Democracy and Islam
Irfan Ahmad 29 August 2012

“Islam regards every form of Government which is non-constitutional and non-parliamentary as the greatest human sin.”
1912: Abulkalam Azad[1]

“Only a coup d’état can save the situation. He [Iran’s Premier] has so flattered the mob as the sources of his powers that he had, I fear, made it impossible for a successor to oust him by normal constitutional methods.”
1952: US Ambassador to Iran[2]


An important global debate has been about the interface between Islam and democracy in particular and Islam and modernity in general. It has intensified in the wake of ‘Democracy’s Third Wave’ ending in 1990. During this wave, which Huntington called a ‘Catholic wave’, 30 countries transited to democracy. In contrast, between 1980 and 1991, of the world’s 37 Muslim-majority countries only 2 were democratic.[3] By 2005, of the undemocratic regimes across the globe, Muslim countries constituted a total of 55 percent.[4]

This absence of democracy in the ‘Muslim world’ has generated many explanations. Following the third wave, Huntington wrote: ‘…it is hard to identify any Islamic leader who made a reputation as an advocate ….of democracy while in office. Why is this? This question inevitably leads to the issue of culture’.[5] From this framework, the signature question is: Is Islam compatible with democracy? Setting aside the futility of this question (see below), let me state that there are two major poles in this debate. As shorthand, I will call them Compatibility and Incompatibility Paradigms. Fukuyama[6], Lewis[7], Gellner[8], Huntington and others contend, though differently, that Islam is incompatible with democracy. To this list one can add Dumont[9], Kedouri[10], Tibi[11] and others. Islam presents, Gellner wrote, a ‘dramatic . . . exception’ to the patterns of secularization because ‘a church/state dualism never emerged in it.’ He put it so tersely: ‘It [Islam] was the state from the very start’.[12] Differentiating between three versions of Islam—religion, civilization, and politics—Lewis states that the last one is surely hostile to democracy. The first two are also hostile because ‘in Islam . . . there is from the beginning interpenetration of . . . religion and the state’.[13] In a much-cited formulation of Huntington ‘The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam’.[14] Rowley’s and Smith’s is the most recent incarnation of this position: ‘…Islam’s democracy and freedom deficits are not fully explained by poverty or oil but appear to have something to do with the nature of Islam itself’.[15]

Notably, the position of the Incompatibility Paradigm is largely derived from a selective reading of Islamic texts and traditions. Furthermore, its key sources are often the writings of Islamist thinkers like South Asia’s Maududi (see below) and Egypt’s Syed Qutub.

Bayat[16], Esposito and Voll[17], Filali-Ansary[18], El Fadl[19] and others represent the other pole of the debate. They variously see the possibility of democracy in Islam. Pursuing a comparative framework, Casanova predicts that Muslim countries could become democratic in future, as churches and many Catholic groups became the motor of democracy in Catholic countries.[20] Part of Casanova’s inspiration is Tocqueville who showed how Christianity contributed to American democracy. However, Tocqueville’s thought on Islam was radically different from the purpose to which Casanova harnesses Tocqueville to weave his narrative. Tocqueville believed that the Qura’nic emphasis on faith rather than splendid deeds made Islam fanatical and inhospitable to democracy.[21] Like the Incompatibility Paradigm, the Compatibility Paradigm is also oriented towards the textual. The most cited Qur’anic verse (XLII: 38) is amruhum shura bainahum (decide your affairs through consultation)’.[22]

Divided into three sections, the first section of this article spells out my contention at the centre of which lies the primacy of the praxiological over the normative-textual. Extending the anthropological approach to democracy and religion, I assign significance to the ordinary, non-official discourses and local meanings of democracy as opposed to its abstract universal presumption. Based on the case study of India’s Islamist organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, the second section aims to substantiate the argument. Here I show how Jamaat transited from opposing democracy to supporting it. Moving beyond the specificity of Jamaat, in the final section, I offer some broad observations on the study of democracy and Islam. Employing John Keane’s The Life and Death of Democracy, I attempt to craft a fresh conceptualization of relationships between Islam and democracy, including a revisionist reading of Maududi, regarded as the bête noire of democracy. I conclude with a call to pay attention to the processes of de-democratization in Muslim societies.

The Argument

Given the nature of the standard debate I outlined above, the question is: is there a productive point of entry? I think there is. This indeed is my argument which consists of three interlocking propositions. First, we must shift the debate from the arena of normativity to the domain of practice. Both Incompatibility and Compatibility Paradigms are premised on the notion that it is the unitary, reified normative impulse of religion that is the ultimate variable. This premise takes both democracy and Islam as self-evident. Consequently both get reified. I think such a line of reasoning is misleading. That democracy can’t flourish in Muslim societies unless Muslims become democrat at a normative level beforehand is a major mistake. This assumption is untenable even in relation to the West, the so-called birthplace of democracy.[23] Olivier Roy aptly argues: ‘If we had to wait for everyone to become a democrat before creating democracy, France would still be a monarchy’.[24]

My reason for according importance to the praxiological is rooted in an anthropological understanding of history and society. In Silencing the Past Trouillot avers that the Haitian revolution ‘thought itself out politically and philosophically as it was taking place’, in a context where ‘discourse always lagged behind practice’.[25] Before I may get misunderstood, let me clarify that I endorse neither the textualist-normative approach which dismisses practices nor the practice-centered framework insensitive to the normative-textual. It is precisely the dynamic interaction between the two which I find useful.

My second argument is that we also need to interrogate the concept and workings of democracy. As many have asked questions such as ‘whose Islam’ ‘which Islam’[26], likewise we ought to ask: whose democracy; democracy for what? That is, democracy is a contested term –in ‘East’ and ‘West’[27] alike. So the question ‘Is Islam compatible with democracy’ is theoretically flawed. An interesting question, I think, is: what interpretation of Islam? What form of democracy; democracy for whom? Indeed one may reverse the received wisdom stated by Kedourie that principles and values of democracy are hostile and ‘alien to the Muslim political tradition’.[28] Might one instead hypothesize that the prevalent democracy has also been hostile to Muslims. Its fine illustration is what I call the processes of ‘de-democratization’. And this is my third argument: instead of engaging in the (fruitless) exercise of discussing Islam’s incompatibility with democracy, we shift attention to study how the West de-democratized Muslim polities. This argument entails transgressing methodological nationalism.[29] The nation-state can’t remain the sacred site to unravel the modalities of de-democratization.[30]

To return to the contested notion of democracy, in Runaway World, Giddens contrasts American and British democracy. A British asked an American: ‘How can you bear to be governed by people you wouldn’t dream of inviting to dinner’ to which the American gentleman replied ‘How can you bear to be governed by people who won’t dream of inviting you to dinner’.[31] It follows that democracy has various meanings and forms.[32]. The story gets complicated as dictators –from Europe, Asia to Latin America –have ruled invoking democracy. Most such autocrats were darlings of those who regard themselves as custodian of democracy. More importantly, as Mann shows, democracy also served as defence for bloodshed. The supremacy of demos, when conflated with an ethnos, resulted into ethnic cleansings. According to Roosevelt, ‘Extermination [of Indians] was as ultimately beneficial as it was inevitable’.[33] In an insightful paper, Pritchard argues how democracy and war-making went hand in hand in ancient Greece.[34] To take a recent example, in 2002, India witnessed the massacre of Muslims by the democratic Gujarat government.[35]

To recapitulate, my argument is that it is by virtue of the participation in the democratic processes that norms, values, and interpretation of religion get reconfigured, not prior to the inauguration of the democratic processes. It follows that democracy Muslim actors would fashion would not be a replica of democracy in its ‘birthplace’. As the south Asian trajectory suggests, democracy there has not been, writes anthropologist Spencer, ‘accompanied by the magical transformation of Indians, and Sri Lankans en masse into liberal political subjects’.[36] This anthropological insight is crucial to my argument.[37] The distinctiveness of an anthropology of democracy is the focus on the ordinary, not the rulers. Moreover, anthropologists don’t limit themselves to official discourses. Unraveling the constitutive contours of democracy, ‘rather than establishing a priori definition of democracy, is one of the central contributions of an anthropological approach’.[38] Aihwa Ong thus observes that in South-East Asia democracy is understood more in terms of the state providing the citizens with collective welfare, and not in terms of individual rights.[39]

Unlike in the mainstream Western tradition, in Islam the obverse of tyranny is not so much liberty but justice, ‘adl, inṣaf[40]. Several texts typify this Islamic ideal. The Indian film Mughl-e-‘azam is often seen as an example of Mughal regalia, romance, syncreticism, and incredible dialogues/songs. Contra Das[41], in my view, at its heart is the issue of inṣaf. The crisis Mughl-e-‘azam addresses is the crisis in the articulation and pursuit of justice. This Islamic characteristic has informed Muslims’ engagements with democracy, and will probably continue to do so in future.

I thus take the localization of democracy’s meanings seriously. But let me register my discomfort with the anthropological focus placed squarely on the ordinary. This should not lead to the banishment of the extraordinary. In October 2010, Australia’s University of Melbourne held an international conference titled ‘US Democracy Promotion in the Middle East’. Most speakers were political scientists, policy/security and area experts. At the end of conference, I rediscovered that I was an anthropologist. The signature words in the conference were: Obama, Bush, terrorism, security, Washington, Middle East, Yemen, and yes charts and figures. People’s lives were missing. Cognizant of this, what I see as productive is a creative combination of extraordinary and the ordinary. One should also note the slippage from extraordinary to the ordinary and vice versa.

Based on this anthropological approach, I will describe how India’s Jamat-e-Islami which initially opposed democracy came to accept and strengthen democracy.

Democracy and India’s Jamaat-e-Islami

The founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami was Abul Ala Maududi (b.1903). He initially supported the Indian National Congress (hereafter Congress), and published biographies of Gandhi and Malaviya, a Hindu nationalist. He served as editor of the Muslim, the Urdu organ of the Jamiatul-Ulema-i Hind, an organization of ulema allied to the Congress. During the late 1930s, however, Maududi turned to Islamism. Relevant to note are features of his ideology.[42]

Maududi held that Allah sent his prophets to establish a state. Under the influence of Hegel and Marx, Maududi read Islamic history anew. All human history, he held, was the history of a battle between Islam and jahiliyat, the period of ‘ignorance’ before the Prophet Muhammad. For Maududi, jahiliyat was an organic system with many forms. Politically, it expressed itself in human sovereignty. In 1941, Maududi founded the Jamaat for the ‘establishment of an Islamic state (ḥukumat-e-ilahiya)’. The Jamaat Constitution required its members to resign their positions in the army, judiciary, banking and other institutions of an un-Islamic state. Maududi asked Muslims to shun elections because they authorized elected representatives to legislate human, as opposed to divine, laws. On the same ground Maududi described future Pakistan as ‘infidel state of Muslims’. He outlined his position on democracy as follows:

“You should clearly understand the principle that all the democratic systems that have been developed in the present age… are based on the assumption that…inhabitants of a country themselves possess the right to formulate… laws …about politics, economics, morality, and society. … This ideology is absolutely the opposite of the ideology of Islam. Integral to the creed of Islamic monotheism is that Allah is the Lord and Ruler of people and the whole world. … We, therefore, say that membership in such assemblies and parliaments, which are based on the democratic principles of the present age, is haram, and to vote for them is also haram. Because to vote means that we elect an individual whose job under the present Constitution is to make legislation that stands in absolute opposition to the creed of monotheism.”[43]

Maududi’s alternative to secular democracy was a ‘theodemocratic state’.[44] He called it a ‘theocracy’ in that the sources of laws will be the Qur’an and hadith and the ultimate sovereignty Allah’s. Unlike Christian theocracy, the priestly class will not monopolize it, however. An executive chosen by qualified individuals will supervise the execution of laws.

After India’s Partition in 1947, Jamaat continued to stick to its previous position. In 1951, India held first elections in which non-Jamaat Muslims participated, but the Jamaat did not. Abullais Islahi Nadwi, the first amīr of Jamaat in independent India, justified the boycott of elections along Maududi’s lines. However, before third elections in 1962, a debate began in Jamaat’s markazī majlis-i shura (the central consultative council, hereafter shura). It centered on the (il)legitimacy of democracy and secularism. In July 1961, shura set up a Committee to determine whether elections could be used for pursuing iqamat-e-dīn (establishment of religion). The Qur’anic phrase iqamat-e-dīn was the new objective Jamaat had inserted into its Constitution after Partition to replace its earlier mission of ḥukumat-e-ilahiya. The Committee concluded that Jamaat could compete in elections to make Indian Constitution Islamic. The shura accepted the recommendation and went on to pass two separate resolutions that had no reference to iqamat-e-dīn but to the legitimacy of participating in the elections, both as voters and candidates, ‘in the vital interests of Islam and Muslims’. It did not lift the ban on voting for the 1962 elections. In 1967, however, shura approved a set of criteria under which members could vote. The most important criterion was that the candidate ‘must believe in the kalima [i.e., he must be a Muslim]’ and regard legislation against Allah as haram.

Debate continued with many in shura favoring a lifting of the ban without reference to earlier criteria. The issue, however, remained in limbo until Emergency imposed by Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1975. When the Emergency was lifted and elections announced, Jamaat ended its ban, disregarding its earlier criteria (e.g., the candidate must believe in kalima), and participated actively. The foremost criterion now was that the candidate must favor the ‘restoration of democracy’, because Mrs. Gandhi had banned all parties, including Jamaat. The debate continued until 1985 when shura permanently lifted the ban against voting. Since 1985, participation in and defense of democracy by Jamaat only intensified.

How and why did Jamaat undergo such a monumental change? Clearly, democracy played a key role. This factor markedly distinguished Indian Islamists from their counterparts in Middle East, where neither nonauthoritarian secularism nor democracy has a strong tradition. It was manifest in the Muslim public’s disavowal of Jamaat’s ideology, which also played itself out in the realm of democratic politics. Critical to this disavowal is what I call an ‘ideological dissonance’ between Jamaat’s agenda and political subjectivity of Muslim public. In contrast to Jamaat, most Muslims, including ulema, did not regard secular democracy necessarily foreign to Islam. Because Muslim public disavowed Jamaat’s Islamist version of Islam, Jamaat had to revise its position.

Democracy did not only act upon Jamaat externally but did so internally as well. The whole debate was conducted on the principle of majority votes. This democratic basis of decision making became so crucial that even the Islamic creed, the kalima, from which, according to Maududi, the voting ban had been derived, was put to vote and clinched by a majority vote. The debate took place within two fora –shura, and majlis-e-numaindegan. While shura existed in Maududi’s time, the majlis did not. However, the role of shura significantly changed in post-colonial India. Maududi, as the Jamaat’s president (amīr) had been the sole decision maker. The task of the shura whose members he himself nominated had been to advise amīr. With Jamaat’s democratization, shura members began to be elected, and amīr had to accept decisions taken democratically by shura. The formation of majlis was a new development. It is like the Jamaat Parliament elected directly by its members who, on occasions, are required to vote.

Such a momentous transformation of Jamaat I have described also shows that Jamaat was indeed more democratic than any other party. None of the Indian political parties ever practice democracy internally. Leaders within the party are selected or nominated along ascriptive grid: family, caste, region and religion. In contrast, Jamaat practiced democracy internally but opposed democracy (elections) externally.

So far, I have discussed how Jamaat’s position on democracy changed in postcolonial India. In understanding this transformation, I have stressed the primacy of practice over a reified notion of both democracy and Islam. To this end, I have engaged with key literature. My contention has been that we need to begin comprehending democracy and Islam afresh. Below I gesture a few points for such a beginning.

In Lieu of a Conclusion: Some Observations

A standard way to explain Jamaat’s transformation is to say that it occurred because it was a side effect of democracy in a Hindu-majority milieu. This view informs most writings on Indian democracy. In the accounts of democracy by Kohli[45], Khilnani[46], Roy[47] and others, Muslims seldom appear as its makers. They appear, if ever, merely as its consumers. Some indeed suggest an inverse relationship: More Muslims=less democracy. Read this: ‘Once Muslims became a majority in Lebanon … Lebanese democracy collapsed’.[48] A crisp formulation is the Hindutva slogan: ‘Hindu ghata, desh bata (as Hindus decrease nation will break)’. Clearly, it echoes the discourse of Europe’s Geert Wilders and Jörg Haiders. Another version reads as follows. ‘True’/Arab Islam is against democracy. Democracy succeeded outside of Islam’s ‘heartland’, Middle East. Muslims in Indonesia, Malaysia or Bangladesh became democratic because they are unlike Arab Muslims; their Islam is tempered by local (non-Islamic) culture and hence ‘tolerant’, and ‘nice’. [49]

An alternative explanation of Jamaat’s transformation will accord agency to Muslims. As this article shows, the dynamism of cultural resources played an important role. Recognition of plurality of views, reasoned discussion within shura, and institutional matrix in Muslim social formations were resources enabling democratization. Clearly, such an understanding of democracy rails against the mainstream. The elections-centric procedural framework –basic to agencies like the Freedom House[50] –does not exhaust the comprehension of democracy. A fresh understanding of both Islam and democracy is due.

A step in this direction is to follow John Keane. With him, if we take democracy to mean a mechanism of ‘non-violent power-sharing between the rulers and ruled, who are considered equal’[51] and the role of civil society and public debate in politics it will become difficult to sustain the Incompatibility Paradigm. One would be indeed persuaded to recognize Islam’s historical contributions to democracy.[52]

It is a truism to say that Islam lacks civil society. This is premised on the modernist-liberal trope of Islam’s failure to differentiate the secular from the religious. Against this, one can indeed argue that Muslims in premodern era were pioneers of civil society. To cite Keane: ‘The growth of a swath of social institutions that Muslims and other scholar later called ‘civil society’ (jamaa’i madani) was unknown to the Greeks, Phoenicians and the peoples of Syria-Mesopotamia’.[53] From Kean’s reading, we can look at endowment (waqf) and mosque as institutions of civil society, mostly independent of the state, promoting the common good. Endowments were not just religious; they also advanced public good by nurturing hospitals, stables, waterworks, caravansaries, libraries, colleges (e.g., Cairo’s Jamia Al-Azhar). As such they were institutions of civil society making political participation basic to people’s lives. Likewise, mosque was not only a worship place. It was also a venue of business, dialogue and discussion wherein non-Muslims as well as women (segregated) actively participated. To quote Keane again: “It [mosque] was to the empire of Islam what the assembly was to the world of Greek democracy”.[54] Sufi orders and bazaars can be similarly conceptualized as sites of civil society. Also, in many ways Muslims were pioneer of contract laws.

A word about Maududi’s concept of divine sovereignty is in order here. Currently, it generates fear. But let us pause and look at American democracy. ‘In American political theory’, writes Bellah, ‘sovereignty rests, of course, with the people, but implicitly, and often explicitly, the ultimate sovereignty has been attributed to God’. ‘This is the meaning of the motto, ‘In God we trust’ as well as the inclusion of the phrase under ‘under God’ in the pledge to the flag’. Bellah’s citation of Kennedy’s 1961 statement that ‘the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God’ further illustrates it.[55] Also consider the Dutch thinker-politician, Abraham Kuyper (d.1920). He famously said: ‘No man has the right to ruler over another man… Authority over men can’t arise from men … all authority of governments on earth originates from the sovereignty of god’. To Kuyper, this was the teaching of Christianity/Calvinism democracy violates. ‘Directly opposed to this Calvinist confession…are popular sovereignty… and …the state sovereignty’.[56]

Returning to Maududi’s theodemocracy, it may appear as opposite of democracy. However, his call for divine democracy was in fact a response to the anti-pluralistic and homogenizing democracy of the late colonial India. Theodemocracy is thus not the obverse of democracy. On the contrary, a certain type of democracy fashions theodemocracy. Let me explain this as most academics hurriedly quote Maududi to prove Muslims’ intolerance to democracy. What they don’t ask is why Maududi coined theodemocracy. It is less known that before he coined it, Maududi championed democracy in its conventional sense. It was the majoritarian democracy of the Congress, especially the anti-Muslims practice of the 1937 Congress ministries, which drove him to theodemocracy. In 1938, he wrote:

The real issue is not if the political system of the country should proceed along the path of democracy because no sane person can disagree with the spirit of democracy…The question troubling us for ages is that …because of the misguidance and rule of the British… a system of government has evolved on the principle of single community in the form of democratic institution. The spirit of democracy and this specific notion of democracy based on the principle of a single community should not be conflated…Disagreeing with the latter does not mean disagreeing with the former… It is assumed that because of a shared geography…we Hindus, Muslims, Untouchables, Sikh, Christian are a single community and thus the grammar of democracy should be such that the state should be run by the wish of the majority community. Based on this ideology, the Constitution has been framed… Hindus consider it utterly beneficial for themselves… Such a situation has made Hindu nationalism and Indian nationalism coterminous. In contrast to Hindus, our condition is such that under this [democratic] system our community aspirations remain unfulfilled; rather they are…killed because we are in a minority. This system gives to those who are in a majority.[57]

If this revisionist reading sounds plausible, the question if Islam is normatively compatible with democracy is simply false. The first epigraph from the Indian theologian-philosopher Abulkalam Azad –articulated in 1912 –is its testimony. The pertinent question, then, is: why did democracy get derailed in Muslim world? This question is enormous because there is a ‘democracy promotion’ industry about Middle East and elsewhere. Take, for instance, the 2010 conference ‘US Democracy Promotion in Middle East’ I referred to. It is hard not to notice its patronizing title –Middle East is incapable of democracy for it requires a benign promoter like the US. Thus, instead of responding to the agenda of democratization the USAID and IMF discourses have set, should not we talk about de-democratization?

To answer this question is to transgress nation-state’s precinct. I disagree with Salzman that ‘the despotic states of the Middle East are thus as much a product of their subjects’ culture as they are a result of their rulers will’.[58] Absence of democracy can’t be understood nationally and culturally. It is not the culture of Islam which makes democracy absent; rather it is the culture of de-democratization by the Western power that renders Middle East undemocratic. There are several modalities and instances of this de-democratization. For my purpose, two will suffice: the 1953 coup against the elected Prime Minister of Iran, and thwarting of democracy in Bahrain. Mohammad Musaddeq was a mass leader. He enjoyed the approval of the Parliament for his nationalization program. As we know, the US-UK comfortably toppled him.[59] The statement by the US Ambassador, this article’s second epigraph, illustrates how Iran’s democracy was sacrificed to serve national interests of the US-UK. In my view, this is a classic example of de-democratization I want to put on the table. Another example is Bahrain’s de-democratization from 1974 to 2005.[60]

Does the ruthless pursuit of ‘national interest’ and vocabulary of ‘geo-politics’ –supreme principles of global political order –leave any room for a politics of ethics in planetary terms?[61]



[1]Abulkalam Azad, ‘Al-Jihad, Al-Jihad: Al-Jihad fī sabīlil ḥurriyat’, Al-Hilāl (December 18, 1912), p. 6.

[2]Ervand Abrahamian, A History of Modern Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 120.

[3]Samuel Huntington, ‘Democracy’s Third Wave’, Journal of Democracy 2 (2) (1991): 12-34, p. 13, 28.

[4]Murtza Fattah, Democratic Values in the Muslim World (London: Boulder, 2006), p. 1.

[5]Huntington, ‘Democracy’s Third Wave’, p. 22.

[6]Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Avon, 1992).

[7]Bernard Lewis, ‘A Historical View: Islam and Liberal Democracy’, Journal of Democracy. 7 (2) (1996): 52–63.

[8]Ernest Gellner, Postmodernism, Reason, and Religion (London: Routledge, 1992).

[9]Louis Dumont, Religion, Politics, and History in India (Paris: Mouton, 1970).

[10]Elie Kedourie, Democracy and Arab Political Culture (London: Frank Cass, 1994).

[11]Bassam Tibi, ‘The Fundamentalist Challenge to the Secular Order in the Middle East’, Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 23 (1) (1999): 191–210.

[12]Gellner, Postmodernism, Reason, and Religion, p. 5, 9.

[13]Lewis, ‘A Historical View: Islam and Liberal Democracy’, p. 54, 61.

[14]Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), p. 70.

[15]Charles Rowley and Nathanael Smith, ‘Islam’s Democracy Deficit: Muslims Claim to Like Democracy, So Why Do They Have So Little?’, Public Choice, (139) (2009): 273-99, p. 298.

[16]Asef Bayat, Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007).

[17] John Esposito and John Voll, Islam and Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

[18]Abdou Filali-Ansary, ‘The Challenge of Secularization: Islam and Liberal Democracy’, Journal of Democracy 7 (2) (1996): 76–80.

[19]Khaled Abou El Fadl et al, Islam and the Challenge of Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).

[20]Jose Casanova, ‘Civil Society and Religion: Retrospective Reflections on Catholicism and Prospective Reflections on Islam.’ Social Research 68 (4) (2001): 1041–80.

[21]Christopher Kelly, ‘Civil and Uncivil Religions: Tocqueville on Hinduism and Islam’, History of European Ideas 20 (4–6) (1995): 845–50.

[22]Fazlur Rahman, ‘The Principle of Shura and the Role of the Umma in Islam’, in Mumtaz Ahmad (ed.) State, Politics and Islam (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1986): 87–96.

[23]John Keane, The Life and Death of Democracy (Norton & Co., 2009), p. x. Keane unsettles the narrative of democracy’s birth in Athens. The Greek did not invent democracy; she ‘plagiarized’ it.

[24]Olivier Roy, Secularism Confronts Islam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), p. 93.

[25]Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), p. 89; also see Irfan Ahmad, ‘Cracks in the ‘Mightiest Fortress’: Jamaat-e-Islami’s Changing Discourse on Women’, Modern Asian Studies. 42(2-3) (2008): 549–575.

[26]See Aziz Al-Azmeh, Islams and Modernities (London: Verso, 1993).

[27]See W.B. Gallie, Philosophy and the Historical Understanding (London: 1964).

[28]Kedourie, Democracy and Arab Political Culture, p. 6.

[29]On methodological nationalism, see Irfan Ahmad, ‘Writing Anthropology of India: Notes on Methodological Nationalism’, Paper at the 18th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, Adelaide, July 2010.

[30]Cf. Charles Tilly, Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

[31]Anthony Giddens, Run-Away World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives. London: Profile Books, 2003), p. 69.

[32]Tilly, Democracy.

[33]Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. ix.

[34]David Pritchard, ‘The Symbiosis Between Democracy and War: The Case of Ancient Athens’ (2009), available at

[35]See, Irfan Ahmad, Islamism and Democracy in India: The Transformation of Jamaat-e-Islami (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).

[36]Jonathan Spencer, Anthropology, Politics, and the State: Democracy and Violence in South Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 69.

[37]On anthropology’s relations with the state/modern politics, see Irfan Ahmad, ‘Genealogy of the Islamic State: Reflections on Maududi’s Political Thought and Islamism’, Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute (NS) 15 (2009): S145-S162.

[38]Julia Paley, ‘Toward an Anthropology of Democracy’, Annual Review of Anthropology. 31(2002): 469-96, p. 471.

[39]Aihwa Ong, Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logic of Transnationality (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999).

[40]See Fattah, Democratic Values in the Muslim World, and Muzaffar Alam, The Languages of Political Islam in India (Ranikhet: Permanent Black).

[41]Veena Das, ‘The Making of Modernity: Gender and Time in Indian Cinema’, in Timothy Mitchell (ed.) Questions of Modernity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000).

[42]See Islamism and Democracy in India; subsequent pages draw on its chapters 2 & 7.

[43]Ibid., pp. 71-72.

[44]Abul Ala Maududi, Rasāl-o-mas āel, vol.1 (Delhi: Markazi Maktaba Islami publisher, 1999[1946]), p. 297.

[45]Atul Kohli (ed.) The Success of India’s Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

[46]Sunil Khilnani, ‘India’s Democratic Career’, in John Dunn (ed.) Democracy: The Unfinished Journey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

[47]Ramashray Roy, Democracy in India (Delhi: Shipra, 2005).

[48]Huntington, ‘Democracy’s Third Wave’, p. 28.

[49]See Charles Rowley and Nathanael Smith, ‘Islam’s Democracy Deficit…’

[50]See Tilly, Democracy.

[51]Keane, The Life and Death of Democracy, p. 131.

[52]Clearly, Muslims didn’t use the term ‘democracy’; this doesn’t mean they lacked it. Hansen observes: ‘…we mustn’t underrate man’s capacity to develop strikingly similar –but basically unrelated –institutions and ideals’; Mogens Herman, The Traditions of Ancient Greek Democracy and its Importance for Modern Democracy (Denmark: Special Trykkeriet, 2005), p. 27. Cf., Rorty in Keane, The Life and Death of Democracy, pp. 897-98.

[53]Keane, The Life and Death of Democracy, p. 133.

[54]Ibid. p. 140.

[55]Robert Bellah, ‘Civil Religion in America’, Daedalus. 46(1) (1967):1-21, p. 3.

[56]Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1931), p. 82, 85, italics original.

[57]Abul Ala Maududi, Musalman aur maujuda seyasi kashmakash. vol. 2 (Pathankot: Maktaba Jamaat-e-islami,1938).

[58]Philip Salzman, ‘Tribes and Terror in the Middle East: A Conversation with Philip Salzman’, Society. 46(5) (2009):394–397, p: 396.

[59]See Abrahamian, A History of Modern Iran

[60]Amy Holmes, ‘The Political Economy of Protection: Democratization and the American presence in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain’, paper at the conference US Democracy Promotion in the Middle East, Melbourne University, October 2010.

[61]I have discussed how ‘Islamophobia’ in Europe and elsewhere is a symptom of ‘homephilia/national identity’. I suggest ‘hotel/hostel’ as an alternative. Irfan Ahmad, ‘In Defence of Hotel: Notes on Why Islamophobia Should Be Read as Homephilia’, paper at the conference on Islamophobia: Fear of the Other (Monash University, Melbourne, July 2009); also see my ‘Is There an Ethics of Terrorism? Islam, Globalisation, Militancy’, South Asia 33(3) (2010): 487 — 498.


The final/definitive version of Irfan Ahmad’s essay was published in Philosophy&Social Criticism, vol 37 number 4 May 2011, SAGE Publications Ltd, (LA, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC), all rights reserved, p. 459-470, Special Issue: “Realigning Liberalism: Pluralism, Integration, Identities”, Reset-Dialogues on Civilizations Istanbul Seminars 2010, Edited by: Alessandro Ferrara, Volker Kaul and David Rasmussen. Link to the issue


Irfan Ahmad is a political anthropologist and a lecturer at Monash University, Australia