Understanding Islam and its impact on Latin America (CADRE Paper No. 21)

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Back Matter Pages Editors and affiliations. It should also be noted that this is not only an empirical prescription but also a normative definition. Adherents of secularization thesis believed that religion will lose its importance as modernity evolves, but also they believed that this secularization process is a pre-requisite for democratization. The same years also witnessed to a "wave of democratization" throughout the globe.

The almost simultaneous rise of both religion and democratization did not only challenge the orthodox modernization and secularization thesis empirically, it also brought a more nuanced theoretical discussions for the compatibility of religious discourse with democratization. Many scholars pointed to the fact that a whole scale secularization of societies is not necessary for democratization and religions may continue to play a public role without essentially harming the democratization experience.

Moreover, some scholars pointed to the fact that "public religions" [1] may be an inductive instrument of democratic transition See Casanova, This was most supported by the crucial role Catholic Church has played throughout the third wave of democratization. Indeed, the third wave is also labeled a "Catholic wave" See Huntington, ; Philpot, However, the Islamic world seems to constitute an exception to the convergence of religion and democratization as the third wave of democratization had largely missed the Islamic world.

This paper will analyze the debates on the compatibility of Islam and democracy. It will, first, discuss different aspects of Islamic theory that can be relevant with discussions on democratization. Then, it will take a look at the empirical picture in the Islamic world in general and the Middle East in particular. After pointing to the actual situation of Islamic countries with regard to their degrees of democratization, it will finally analyze a current phenomenon in Turkey, Justice and Development Party JDP.

JDP will be analyzed within the discussions of Islam-democracy compatibility and the wider implications of the JDP movement will be brought into attention. Characterized in a binary opposition with Protestantism, which is considered not only in relation with democracy but almost the source of everything related with modernity such as capitalism and nation state, Catholicism was demonized by the Western scholars, as the other of the Protestant world.

Following the transformation of Catholicism as a pro-democratic force in the third wave of democracy, and in the post-cold war era, dominated by the self fulfilling prophecies of a clash between civilizations See Huntington, , Islam emerged as the new actor of Western demonology. In such an environment, the study of Islam as a religion had been covered by a dust of biases, prejudices and misperceptions which had been exacerbated by the recent portrayal of Islam as a religion of suppression and autocracy through the main stream media.

The most important and common of such misperceptions is associating Islam with theocracy. As Robert Hefner See points out, Islam, through its long and diverse history and its many different forms in contemporary world with the single exception of Iran and possibly the brief period of Afghanistan under the Taliban rule , has never created theocracies. Moreover, the idea of theocracy is quite alien to the Islamic world as there is no equivalent of clergy in Islam. They also enjoy the exclusive capacity to understand and interpret religion.

However, there is neither a universal organization that nestles them nor is there any hierarchy among these scholars. This would also mean that people are completely free in choosing any of the interpretations of any religious scholars they wish.

Indeed, this lack of an authority itself can become a problem at certain times, as the question of "Who speaks for Islam" rises. Non-existence of a "church" in Islamic theology concludes to the fact that Islam is like any other major religion, or indeed even more than any other major religion, is multi-vocal. This means there are multiple understandings of Islam and multiple interpretations, all of them which prioritize certain aspects of the religion. This means that throughout its long history Islam had been both a source of oppression and authoritarianism as well as a source of freedom and resistance to tyranny.

Indeed, the most important historical legacy of Islamic law shariah had been to limit the powers of political leaders. Thus, one can easily understand the historical role of shariah as enabling "limited government. Aside from such negative freedoms, there are certain aspects of Islam that can be a source of positive freedoms. The most important of them are ijtihad interpretation , ijma consensus , qiyas analogical reasoning and shura consultation.

─░jma literally meaning consensus considers a consensus among the Islamic scholars as the third source of Islamic law after Quran and Sunnah practices and teachings of the prophet. Moreover, the more liberal interpretations of Islam understand ijma as the consensus of the community, thus, brings the community in the process of legislation. The final and, possibly the most important aspect with regard to democratic theory is the importance and indeed binding of consultation on Muslims. There are two verses in Quran which refers to shura.

All of these concepts and practices in Islamic theology and history provide an important dimension for building a democratic culture among the Muslim societies. This is particularly important as many democratic theorists have recently pointed to the importance of the vernacularization of the "democratic discourse. The core of this "incompatibility theory" is based on the assumption that Islam is inherently a political religion which does not leave any space for the open discussion and, thus, prevents burgeoning of democracy. First proposed by the famous historian Bernard Lewis, the thesis of incompatibility between Islam and democracy is based upon the "secularism resistant" nature of Islam See Gellner, Arguing that Islam is the only "secularism-resistant" religion and it retains most of its power against the forces of modernization, Gellner See concludes that the modernity produced in the Islamic world is essentially non-liberal and authoritarian.

The recent resurgence of religion in the modern world seems insufficient to convince the adherence of the orthodox version of secularization theory.

Samuel Huntington See declares this resistance to secularism as the major reason of democratic failure. Moreover, he widens the scope of his argument and declares all major world religions except from Western Christianity [9] and, paradoxically, Judaism as essentially non-secular and consecutively non-democratic. The essentialism in his argument leads him to declare that "It is not Islamic fundamentalists who are the problem, it is Islam" Huntington p.

He claims that state-religion separation is a unique success of Western Christianity, and no other religion has managed or will manage this separation. The pessimist result of his analysis is that democratization is and will remain a unique feature of Western Christian civilization. Finally, as a result of these three premises we can conclude that non existence of secularism is the major source of the failure of democratization in the non-Western world.


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  • All of these claims are open to challenge. Indeed, in a very influential article, Alfred Stepan See challenged all the three core arguments of the secularization school from the perspective of democratic theory.

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    His response can be divided in two components: a theoretical rebuttal of the secularization school, and an empirical demonstration that challenges their basic assumption. Stepan starts first by questioning the necessity of secularism for democratization. Stepan reminds us that none of the main theorists of democratization like Arendt Lijphart, Robert Dahl, Juan Linz and Stepan himself considered secularism as a precondition for democratization.

    Moreover, he also maintains that such a strict separation might violate certain freedoms and be an impediment to democratization. As he demonstrates throughout his article, there are multiple ways of crafting twin tolerations ranging from friendly separation of state and church to officially recognized and established churches. With that formulation Stepan also points to the fact that, in certain cases, secular regimes that take a hostile attitude towards religion and violate religious rights are in itself an obstacle to democracy.

    This would mean that secularism co-exists both with democracies and authoritarianisms. The main problem with the secularization thesis is the reduction of political regimes into a secularist-theocratic dichotomy. As Ahmet Kuru explains in his comparative work on multiple secularisms, this dichotomy is not helpful as secular regimes have great variations in terms of their policies towards religion from being openly hostile to being friendly separated.

    On the other hand, many democracies, including many of the core European Union members, are not secular in the sense of having a strict separation between religion and state. Indeed, many of these regimes have an officially established religion or an official church. The secularization thesis also assumes the incompatibility of a separation between state and religion due to the overly political nature of Islam. This brings us to the crucial problem of defining the appropriate level of the discussion of Islam and democracy.

    This may sound evident enough, and yet it is all too often ignored" , p. Particularly, when the political scientists discuss the relationship between Islam and democracy they are actually discussing the attitudes of Muslims as distinct individuals and communities towards democracy. In contrast, it is theologians who would be more concerned with the arguments of Islam as a religion towards democracy. Although this assertion might seem quite obvious at the outset, it would be surprising to notice that most of the scholarly works produced on the Islamic world are still engaged with the religious indoctrination of Islam as either essentially anti-democratic or, on the contrary, essentially pro-democratic.

    These interpretations are largely shaped by socio-political and economic contexts. In that sense, Islam is no exception. Although one can easily find authoritarian elements within it just as one can find within any religion , Islam also maintains strong theoretical instruments mentioned above such as ijtihad interpretation , ijma consensus and shura consultation that can work as basis for democratic regimes.

    Not surprisingly, throughout its 1, years of history, Islamic belief had been both a source of authoritarianism and a source of resistance to authoritarianism, and had been also a venue for public participation. My aim in pointing to the multivocality of this religion is not to prove or disprove that Islam is compatible with democracy.

    On the contrary, I am pointing to the fact that this is not the relevant topic for the discussion.

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