, like any other ideology, has been subject to alternative interpretations? In short, are Islamic religious beliefs flexible and can they express a genuinely Islamic brand of democratic culture? In this regard, there need not be extensive comparison with western democratic theory, either in the establishment of a "democratic culture", the debate regarding the normative understanding of rights (and their sources), or the implementation of a democratic process. It will suffice merely to examine the textual evidence and glean from it what Islamic scholars themselves debated.

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